Smoke Dawson at Caffe Lena

Powerhouse Books has just published Jocelyn Arem’s book, Caffe Lena, about the legendary coffee house & folk music venue in Saratoga Springs, New York. Everything you wanted a coffee house to be, Caffe Lena was: a warm and fuzzy meeting house redolent of freshly brewed coffee, and a home to great acoustic music. As hostess, Lena was a generous, loving person who made her musicians feel honored and at home.

Many folkies of the 60s and beyond played the Caffe. Lena famously gave Dylan his first out-of-town paying gig. And I was fortunate to play the Caffe in the late ’60s with Frank Wakefield and his band, one that included Smoke Dawson on fiddle.

Usually Frank would give Smoke a solo spot in the second set. On one particular Caffe night, Smoke’s solo playing was a little off maybe. This bumped along for a minute and then the hum of the sound system suddenly changed as an old man’s voice came through the speakers:

“All right. That’s enough now. Get off.”

Everyone heard it, and everyone was drop-jaw stunned. There was only one mic in the house, and Smoke’s fiddle was on it. Someone else’s voice had come through the sound system.

Smoke stopped playing instantly, mumbled “Okay” into the mic, and trudged off the stage.

As he passed by me in the wings, I said, “What was that?”

“That was my guide,” Smoke said. “I do whatever he tells me to do.”