March 24, 1962 – Columbus, OH – Sacred Mushroom

Joan Kennedy Gibbons Rongieras

I looked up the Sacred Mushroom Coffee Shop and for the first time in ages saw Jim Glover’s name. I met him when he, along with Phil Ochs, first came to the Mushroom in Columbus, Ohio and asked to sing. I, by default, had assumed the role of “Person who ran the Folk Music Night every Wednesday.” If no one showed up I had the grand task of entertaining for the next three hours or until there was no more audience. We opened in 1962, so we were one of the first of the coffee shops; no alcohol and not very good coffee. You had to be interested in the music. It was a slow night, so even though they said they would like to sing a few things from the Kingston Trio record, which was not our style at all, we let them take the stand. It was evident that Jim was the musician. He played the guitar as if he was born playing, whereas Phil couldn’t have known more than half a dozen chords and was struggling. They had an energetic presentation and were very well received, so we asked them to come back. They gave their name as “The Sundowners” which, strangely enough, came up on a quiz program on the BBC about a year ago.

There has been someone who tried to say that he started the SM and who still makes an effort to keep the name alive by sponsoring a weekend and inviting as many people who still remember or actually sang there. I tried to set the record straight, and at least got this fellow to back off so that the truth finally came out. Actually there aren’t many of us left of the serious Old Crowd. Jerry Jeff Walker (who called me not long ago and continues to sing in Texas) but he, like Phil were writing their own things. For most of us it was a passionate hobby, doing research on the Child Border Ballads and finding versions that had been preserved in the hills of Appalachia. Most of the hill folk we knew are gone and I’ve lost tract of the others, who were in everything from the arts to geology, except Franklin Miller who will be retiring as head of the Film Dept at The University of Iowa, and who was important through putting us in touch with the musicians at Oberlin and Kenyon college, among the first to recognise the tremendous importance of the Bluegrass musician. At the time (the 60’s) I was working as an nonsalaried curator at the Columbus Museum and was able to introduce Bluegrass, Folk Music and Jazz to people who maybe wouldn’t have had the chance to hear it when it was all so fresh and remote from The Ladies Who Lunch. From being a rather dusty and stuffy museum we packed it with music and young people.

Hope I haven’t bored you with this. I realise the Mushroom was a side dish to the music but also a bit of a catalyst. If I can be of any help concerning the Mushroom don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ve been living here for over 20 years now. I travel frequently but I will get back to you as soon as possible if you wish.

2009 note: Franklin goes fairly often to Columbus and says he can’t even find the old Mushroom. The Students Union which was across the road has been demolished and something new tantamount to an airport building and twice as big put up in its place. Poor old Columbus; it always took itself too seriously.

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