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The life and times of a landmark

Caffé Lena’s long history being recorded, commemorated in comprehensive look back

Don McLean, famous for “American Pie” among other songs, at CafféLena, circa 1970. An effort to document and restore the venue’s records is underway, and hoped to be completed in 2013 in time for what would be Lena Spencer’s 90th birthday.

Don McLean, famous for “American Pie” among other songs, at CafféLena, circa 1970. An effort to document and restore the venue’s records is underway, and hoped to be completed in 2013 in time for what would be Lena Spencer’s 90th birthday.

— Ward has also helped in tracking down early recordings made atthe Caffé, which are now being professionally restored and digitized in NewYork Cite with the help of a $4,000 grant Arem secured from the GRAMMY Foundation.

Caffé Lena’s mark on the music scene was highlighted recently when Arem traveled to California for Grammy Week, when the GRAMMY Foundation showcased the history project during its annual Preservation Project celebration. That event was attended by many notable names in the music scene, including Sharon Osbourne.

“Over the past 10 years, thanks to the support of Skidmore College, The New York Council for the Humanities, the GRAMMY Foundation and many others, we’ve accomplished the organization of 6,000 rare, never-before-seen photographs made at Caffè Lena between 1960 and 1968, digitization of 700 hours of rare audio recordings, interviews with 100 musicians including Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Don McLean and the creation of an online exhibition at www.Caffélenahistory.org. The Library of Congress is committed to preserving these materials in its national archives. We’re currently in need of final funding to finish research and preparation of these materials in time to commemorate Lena’s 90th birthday in 2013,” said Arem.

A coffee table type book about the project is expected to be released within the next year and will also highlight the collection.

Since its Phila Street doors opened 1960, Caffé Lena has been connected to such notable musicians as Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie and Don McLean. It has become infamous because of Spencer’s passion for the arts, particularly theater, and her ability to connect with people. She came to Saratoga from New York City and brought with her many of her art scene connections, namely from Greenwich Village, which she would visit weekly.

“The stage has helped create great moments in music history. Lena was an authentic beatnik and was a really strong and interesting person.…In the beginning the Caffé wasn’t always well received…there were some snarky articles in the papers and it raised a lot of eyebrows. …She became an advocate for musicians and helped many careers,” said Craig.

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