There’s a major folk music renaissance taking place in Brooklyn, and its beating heart is in Red Hook. The Jalopy Theatre serves as the de facto core of Brooklyn’s bluegrass, old-time, and roots scene. Established in 2006 by Chicago transplants Geoff and Lynette Wiley, the Jalopy has quickly become a staple on Columbia Street and one of the most talked-about folk venues in New York. In fact, it’s a scene unto itself—in addition to being a performance space, the Jalopy features an art gallery, café, instrument repair shop, and record label, while also offering music lessons and workshops. And for the last five years it’s hosted the Brooklyn Folk Festival, curated by Eli Smith, a musician, folk musicologist, and host of the web-based Down Home Radio Show.
All this is geared toward cultivating a sense of musical community, much like the one that existed in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and 60s during the original folk revival. “The community here is amazing, and made us feel welcome from the very beginning,” says Lynette—who married Geoff here in 2007. “Brooklyn is a wealth of talent, with world-class musicians and artists living on almost every block, it seems.” It’s not just Brooklyn talent that’s taking note of the Jalopy, though—groups from as far away as North Carolina and Cincinnati have come up for the Folk Festival in recent years. Such popularity may seem unlikely, given that Brooklyn isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of banjos and jug bands. But after considering Portland, San Francisco, and other musical hotbeds, the Wileys saw the most potential for traditional music in New York City. “We looked all over the country for a home,” says Lynette, “and were thrilled to find Red Hook.”