Remembering the Main Point, 1964 - 1981
WXPN Most Memorable Musical Moment #5
Begining in 1964, The Main Point in Bryn Mawr provided the Philadelphia area with one of its most enjoyable venues for live music. Although it started as a folk based coffeehouse, all styles of music were presented over the years. Financial problems continually plagued the Main Point, and in spite of frequent benefit shows by artists who loved the place as much as the audience, the club finally closed in 1981. The following brief history is contained in an obituary of Jeanette O. Campbell, one of the founders and owners of the Main Point who died on October 22, 2006, written by Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer Sally A. Downey as reprinted on the Save Ardmore Coalition website.
I'm not entirely certain why there are no photos in my archive from the Main Point, since I have shots of many of the Main Point artists playing other venues during the same time period. My best guess is that the Main Point may have had a no camera policy. Considering all the amazing performances that took place there, it's sad that the photographic legacy is almost non-existent. Except for the menu reproduced below, all of the photos and graphics included here come from a 1974 publication called The Main Point 10 Years On... A Special 10th Anniversary Publication.
Jeanette Orndoff Campbell, 89, former owner of the Main Point, a music hall in Bryn Mawr where young talents including Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor were introduced to local audiences, died of complications from hip surgery Oct. 22 at Stapeley, a retirement residence in Germantown.
Mrs. Campbell booked acts, baked gingerbread and brownies, made the coffee and cider, and offered bed and board to performers at the Main Point from its opening night in a 1964 blizzard until it closed in 1981. By then, the club was operating in the red, and musicians, grateful that Mrs. Campbell had given them a chance, raised money to pay her bills at benefit concerts, her granddaughter, Heather Fowler, said.
"My life began at 46, when my husband and I got the idea that the Main Line needed a place for nice folk music after we were at the Philadelphia Folk Festival," she told a reporter in 1975. "It was a really spiritual awakening for me. So we pooled our money with four other couples and opened the Main Point."
After the other couples gave up their interests and she and her husband, William Campbell, divorced, Mrs. Campbell said, the Main Point became her "entire life."
Riding the crest of the acoustic music boom, the club welcomed then-obscure artists like Joni Mitchell and Arlo Guthrie. Bruce Springsteen sang "It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City," "Hey Santa Ana," "Secret to the Blues," and "New York City Serenade" at the Main Point as the opening act on Jan. 3, 1973. He returned to the club several times as a headliner.
Photo by Steve Weitzman
Steve Goodman played the Main Point numerous times, but I'm going to guess that the above photo was taken in January 1972, based on the artist list below. According to the anniversary publication, Steve Goodman (far right) after completing his set invited John Prine (center) up to the stage for the encore, and they sang a twenty minute set of Hank Williams tunes. After leaving the stage, they obliged the thundering ovation from the audience with another encore and brought out the opening act (far left) Trevor Veitch and Andy Kulberg. "When the extra mikes were set and everyone situated, Trevor leaned into the mike and announced, "Will you please welcome Bonnie Raitt!" (center). More Hank Williams tunes followed and the performance concluded with a rendition of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken".
Photo by Ross Watson
The staff of the Main Point assembled on the sidewalk outside for their group photo.
This drawing by blues/folk singer-songwriter Ellen McIlwaine ("Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven but Nobody Wants to Die") shows the audience and and the stage of the Main Point. The wooden chairs were grouped together in rows with a shelf attached to the back that served as the table for the next seat behind. The stage is to the right in this drawing, where you see the microphone stand.
The 10th Anniversary publication included this nearly complete listing of all the artists who performed at the Main Point during its first ten years of existence. Click on the lists above and below to enlarge and read the listings, the wealth of musical talent that graced the Main Point stage is extraordinary.
Reading back over the first ten years of shows I realize that my personal history with this venue only really just scratched the surface. Sure, I saw many of the traditional folk artists that gave the Main Point it's original idenity; Eric Anderson, Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk. The opener for the December 1970 Dave Van Ronk show was Jonathan Edwards, who who quickly became a regular and a club favorite. I may have seen him there three times before he released his first album, including memorable co-billings with Bill Withers (September, 1971) and Alex Taylor (June, 1971). Alex was somewhat of a regular at the Main Point also, performing there numerous times.
In the wake of James Taylor's huge 1970 success, James' musically inclined siblings all got recording contracts and all appeared at the Main Point. After James, Livingston has had the most sustained career success and he too was a regular performer at the Main Point and I enjoyed seeing him there many times. Alex passed away in 1993 leaving us five albums including two excellent efforts for Capricorn from 1971 and 1972 that have both been reissued on CD. I can't find Kate Taylor in the Main Point listings, but I know I saw her there around the time of her first album Sister Kate in 1971. But for my junior drivers license (which is what you got in PA from age 16 until turning 18 and which carried a midnight curfew) I might have seen all four of the Taylors. I was in line on the fourth of July 1970 for tickets to that night's James Taylor show (opening act, Manhattan Transfer). By the time I reached the front of the line the early show had sold out and I regrettably passed on buying tickets to the late show.
Emmitt Rhodes played the Main Point in early 1971, drawing from his self titled debut album which he wrote, sang, played all the instruments, engineered, and recorded at home, a record that met or exceeded most of the expectations that fans held for Paul McCartney's similarly produced first solo album. In July of 1972 the Strawbs rocked the house with a full band, over from England to play songs from their then new release Grave New World with its FM radio hit "Benedictus". When I went by the Main Point a few days before the show to buy tickets I was treated to a few songs by Chi Coltrane who was playing at the time, offering a very high voltage performance characterized by her top twenty hit "Thunder and Lightning".
In 1969 and 1970 I twice went to the Main Point to see the American Dream, a local Philadelphia band that made one classic album produced by Todd Rundgren in 1970 that included the very radio friendly "I Ain't Searchin' Anymore" and the novelty tune "Frankford El". Philly local trivia: Nick Jameson, the guitarist of the American Dream went on to become an actor, appearing in the latest two seasons of 24 as the Russian President Yuri Suvarov. It was mentioned above that the Main Point opened amidst a blizzard in 1964. I have fond memories of another show there that took place despite a blizzard in early 1978 when Bruce Cockburn took the stage and performed for about twenty or twenty-five hardy souls who made it to the Main Point despite maybe a foot of snow that had just fallen.
This menu is from April, 1971 and is also clickable for a larger view. The food at the Main Point was always as enjoyable as the music, which was a testament to the work of Jeanette Campbell. The baked beans and bread, the brownies, and the hot cider with cookies were especially memorable, and check out the prices.
The photo above is not credited, but the long lines down the sidewalk on Lancaster Avenue were a familiar sight during the Main Point's era. Unlike its successor, The Point, the Main Point was only open for shows, seats were not reserved, and the audience would queue up long in advance of the opening of the doors. Click on the above page from the 10th Anniversary Publication to enlarge and read some of comments from both customers and artists about the Main Point.
Live radio concerts, mostly on WMMR were an occasional treat. One such broadcast, the 2/5/75 Bruce Springsteen show was recently posted by another XPN Guest Blogger for your listening pleasure. Some broadcasts, such as that one by Springsteen have been widely bootlegged, others now reside only in radio station archives and maybe a few listeners' tape collections. Springsteen was broadcast from the Main Point multiple times, including another classic show from 10/31/73, also on WMMR.
Jackson Browne is another artist who was broadcast multiple times, including an acoustic duet show with David Lindley on 9/07/75 that was part of a string of shows to benefit the Main Point during one of it's many periods of financial difficulty. The beauty of the music that these two artists performed together in the duet acoustic format is hard to put into words. Mid-set, Jackson left the stage for a short set of David Lindley fiddle tunes, during which he bummed a cigarette from me. Incidentally an old friend of mine recalls seeing Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen on the same bill in the early seventies at a nearby show at the Villanova Fieldhouse. They've shared the same stage many times in later years doing benefit concerts for various political and social causes.
WIOQ broadcast an artist named Moon Martin (now there's an obscure one) from the Main Point in 1978. George Thorogood and Jesse Colin Young also had broadcasts from there. One of the most memorable radio concerts from the Main Point was a 6/20/76 show by Warren Zevon carried on WMMR during which he personalized "Werewolves of London" to include lines like "Werewolves of Bryn Mawr" and "Werewolves of greater Philly".
Ultimately the fact that the Main Point did not serve alchohol most likely was a primary factor in the financial problems that ultimately led to it's demise. Ironically, years later, the lack of liquor license (and resistance to expansion) would also result in the closing of The Point, a more than worthy successor to the Main Point that operated a few doors down the street from 1998 to 2005. Considering the rich history of the Main Point, there are many more legends and stories than could be told here. Here's a fascinating memory posted by another listener to the XPN memorable moment archive; I had never heard before that Blind Faith played the Main Point, I'm wondering if they used the club for practice and a non-publicized performance. Here's another great XPN listener memory of Springsteen at the Main Point in 1973. And here's one more XPN listener memory of George Thorogood that popped up with the random moment generator (below). If you wish to add your own memories of the Main Point, please do so by adding a comment to this blog.
Here's a nifty link to XPN's 885 Most Memorable Musical Moments site that will bring up a random moment from the archive of submissions. Voting begins September 17th, the countdown playback will be in October.