It's only natural that Jason Solomon's documentary about the legendary Café au Go Go would feature footage of music greats such as B.B. King, Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix, but the real stars of the movie, he says, are his parents.
"I've always been of the opinion that the stories by all the people that performed there is definitely the bigger picture," Mr. Solomon says. "But the more personal story was of my mom and dad, who were never really famous, were never really rich but just wanted to house struggling young artists and give them a forum and a place to jump and do their thing, either musically or comedically."
His movie 7 Years Underground: A 60s Tale, will be shown on Friday, Feb. 10, during the New Jersey Film Festival in New Brunswick. In it, we hear stories about people like Van Morrison, Richie Havens, the Grateful Dead and Cream, who all took stage at the venue on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village on their rise to fame. Established blues greats, such as John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, played there as well.
The film offers some invaluable footage of musicians, captured on rich and intimate 16 millimeter film. We see the great King playing his guitar, Lucille, proving that hippies appreciated the blues, and Mitchell, with her thoughtful blue eyes, long, straight blonde hair and blue wool cap.
But the documentary is really about the club and Solomon's parents, Howard, who died in 2004, and Elli. Jason and his sisters knew what their parents did for a living, and counted Donovan among their babysitters, but Mr. Solomon says that because he was in the middle of the events surrounding the club, he didn't see Café au Go Go the way others did.
One thing that inspired his movie was a blog about his parents created by a fan in Venice.
"This blog has kind of traveled all over the world and all the people who went to the Go Go or knew of the Go Go kind of retold all their stories," Mr. Solomon says. "And that was the narrative of a lot of the research of this film. This guy painstakingly spent all those years basically researching the Go Go. He's only 33 years old, he wasn't even born in the '60s."
Mr. Solomon thought that if a person like that had a passion for the Greenwich Village music scene and the Café au Go Go, others might want to know the story behind the club.
"He kind of inspired me to retell the story from the perspective of my family," he says.
The story of his family includes Howard Solomon and Lenny Bruce's arrests for indecency after a performance by Bruce at the Go Go in 1964. Both were convicted, Solomon's was overturned, but Bruce died before his could be overturned.
Another impetus behind making the movie was a conversation Mr. Solomon had with his mother about the club in 2010. That led to a 90-minute interview he conducted with her with the camera on his Blackberry.
In the movie, Ms. Solomon says the people behind the Café au Go Go were "weirdos," but if they were weirdos, she and her husband were hard-working ones. Jason Solomon says a typical day would see them leave the house at 3 p.m. to prepare for the night, which featured two shows, three on weekends. And often after the late shows, people like Hendrix or King or Eric Clapton would come in at 2 a.m. for a jam session.
"It would be a big party and it was like that every night of the week," he says. "And my parents, because they were so wired , at like 6, 7 o'clock in the morning, after closing the club, they would have breakfast and not see us until 9 or 10 o'clock the next morning."
Another interesting element is Elli's anti-drug stance, not exactly something you expect from a music-loving counter-culture figure. Alcohol wasn't served at the Go Go, and in the movie she talks negatively about Stephen Stills, who she says was "absolutely impossible" to deal with because of drugs. She told her husband, "Get rid of him, he's trouble in River City." And of people she wasn't fond of she adds, "If I didn't want them there, they were out the door."
While Mr. Solomon says it was impossible to keep drugs and liquor out of the club ("How do you tell Big Joe Williams, 'You can't have a drink before you go on and sing the blues,'"), the no-drug rule was done for the sake of the club and the music.
"She always wanted to have this club and she didn't want people in there wrecking the joint," he says. "And she didn't want people getting hurt, she wanted it to be a comfortable, safe zone. "
For Mr. Solomon, the film isn't finished. One element that's missing is an interview with Al Kooper (whose credits include playing the organ solo on Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone"), a member of The Blues Project, a band that recorded a famous live album at the Go Go. He wants to hear the war stories Kooper can share, largely because as he says, there was animosity between Kooper and Howard Solomon.
"I think would be a great thread for the film," he says. "I don't want it to be sugarcoated. I really want it to be a real perspective of the way it was. When you think about rock 'n' roll, it's put on such a pedestal and we look at these figures as legends instead of people, and that's why I wanted to stay away from the B.B. Kings and the Eric Claptons. It would have taken away from the heart of the piece, which is two struggling people, who also had three kids, trying to make a club work ... for six years and always behind the 8-ball. That, to me, is the more interesting story."
In addition to sharing this story with music lovers, Jason says the movie taught him a few things about his parents.
"It was a very emotional and awakening experience, because I didn't really appreciate what my parents did," he says. "To me, it was their trip, it wasn't my thing. But now, after learning this history, and how rich it was, I can't believe the impact they had on so many artists."
Prior to the screening of 7 Years Underground, the festival will feature three short films. Other highlights for this weekend include the revenge-themed feature The Big Bad on Feb. 11 and Boom Varietal, a documentary about the Argentine Malbec wine varietal.
'7 Years Underground: A '60s Tale' will be shown Voorhees Hall #5, 71 Hamilton St., near the corner of George and Hamilton streets in New Brunswick, on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. Admission costs $10; 732-932-8482; www.njfilmfest.com