A good performance, Ms. Hill says, “at its heart, about communication – a subtle conversation between the audience and the performer.”
Folksinger Anne Hills will take the stage Saturday to inaugurate the 30th anniversary season of Hogeye Folk Arts. But in fact, the celebration for the organization she co-founded is a bit overdue.
The performers in the upcoming concert series – Ms. Hills, Roy Book Binder, Cindy Mangsen and Steve Gillette, and Andrew Calhoun and his daughter Casey – are members of a musical community that took root in Evanston even before 1980.
It was in the fall of 1977, says Evanstonian Tyler Wilson, that he and his wife, Joan, founded Hogeye with Ms. Hills and her then-husband Jan Burda. It was a labor of love.
Chicago’s Amazing Grace Coffeehouse had closed, says Ms. Hills, and the four saw an opportunity to “keep folk music going on the north side of Chicago …[to] bring in a crowd and introduce new acts,” as well.
Eager to launch, they opened the Hogeye store in a Central Street storefront they knew was scheduled for demolition to make way for a bank parking lot, Mr. Wilson says.
So when a space opened up at 1920 Central St. a few doors west, the quartet of owners jumped at the chance to relocate – and ended up braving the blizzard of 1978 on moving day. “The snow was so deep we laid plywood [on the drifts] and pushed the display cases across the alley,” says Mr. Wilson.
“We started concerts [in the store] almost immediately,” he says. From the beginning, the organization ran on volunteer power. “No one but the performers was paid,” he says. Volunteers made flyers and handled concert preparations, hauling folding chairs from the store basement, moving display cases out of the way and baking cookies.
Hogeye drew audiences who “love[d] music with roots in the folk tradition,” says current board president Doug Tweedie. They came to hear Ms. Hills and other area musicians with national reputations, the likes of John Prine, Tom Paxton, Bob Gibson and Steve Goodman.
Then Ms. Hills’s and Mr. Burda’s marriage dissolved. By 1992 Jim Craig, a guitar instructor and popular Hogeye performer, had become sole owner of the Hogeye Music store. He is still there, selling, repairing and teaching traditional instruments in the Central Street space.
Hogeye Folk Arts split off as a non-profit producer of concerts. Until 15 years ago or so Ms. Wilson booked the performers and kept the records, says her husband. He went back to work full-time as a mechanical engineer.
Meanwhile, says Mr. Craig, the folk concerts had “outgrown the store.” The group moved first to the Unitarian and later to the Lake Street Church. “Churches have big, cheap spaces” for rent, says Mike Graham. He and his wife, Wynn, became involved with Hogeye Folk Arts soon after moving to Evanston in 1988 from St. Joseph, Mich., where they had known Anne Hills’ family.
Like others in a core group of Hogeye fans, the Grahams pitched in to help. Volunteers like them, says Mr. Wilson, kept the organization alive. There were perks, says Mr. Graham. In the interval between set-up and concert, volunteers customarily sat down to dinner together at the Central Street restaurant May-Wah. Often the performers ate with them. The experience, Mr. Graham says, “had the potential to create community.”
“Actually, folk music is the sort of specialized genre that invites, maybe even demands, an extreme loyalty and endurance,” Ms. Hills writes in an e-mail. “No one goes into this field to make a lot of money. We are part of a community that’s like a family: opinionated, passionate, but supportive.”
In that spirit, Joan Wilson carried on with the scheduling and books for Hogeye Folk Arts until health problems caused her to bow out. Ben Cohen, an attorney by profession, stepped in, handling “management duties” in a “producer role” for nearly a decade, says Mr. Tweedie,. Then complications from a fall he took last spring left Mr. Cohen’s role – and the fate of the upcoming season – up in the air.
Mr. Tweedie, a self-described former “casual participant,” rallied to recreate a schedule the original details of which are still locked behind unknown passwords on Mr. Cohen’s computer. A 12-concert season is in the final planning stage.
Mr. Craig traces the name “Hogeye” to a fiddle tune, “Hogeyed Man,” and perhaps also to a town in Arkansas. “They have a jackpot in the name,” he says. Loyal followers would say the same about the Hogeye experience. They point out that concerts are a bargain – just $15 for “one and a half hours of music with free brownies in between,” says Mr. Graham.
As for folk music, Mr. Graham says it “has traditionally carried stories or messages … sensitive to the times.” Typically performed by a solo artist or small group on acoustic rather than electric instruments, folk music can be described as “simple” rather than “highly produced” – a Quaker meeting house rather than a megachurch, he says. The lyrics are as important as the melody, says Ms. Hills – and however unadorned the music sounds to modern ears, the lyrics tend to be “really topical,” Mr. Tweedie says.
Though Hogeye audiences are aging, Mr. Craig reports that young people are showing a lively interest in learning to play guitar, banjo, fiddle and other traditional instruments. There is still an allure to an art form that is passed down from person to person and requires “no training in the classical sense,” says Ms. Hills. “I love its accessibility. … Folk music reaches into and reflects the local culture, is a record of history, and challenges current events. The songs touch on all subjects, from the deeply personal to the universal.”
Anne Hills will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 25 at the Lake Street Church, 607 Lake St. Admission is $15, $14 for HFA members, $13 for seniors and $5 for students.