Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Saturday, December 2

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Ferraby Lionheart Visits The Abbey (sounds like a chapter from "King Arthur") K-Paz de la Sierra's Singer Found Dead »

Review Mon Dec 03 2007

Review: Old Town School's 50th Anniversary Concert

The entire concert lineup on stage at the same time, singing with the audience.

Back in September on this page, I predicted that the Old Town School of Folk Music’s sold-out 50th Anniversary benefit concert celebration, which was held this past Saturday, would end as a giant sing-a-long. I was wrong. In fact, the singing started before the concert even began, in the lobby and on every floor of the enormous Auditorium Theatre, led by both school faculty and volunteer ensembles. The joyous pre-concert hootenannies exemplified all that the Old Town School stands for -- community, inclusiveness, and fun -- and were the perfect prelude to an extraordinary 17-act musical montage of what the school offers year-round to us lucky Chicagoans.

Expectedly, the audience didn’t have to wait long before the next participatory opportunity. As the lights dimmed, Old Town School faculty members came out in increments to perform Pete Seeger’s hit “Turn! Turn! Turn!” in many different styles and variations, the final variation being, of course, a sing-a-long. As a result of some superb technical coordination, the faculty continued to perform in-between acts through the entire evening – both on stage and in the balconies – so that not one minute of the precious 3-hour concert was wasted.

Next up, the versatile roots guitarist David Bromberg joined with popular Chicago folk vocalist Bonnie Koloc and harmonica virtuoso Corky Siegel in a trio that performed so energetically that one of Bromberg’s strings broke off, providing one of the most entertaining moments of the first half. Not missing a beat – literally – Siegel accompanied Koloc by himself with a contagious liveliness, screeching and bending and pulsating, until Bromberg was able to rejoin the group a couple of minutes later.

But the evening wasn’t all about strumming. Reflecting the school’s diverse offerings were faculty tap and hip-hop dance sequences, a faculty African drumming duo, a Spanish-language version of “This Land is Your Land” by the Sones de México Ensemble and dancing by The Luna Negra Dance Theater. Singer Abigail Washburn, accompanied by banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck (without the Flecktones), even bust out her seemingly-perfect Mandarin for a song she learned while living in China. Who knew?

We were brought back to Chicago by bluesman Lonnie Brooks and at the end by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, whose kids attend Old Town’s “Wiggleworms” classes and who was joined by the Wilco Ensemble, one of the school’s classes devoted to learning the music of a single group. That I didn’t sign up for that class this term will haunt me forever.

The event made clear that it wouldn’t be difficult to play an Old Town School version of Jewish Geography with American traditional musicians of the last century. Frank Hamilton, the school’s very first instructor, came back to Chicago from Atlanta to perform a few favorites (yes, including an all-audience sing-a-long of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”) immediately before a former student of his, The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn. Everyone else on stage, it seemed, had either learned or played with or known each other prior to the concert, and the sense of community shone through.

It’s unfortunate then, despite the homecomings and remembrances of last weekend, that the Chicago institution most instrumental to the school’s founding and success, WFMT-FM, was forgotten on Saturday. In a Sun-Times interview, former school director Jim Hirsch said that "in the early days, Ray [Nordstrand],” WFMT’s late General Manager, “was one of the staunchest supporters we had. It's not a stretch to say that the Old Town School would not have been as successful if it had not been for his involvement."

The emcees of the evening, Terry Hemmert, Tom Marker and Tony Sarabia, while good radio hosts in their own right, come from stations that have either abandoned Chicago music (WBEZ) or have little more than a corporate relationship with the school (WXRT). WFMT, however, still broadcasts material from the school, almost weekly, on The Midnight Special and it was Frank Hamilton himself who said that without “…the climate in Chicago in the artistic community and the station WFMT-[FM 98.7], I doubt very much sincerely whether this could have happened...”

Full disclosure: I work for WFMT, but don’t just take my word for it. Look on the school’s own website or find pictures of former WFMT host Studs Terkel, a major Old Town School supporter, on the walls in the school's basement.

GB store
GB store

Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

GB store


Featured Series


Transmission on Flickr

Join the Transmission Flickr Pool.

About Transmission

Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Sarah Brooks,
Transmission staff inbox:



Transmission Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15