On January 4, 2004 a small group of Old Town School of
Folk Music students and their instructor Mark Dvorak uncased their instruments
and began to sing and play in the crowded back room at The Grafton Pub, just
next door to the school.
"The owner of the place called and asked if I might be interested in setting up for a performance at the The Grafton," said Dvorak, who is artist-in-residence at the Old Town School. "At that time, a group of ten or a dozen students enjoyed hanging out in the hallway after class to play and sing together. But by the time we would get into the music, it was time for the school to close. I told Malcom (the owner of The Grafton), that I had a better idea. Our group needed a place to gather, and he was willing to go along with it. We've going strong ever since."
It's hard to estimate how many people have passed through the twice-monthly song session over the years. Dvorak imagines the number to be in the thousands. And only on rare occasions are songbooks or lyric sheets used.
"If people are more comfortable using lyric sheets or songbooks, we have no objection. The space is tight, so there isn't a lot room, and truth be told, it's kind of too dark back there to read the words.," said Dvorak.
The sessions are comprised mostly of current and former Old Town School of Folk Music students and faculty, with Dvorak leading from his usual chair near the fireplace. The group has learned the value of beginning with familiar songs with simple melodies that are easy for a group to learn quickly. There are plenty of guitars to be sure, but there's usually a few fiddles, banjos, mandolins and harmonicas too. "Over the years we've had people playing everything from keyboards, to a drum set and even a horn section, with trumpet and slide trombone."
"We've had professional performers on tour, stop by to sing with us, and one time we had some men from the Republic of South Africa, who happened to be in the states, stop by to share some of the songs they sang while serving time during the years of apartheid. It was something powerful," he said.
"At first I didn't imagine this concept would catch on," said Dvorak. "But one of the things I've learned is that people are eager to sing and play with each other in a social setting, like our cozy back room at The Grafton. I was surprised as anyone when our room filled up each week, and people began leaving class early at the Old Town School to get a good seat at Folk Club."
"People are looking for each other. And we look for each other first where music is happening. Music flows into our lives and through our lives and takes us I think, to where we need to be."
Folk Club @The Grafton meets each first and third Tuesday evening at The Grafton, 4530 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, right next door to the Old Town School of Folk Music. There is no cover charge, excellent food and beverages are available. Visit The Grafton online at www.thegrafton.com.
To join the Folk Club@The Grafton email list go here. Visit Mark Dvorak on the web at www.markdvorak.com.