Forty Years of Rochester Folk

Last night, Rochester’s Golden Link Folk Singing Society ( celebrated its 40th birthday with a “Presidents’ Concert”. The club began in 1971, in the waning days of the folk music boom, as a group of stalwart music lovers began to gather at each others’ houses on a regular basis to share songs.

This became a club, which eventually secured 501c(3) status and a church basement for weekly song swaps. They also began hosting touring musicians in a concert series and started a yearly festival named Turtle Hill. The festival has remained small in scale, but traveling performers love the intimate setting and the sophisticated audience who creates some of the best sing-along harmonies around.

I first wandered in around 1981, making the journey to the singarounds with my friend Craig Hohm when the demands of medical residency weren’t too great. I helped out with the Festival in 1988 and then co-coordinated it with my “Local Folkel Records” co-owner Joe LaMay in 1989, 1990 and 1991.

A lot has happened musically in the club’s four decades, much of which I was happy to have witnessed. I met Canadian legend Stan Rogers and learned a guitar tuning from him, not long before his untimely death in the tragic 1983 Air Canada fire in Cincinnati. I met some of my dearest friends through the club when they came to perform, particularly Anne Hills, Cindy Mangsen, Steve Gillette and Priscilla Herdman.

Stan Rogers

I helped get Herdman, Hills and Mangsen together for the first time in what would be a very successful collaboration that produced three CDs and many concerts across the US and Canada. And the same festival (in 1988) brought Steve and Cindy together, and they became married not long after that. It was also the last small festival appearance for Shawn Colvin before her Columbia Records deal launched her career to new heights.

Herdman, Hills & Mangsen

Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen

Shawn Colvin

Another occasional denizen of the club in the late 1980’s was a diminutive teenager from Buffalo with a big guitar and a bigger voice, who would hitch a ride over and play at some of our open mike nights. Her name was Ani Difranco.

Ani Difranco

On Saturday night, 15 of the club’s 21 presidents, current and past, were on hand to share songs and memories. Afterward, as always, instruments were unpacked and a jam session went late into the night. That’s only typical, and was predicted by the words of the closing Greg Brown song from the concert:

There’s a ring around the moon.
Long, long time till day,
Play me one more tune,
Please don’t go away.

Happy 40th birthday, and many more.

Top: Bob Olyslager, Michael O'Shea, Bill Gamble. Middle: Gail Davis, Joe LaMay, Allen Hopkins, Ellen Smith, Julia Day, Dave Shaver, Bob Taylor, Tom Taylor. Bottom: Mitzi Collins, B. J. Cunningham, Barbara Jablonski, and Donna Russell

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