The West Side Folk concert series showcases Celtic, folk and bluegrass music.
With a full concert lineup beginning this month, the West Side Folk concert series will bring some of the finest folk, acoustic, bluegrass and Celtic musicians to Lawrence.
The series runs through next spring and will feature artists such as folk musician John Gorka and bluegrass bands Original Recipe and Mid-Day Ramblers. Singer-songwriter Connie Dover and instrumentalist Roger Landes are both world-renowned Celtic musicians who will perform together.
Bob McWilliams, KANU-FM 91.5's jazz and folk director, is the series' founder and president. He recalls the string of events that launched West Side in 1994.
"I had been active in all types of music through my radio work, and a friend of a friend phoned me up and said he knew an English-born Australian singer, Martyn Wyndham-Read, who was looking for a house concert," McWilliams said.
A "house concert" in the folk music industry refers to a performance in a smaller venue, such as someone's home. Folk musicians, he said, often prefer downscaled, quiet venues that suit their music's intimate quality.
At the time, McWilliams and his wife, Trish, had just purchased a bigger house in west Lawrence. They offered their space, and 15 people attended that first concert in their living room in early 1994.
The concert marked the beginning. In March 1994, McWilliams attended the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. The music manager of then-unknown folk singer Dar Williams noticed McWilliams' Lawrence name tag and asked him to hold a house concert for Williams.
McWilliams obliged, and the informal concerts continued at both his and other people's homes. Shortly thereafter, the new interim pastor of Lawrence's West Side Presbyterian Church, Julia Wharff, suggested her church as a larger concert location. The series has since expanded to St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, Ecumenical Christian Ministries on the Kansas University campus, the Lawrence Arts Center, Plymouth Congregational Church and Liberty Hall.
The concert series' camaraderie between musicians and music lovers is invaluable when McWilliams needs to schedule concerts. Because those in the music industry often know each other, McWilliams relies heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations from booking agents and other musicians, contacts made at music conventions and the Internet.
The concert series' board of directors checks out established and new performers at the National Folk Alliance's national convention. The event is a showcase for artists, record companies and booking agents.
McWilliams subscribes to four Internet music discussion lists such as the Folk Venue List, which includes promoters and club owners who share information.
The Internet also allows musicians to take more control of their careers and where they perform. McWilliams said that Dar Williams was one of the first musicians to have a Web site and mailing list in the early 1990s. Many who visited her site later booked her, he added.
Dover credits the Internet with giving her more options about where to perform. In 1996, she created a Web site that lists her performance schedule and career news. Fans can also send her e-mail directly via the Web site.
"The Internet has certainly leveled the playing field in terms of giving people more opportunities for global exposure," Dover said. "Concert promoters can access information about me, download cuts of my albums and decide if my music is appropriate for their venue."
Although the Internet is making it easier for performers to communicate with music colleagues and fans, there is no substitute for the first-person interaction between performer and listener.
"The folk music community is one where people are in it because of the music they like to play," he said. "The audience cares about the lyrics and wants to connect with the performer, so the wall between the performer and audience doesn't tend to be there."
Dover, who has performed in Lawrence for the past 13 years, looks forward to singing in the musically supportive city. She will be performing selections from her upcoming CD, "The Border of Heaven (Celtic Music on the American Frontier)," for her West Side Concert on Sept. 24.
"For me, Lawrence is a place where I can try new ideas," Dover said. "The people are open to hearing all kinds of things and they appreciate and support live music."
-- Teresa Heinz is a part-time writer for The Mag. You can send an e-mail to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the West Side Folk series lineup for the fall:
This schedule is subject to additions and revisions. Call 842-1163 for more information.