When Ron Johnson began the Oshkosh Friends of Folk Music, it was
simply a way to keep people informed about quality musicians appearing in
the Fox Valley.
A little more than a year later, Johnson's group is determined to introduce the community to some of the best singers and songwriters in the country, as well as helping to keep one of our local treasures a viable member of the community.
After reading a newspaper article about the financial struggles facing a community performing arts centers, Johnson immediately thought of the concerts he's attended at the Grand Opera House.
My first thought was that every folk concert I go to at the Grand from Arlo Guthrie to Leo Kottke and John Prine has been a near sellout, he said.
But because those acts were being brought in by an outside promoter the Grand was missing out on the lion's share of the profits, said Johnson.
So Johnson set out to test a theory by sponsoring two folk acts during last year's Grand Season, Patty Larkin and John Gorka.
While attendance at the Larkin show was kind of a disappointment, said Johnson, he was able to collect almost 40 e-mail addresses and create the Oshkosh Friends of Folk Music.
Prior to the Gorka performance, Johnson sent out e-mail to the Friends of Folk reminding them to support the Grand by checking out the folk performance.
The 400 people who attended the Gorka show and a sell-out crowd for Arlo Guthrie helped Johnson's e-mail list balloon past 200 people.
The goal of the list is to build a network of folk music fans so that eventually when a folk show is announced at the Grand the members of the list will automatically translate into a few hundred ticket sales.
The first e-mail I sent out I asked everyone to bring eight friends to the show, said Johnson. Now they only have to bring two other people with them to fill the house.
This season the Oshkosh Friends of Folk Music Series will feature four artists at the Grand Opera House Peter Mayer, Nov. 9; Loudon Wainwright III, Dec. 1; David Wilcox, Feb. 21; and Cheryl Wheeler, May 16.
Bob Destocki, executive director of the Grand, said the folk series is a perfect fit for the historic theater because of its warmth and intimacy.
The acoustics here are perfect, he said. The big thing a performer wants to do is communicate with the audience. When a folk artist walks out onto the Grand's stage it's like they are walking out and sitting in someone's living room.
The partnership between the Oshkosh Friends of Folk Music and the Grand is one both parties hope will continue to develop through the years, but they also concede that it will be totally dependent on the response from the community.
We want to have guaranteed audiences, but also let the word get out that this is a great place to come see a show, said Johnson. The Grand is always going to have financial struggles; it needs to be supported by the community if it's going to last. It's not up to me to make this successful, it's up to the community.
Johnson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for the list.
People know if it's at the Grand, it's something that's going to be pretty good, said Destocki. They know they are not going to see any dogs when they come here unless - it's a dog act.
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