The world lost two icons of folk music last week, starting April 22 when news broke of guitarist/vocalist Richie Havens, who with a strum on his guitar in the farm field in upstate New York, kicked off a history-making musical weekend as the opening act of Woodstock died of a heart attack. He was 72. Havens frequently performed at Chicago’s revered Old Town School of Folk Music before standing room only audiences. He will be missed.
Closer to home and certainly closer to the heart of the Chicagoland music community, came word on April 26 of the death of “the godfather of Chicago folk music,” Earl J.J. Pionke. Pionke, 80, the owner of the legendary Earl Of Old Town folk club died following a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Pionke was an important figure in the folk music scene of Chicago’s Old Town district in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although the Earl of Old Town at 1615 North Wells Street, closed its doors more than 30 years ago, for decades it was a launch pad for the careers of countless folk singer/songwriters. It’s became one of the nation’s most famous folk music venues, a place all the big names in folk music came to play.
The Earl of Old Town rose to fame quickly because Pionke made it the place to see the best up and coming artists, spotlighting the fresh and virtually unknown folkies he would hear on Chicago radio station WFMT’s showcase radio program, “The Midnight Special.” Between the radio program and live shows at The Earl, careers were born.
Earl Pionke impacted countless lives and leaves behind a rich legacy we will be reminded of whenever a banjo is picked or an acoustic guitar is strummed in Chicagoland. The Earl of Old Town is gone, but he will never be forgotten.
No funeral or wake was planned, but a celebration of Pionke’s life will be presented on June 23 at Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn. More details were unavailable at press time. Check back often for developing details at: www.fitzgeraldsnightclub.com
• Those looking to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day will find the best Cinco de Mayo Fiesta in the area actually happening on Tres de Mayo (tonight!), as the City of Hammond and Mayor Thomas M. McDermott presents the ninth annual such celebration from 5 to to 11p.m. at the Hammond Civic Center with live performances by Ballet Folklorico de East Chicago and Marichis de Colores, plus the Latin/Dance ensembles Los Cordobas and Together. Tickets for the all ages event are $10 and includes a plate of authentic Mexican cuisine. A cash bar is available for those 21 and older. More: (219) 853-6378 or www.gohammond.com
• Spend “A Night Out For The Animals” at Grand Central Station in North Judson Saturday (6 p.m.) as regional Elvis tribute artist Irv Cass sings “Hound Dog” for the hounds and other critters in the care of the Starke County Humane Society. Tickets and information: (219) 242-2421 or visit the Starke County Humane Society.
The Knights of Columbus (1400 S. Broad St) in Griffith hosts a fundraiser for the National Youth Advocate Program (NYAP) featuring performances donated by The Rak Brothers and The Jimmy Sarr Band. “The benefit is to raise money for school supplies for the kids in the NYAP foster care system as many of the federal funding programs have been cut dramatically,” according to Dr. John Procopio one of the event’s organizers. Tickets are $15 each or $25 a couple. More: (219) 644-8561.
• Portage resident and international touring musician Jeff “Keytarjeff” Abbott is home long enough this week to make a live in studio guest shot Tuesday at 6pm on “Midwest BEAT with Tom Lounges” on 89.1 FM – The Lakeshore. Abbott is one of the world’s premier keytarists, and will be performing the unique instrument over the Lakeshore airwaves. Jeff Abbott’s music is available online at iTunes, Spotify and Amazon.