Celebrating 60 Years
The school was off and running. According to a February 1958 Daily News article, "Some 160 local yokels are learning to sing folk ditties and play guitar at Win Stracke's Old Town School of Folk Music." Not bad after just two months! In its early years the School was open only Tuesday and Thursday nights and Saturday afternoons - but those few hours, the place was pulsing with sound, humming with excitement. And who knew which visiting musician might drop in, or be playing nearby?
All kinds of wild things happened at the school. Doc Watson came and talked to the students. So did the Reverend Gary Davis, Dave Van Ronk, and Guy Carawan. the advanced class, students of mentor Ray Tate, would congregate and play the most amazing things. Fred Holstein was there, as well as Rae and Lynn Schwartz. There was some fellow who always had a fabric rose attached to the head of his guitar (remember it was the '60s) and Larry Ehrlich, who would play songs like 'Dream of a Miner's Child' at second half, as Ed Bloom was quietly sitting there playing the devil out of the fingerpicking songs. Ted Johnson would yodel while Shirley Hersh played 'A Student Came Visiting.'
Then one night one of the strangest things happened. All the classes were cancelled. I can still remember Dawn Greening coming into Nate Lofton's class to announce - her face in that totally engulfing and infectious smile - that we're all invited to 'The Bear,' a near-northside restaurant and bar. It was scheduled to open that evening, featuring entertainment by a young fellow completely unknown to me: Bob Dylan.
What a night! We sat in this elegant spot at long tables replete with fine linen, drank coffee, and had our lives changed. We were transfixed. Well, it just went on like that all the time at the school. Some called it the only singles' bar in Chicago with strings. I met Ted [Johnson] there.
Like a lot of people, my life was changed at the School. The people I met there are still some of my best friends.
I've been associated with the Old Town School since the early sixties, starting on North Avenue when Dawn was working the desk and Win was leading the Second Half. It was wonderful! I was singing with Dave Prine then. He, his brother John, Fred Holstein, and other folks were in Ray Tate's advanced class. I remember José Feliciano and Doc Watson coming in to guest-teach. After class, we would go to a variety of folk clubs on Wells Street and sing some more. It was folkie heaven!
This interest in folk music by city people betrays their search for the basic realities which they don't find expressed in commercial popular music. -Win Stracke
One night in the early '60s, I walked into the School and was stunned to see the great Doc Watson in person just sitting there teaching a guitar class! After the class, I took the opportunity (a thrill!) to say hello to him and shake hands with him. The shocker came several years later when I visited Doc at his home in Deep Gap, N.C. He actually remembered me just from my voice and handshake!
I was in a beginner's class led by Frank and Win - it was a big class. Songs were flashed on a screen by a slide projector. Just as now, students left class the first night playing - you guessed it - 'Aunt Rhody.'
One night Pete Seeger dropped in on our class. He tossed his jacket somewhere, picked up a 10-cent glass ashtray and a metal spoon and proceeded to play a great limbo rock rhythm while many class members attempted the limbo.