Chicago and the Folk Music Revival, 1957-1970: A Tale of Two Key Figures – Ray Flerlage and Win Stracke

Chicago in the Folk Music Revival: Sites and Venues

Along with New York and Boston, Chicago was a main site of the Folk Musical Revival. Folk clubs such as The Gate of Horn and The Earl of Old Town opened their doors to talented performers and enthusiastic audiences. Of lasting importance for the Revival movement were two venues established during this period that have remained active through subsequent decades, down to the present. These are the Old Town School of Folk Music and the annual University of Chicago Folk Festival.


The following map indicates the locations of important folk music venues in Chicago during the 1957-70 period. The color coding for the points is the following:

Blue - The four separate locations of the Old Town School of Folk Music

Red - Site of the annual University of Chicago Folk Festival

Green - Three of the more popular folk clubs: The Saddle Club, The Earl of Old Town, and The Gate of Horn.


Old Town School of Folk Music

In continuous operation since opening its doors on December 1, 1957, the Old Town School of Folk Music hosts frequent concerts featuring not only American folk-related performers but also musicians from around the world. On any given night, one is likely to hear not only performers of “traditional” folk music and singer-songwriters, but also other regional American styles such as Cajun, Tex-Mex, or Hawaiian. There are also many concerts of African, Latin American, and Asian music. Living truly up to its name, the “School” hosts instructional classes on instruments, vocal performance, songwriting, and ensemble-playing. The School even offers dance and theater classes, as well as a range of classes for children and teenagers.

The Old Town School has seen many ups and downs over the years, but it still stands as one of this country’s premier sites for the performance and promotion of folk music. The vision of its founders – most notably, Win Stracke – has been a lasting one. The following timeline marks the major events in the Old Town School’s history since its founding.

These photos – all taken by Ray Flerlage – capture some of the many performers at the Old Town School of Folk Music during the 1960s.

University of Chicago Folk Festival       

The other durable monument to the Folk Music Revival is the annual University of Chicago Folk Festival, held on the university’s Hyde Park campus. The festival, begun in 1961 by the university’s Folklore Society, takes place every February. In 2019 the festival will celebrate its 59th anniversary. Its weekend-long series of performers typically includes musicians of traditional folk, bluegrass, Mexican, Cajun, Western swing, blues, and other styles.

The following photos – all by Ray Flerlage – are of some of the musicians performing at the University of Chicago Folk Festival during the 1960s.