On the Record with Heath Johnson

DeKALB – After a year of staying at home during the pandemic, the public is invited to attend a free local outdoor event with lots of hand-clapping and foot-tapping: the 21st annual Folk Music Festival at the Gurler House.

The free event will take place from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 24, at the Gurler House, 205 Pine St. in DeKalb. In case of rain, the event will be canceled.

The festival is hosted by the Friends of Gurler House NFP, supported by a grant from the Mary E. Stevens Concert and Lecture Fund.

Three artists will be featured: Tom Spielman, Dave Balika & Friends and Jim Kanas.

The public is encouraged to bring a picnic lunch, lawn chairs or blankets. Food will not be sold during this year’s event. There is free street parking available, as well as free overflow parking at the First Lutheran Church parking lot east of the Gurler House.

For more information, visit the Gurler House Facebook page or email gurlerhousedekalb@gmail.com.

MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton spoke to Heath Johnson, president of the Friends of Gurler House NFP, about the upcoming event.

Milton: Tell me about the folk music festival.

Johnson: It’s great to have the event outside and in person at the Gurler House. Last year, we had the performers’ recordings played on the WNIJ show Sessions from Studio A hosted by Spencer Tritt. We had their recordings played on-air in lieu of the in-person folk fest. This year, we invited the same artists to perform live for the show.

Milton: Who are this year’s performing artists?

Johnson: This year we have three performers. Dave Balika & Friends will be performing on the hammered dulcimer and other acoustic instruments. Jim Kanas will be performing original and traditional acoustic folk music with Annie Kincaid on violin and vocals. And Tom Spielman will be performing folk acoustic guitar music as well.

Milton: How would you describe the event?

Johnson: The main focus of the festival has always been folk music and music from times gone by. The spirit of the festival is to play music of the time period when the Gurler House was built, 1850. It’s all about getting the community together and having an outdoor concert in a historic setting. We hope to inspire interest from locals who want to preserve the house and learn the history of the Gurler House. It looks almost exactly as it did when DeKalb was founded. It’s a great reminder of the foundations of our town.

Milton: How would you describe folk music?

Johnson: A lot of people think of folk music and Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, but the origins of folk music came before that and inspired those artists. What I like about folk music is that it’s the music of the people. It’s the music people would play when sitting around and talking with one another. It’s music that has always been accessible for players and listeners alike. It’s also easy to follow along, easy to get into. It’s without some of the formalities of classical and pop music.

Milton: How will this year’s event be different from previous years?

Johnson: In the past, we have sold beverages and hot dogs. This year we are going to forgo that due to pandemic concerns. But everyone is invited to bring their own chairs, blankets, picnic lunches. They can sit and relax in the shade under the trees. And in addition to the folk music, we’ll be sharing information about the Gurler House and its history between performers. We’re just really thankful to be able to hold the event this year. I’d also like to thank the people who continue to support the Gurler House through Give DeKalb County and other ways.

Katrina Milton

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.