by Barbara Sherf
Members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration (UUCR), 6900 Stenton Ave. in Mt. Airy recently honored two of their own with an oversized indoor fabric backdrop and new outdoor signage marking the 30th anniversary of The Folk Factory. Former UUCR minister, the Rev. Bob Throne, shared a bit of the history to mark the occasion.
As a bit of background, on the fourth Thursday of most months there is an Open Stage/Open Circle at the church that lasts from 7:30 to 9 p.m. followed by a break. During the Open Stage, audience members can vote, with the top vote getters earning a spot in the People’s Choice Concert tentatively scheduled for May 16. Then the Open Circle runs from 9:15 to 10:30, when everyone present sits around the circle and is invited to sing a song, read a poem, tell a story, request a song or pass.
Retired UUCR minister, the Rev. Bob Throne and his wife were among a handful who had put the concept of having a musical “coffee house” together in 1988, but nobody was really connected to the folk scene until Bruce and Linda Pollack-Johnson showed up at the church that celebrates its 200th anniversary this month.
“Linda and Bruce came along a year and a half into it, and they were well connected and brought in the music of the people and for the people,” said Throne. “Over the past three decades they have really made dreams come true. It was a moment of serendipity or divine intervention when they came along.”
Throne credits church member Lucille Grace (aka. Lucille Ijoy), whose daughter is Kim Harris, of the popular Kim and Reggie Harris folk duo, for getting things rolling.
“They loaned us their mailing list, and we got 60 or so people to attend, and we were able to pay them, as we like to do with all of our musicians. Creativeness is something to be honored, particularly for full-time musicians who are traveling through the area,” Throne said.
The Pollack-Johnsons, who met at a UU conference, hooked up with David and Jenny Heitler–Klevans at Oberlin College, near Cleveland. When the two couples moved back to Linda’s hometown of Philadelphia, they talked about buying a house together and opening a coffee house for musicians. The Heitler-Klevans were very much involved for nearly five years before having twins. They went on to start their award-winning musical children’s group Two of a Kind and folk quartet Acoustic Blender.
The two couples worked on adding the Open Stage/Open Circles and recruiting diverse, socially conscious performers. The Pollack-Johnsons’ son, Jamie Polson (whose last name is a meshing of the last names of his parents), grew up going to The Folk Factory and is now a sophomore majoring in music and communications at Ursinus College in Collegeville.
“Growing up, there was always music in the home, and we would sing and play music and take him to The Folk Factory with us. I’m sure it was influential in this path he is on,” said Bruce, noting that the couple has lived in Mt. Airy for 30 years. “Our vision for The Folk Factory has always been that people play and sing at whatever level they wish to. For some it’s a career path, and for some it offers more than singing in the shower and empowers performers to gain confidence on our open stage.”
Shock is the best word to describe the feelings experienced by Bruce and Linda as they tearfully made their way to the front of the sanctuary recently to receive the new signage and receive a proclamation before an audience that rose and clapped wildly for the pair.
“We were deeply touched, and it came as a complete surprise,” said Linda, who plays the flute and sings and is an Italian interpreter.
At 65, Bruce teaches at Villanova University called the Math of Fairness that dives into issues of inequality, distribution of resources and gerrymandering.
Linda Hansell, who made and presented the proclamation, had only high praise for Bruce and Linda.
“They both walk the walk. It’s rare to see people go to any length, and I’m thrilled that they were touched by it,” said Hansell, an accomplished banjo player.
Holly Jobe made the 80” by 40” banner from an old tie-dyed sari, a garment elaborately draped around women from South Asia.
“They are the kind of people who don’t expect or assume something like this, so it was a really special project to work on,” said Jobe.
Bruce believes the success of The Folk Factory is more than just the music. “We get performers who are committed to social justice,” said Bruce, who is also famous for the brownies he makes.
On Thursday, Feb. 27, the next People’s Choice Open Stage/Open Circle will take place in Fellowship Hall (downstairs). On Friday, March 14, at 8 p.m., in the Sanctuary, there will be the second annual Music for the New Revolution Showcase concert, featuring the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir.
For more information, visit www.uurestoration.us/folk.php or their Facebook Page. Volunteers and performers may e-mail Polson@igc.org or call 215-848-6246.
Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf writes about individuals and businesses. She can be reached at CommunicationsPro.com.