From its humanitarian base, Illinois folk music is a hybrid of banjo, dulcimer, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, ukulele---and more. The sound is a fertile product of its environment, keeping loyal to cultural identity. It has been said that if was never new and it never gets old, then it is a Folk song. There is no regard for style or fashion.

Illinois singer-songwriters like John Prine, Steve Goodman, and Robbie Fulks found the welcome urban landscape of Chicago a fertile ground for their music. Chicago is America’s biggest small town.

Human connections are easily made. Goodman even had fun covering Burl Ives’ traditional hobo ballad “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” Actor-songwriter Ives (1909-1995) was from rural Jasper County. Like a train filled with smiling dreamers, the Illinois folk sound moved across the mountains and rivers of America.

In 1957 Chicagoan James Roger McGuinn enrolled in the Old Town School of Folk Music, co-founded by folkies Frank Hamilton and Win Stracke. Hamilton was a house musician at the Gate of Horn nightclub on the near north side of Chicago. Future Bob Dylan manager Albert Grossman had opened the Gate of Horn in 1956. McGuinn learned banjo finger picking and 12-string guitar at the school. His studies took flight in co-founding the Byrds and influencing R.E.M., Tom Petty, and Wilco.

And consider all of these Illinois voices--steadily filled with hopeful harmonies--sometimes blood harmonies--but always coming together in a chorus of community. Take time to listen to the words, for they are the songbooks of our beautiful world.

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