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Our 10th Birthday

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Note: The following is a reprint of a section from our 10th anniversary newsletter (way back in 1988!), and are letters we received reminiscing about the very early days of 'The Hog'.

Several people wrote to us recently reflecting on the past 10 years. Here are their letters, long or short, they say it all.

This letter is from Gordy Hinners now living in North Carolina. He wrote it last winter, not intending it be published. We convinced him it was a work of Hog art. so here it is:

Dear Coffeehouse Members:

This month's newsletter sparked a few miscellaneous thoughts and memories that I thought I'd share with you (y'all in local parlance). I guess the snow now whipping by my house and a recent visit by Deb help to spark a few memories as well! It's just amazing to me (and a little hard to even comprehend) to realize that every Thursday and Friday nights for the last ten years (!) in Madison that there has been (and is still) a place for people to gather and play and/or listen or dance to "folk" music - removed from the hype and pressure often (in fact, usually) associated with such ventures - when we first started talking about "the" coffeehouse in 1978 (say it ain't that long ago, Joe), it didn't take long to look around and realize that there seemed to be a ton of people in Madison interested in folk music - musicians, dancers, callers, singers, and more passive participants. At that time there were a few organizations for people to get together and play or listen, such as the Madison Folk Music Society (and what a boon and base of support it was and continues to be), the Pick and Grin Workshops, and of course informal house "jams". Occasionally, there were some concerts, usually by "big name" folk entertainers from the area. But to those of us who were talking together back then, there seemed to be something missing. Through "acquired" acquaintances (and thinking about how some of those became acquired - the connections generated - continues to amuse me) and constant talk about "If only there was...," some of us decided that some sort of coffeehouse, maybe a cooperative, was needed to fill the gap that we felt in our own lives. Of course, we felt that there was a gap in others lives as well, but early on, there just was no telling. Like all beginning processes in Madison, we decided to hold a meeting. We put up some flyers around town asking anyone interested in forming a cooperative folk music coffeehouse to come to a meeting. My memory is dulled by too many years and too many miles, but it went something like that. And to my (at least) great surprise, my living room in the old house on East Johnson was filled with people. (As I think back, I can still remember where people were sitting. Really incredible for a weak mind such as mine!) So, there was something lacking in Madison - need to be filled. But how to define it? Coming up with such a definition, formed by the diverse group that had come together, was just a breeze - HAH! After long discussion (many would say, argument - to me, hopefully a discussion which still gets brought up now and again), we "decided" that what Madison needed was a place for local "informal" musicians, etc. to share their talents in some kind of more formal atmosphere and perhaps a place for more professional entertainers to try out their material in a more relaxed, but warm, listening and intimate environment than that of the local bar scene. After ten years, it seems such a simple logical answer. But so many questions had to be answered. Where? Who? How often? How? How much? Why? etc. etc. etc. that is, what kind of design would provide a place for the serious and not-so-serious, the professional and the amateur, the active and the passive participant - a place where all could feel comfortable. Once everything was in place and functioning (running itself, it sometimes seemed - did it really?), these questions of the "early days" seemed to lose some of their force. Things were working and it just seemed like "what were we arguing over, anyway?" But as I sat in the Coffeehouse to listen or poured another cup of coffee and smiled with glee at the startled expressions of people - "15¢!?!" or sat behind a microphone with a chance to share my music with others or laced up my dance shoes for the first time at Olin Park, the realization (comprehension would smack me straight in the face) My God, it happened! We really did it! It is happening. We really are doing it!

Now, as my feeble mind drifts back over thoughts over those years at the coffeehouse, so many memories juggle for prominence - slipping next door to the "Six" for a smoke and a tall one from Jock, laughing at the first "Isthmus" article about the coffeehouse after the first big benefit (they said we'd never make it as a cooperative in Madison - I now hear they call us an institution!) , leaving an intense 3 hour meeting to drink 3 or 4 beers (OK, maybe 3 or 4 pitchers) and talk about the coffeehouse for another 3 or 4 hours, explaining to the banker with Pam that yes indeed the name on the checks would be "The Wild Hog in the Woods Coffeehouse", spending close to two whole evenings to decide on that name (looking at record albums and rejecting such "sweet" monikers as Banish Misfortune in favor of the more gritty Wild Hog) and on and on. I guess my dearest memory, though is of the talents of so many (and so diverse a group of) people shared in such and open, giving way. We needed tables, and there was an expert who volunteered to build them for the cost of the materials (and he a musician!). We needed baked goods and there comes Mary every week with arms full of delicious goodies, and she couldn't even arrange her schedule to attend the coffeehouse! We needed to do something about the walls of the Green Lantern and several late nights and a few moments teetering on G.L. tables, there were quilt covers on the walls. Over and over things got done (and done well) by people often with little time, little money, but an incredible amount of energy and dedication to only a concept (but then a reality). That seemed important in some special way to each person.

Running through all those memories is a theme that I think has been and still is one of the coffeehouse's greatest strengths. Everyone who participates in the coffeehouse has been able to share in its functions - each "role" is so important . What is the role of entertainer without an adequate sound system (which had to come from somewhere and the efforts of somebody(ies) or the role of a competent sound person or an audience provided by poster hangers and newsletter writers? What is a "relaxed" and conducive atmosphere without comfortable arrangements, someone to light candles, someone to bake and someone to serve and someone to make sure all is running smoothly, etc. etc. etc. The coffeehouse, in sum, is not simply artists and audience, but all the efforts of all the people involved in all of its functions - that is the way of functioning that we intended and I think, the way it should be.

To make a long letter longer (I'm pretty sure I'm not remembered by my brevity of speech) I can now look back and find pride in all our accomplishments and the (far too) distant past. But more importantly, I can look to the newsletter and feel just as much pride in the accomplishments of the present. I can look back and see the present (or vice versa). And what an exciting and refreshing and healthy thought! Knowing that people (those from the "early days" and those I have yet to meet) are still thinking about and acting upon fulfilling the dreams of the past and present - leaves me with the contented feeling that the coffeehouse - which now is an "institution" is still the vital and dynamic (a word we used a lot of years ago) group of people that I remember so well.

Well, that's a lot of talk, but as I read my newsletter each month, I can still picture myself sitting around a table at the coffeehouse so engaged in a "discussion" at a coordinating committee meeting. And I find myself thinking the same thoughts, feeling the same emotions - reliving the past in the present actions/thoughts of you all in the present. To that, I say Hooray, Yea, Yeehaw, and Wahoo!!!!!

All my love, respect, and support!!!

Gordy Hinners

P.S. A 10th Anniversary Party? Yeah!!!

Carol Sawyer was around in the beginning. She and her husband are now living in Chapel Hill. North Carolina. Here Is her account of what the new Coffeehouse was almost named:

At an early coffeehouse meeting (it might have been at Gordy Hinner's house) talk turned to a name for the new enterprise. We had decided that a barn dance would be the way to do some fundraising and get the word out. But we suddenly realized that we were in the awkward position of advertising something that didn't have a name.

After much non-productive discussion (nothing has ever happened at the coffeehouse without such discussions), we started flipping through the record collection for inspiration. "Banish Misfortune" came up, the new LP from Malcolm Daglish and Grey Larson. What a joyous name for a coffeehouse! Images of beautiful, flowing script and logo danced in our heads "Banish Misfortune' it would be!

However, a second round of discussion ensued. We did enjoy discussing things. A skeptic pointed out that "Banish Misfortune" was a natural tongue-twister, prone to convert itself unexpectedly to "Bassinsh Mishfossun" twixt tongue and lip. Additional serious discussion resulted in the suggestion of shortening the name in some way.

Gillam Kirby settled the argument. He picked up an imaginary phone and answered with a cheery "Hello, this is the B.M.!"

The search for another name began in earnest.

Time for a break before you read any more letters. So here is a bit of newsletter history. Agnes Bennett has the distinction of being the Hog's first editor of the newsletter. The first volume had two issues published prior to that first night at the coffeehouse. Agnes served as editor for more than three years, through 1981. She then took a break and Susi Nehis and Mike Boehm became co-editors the first half of 1982, Larry Rungren took over the duties in July, 1982 and served until he moved to Boston. Don Katz filled Larry's vacancy in October of 1983 and edited until May, '84. Agnes then returned as editor for the next six months. Jamie Poindexter filled in one month for Agnes that summer, just enough to catch the fever. She then served as editor for the next two years, from November, '84 until December, '86. Next came Eric Feigenson adding his touch January to April, 1987. Jamie then returned from May, '87 until she turned it over to Ramona Makos in June, '88. Ramona now turns the duties back to Eric so she can concentrate on a deadline at work next spring. Good luck Eric!

More Letters!

Agnes Bennett writes of her memories in the beginning as the first newsletter editor:

It was gung-ho in those early Hog days! We sat around in living rooms, usually on the floor, and hassled out committees and problems with long drawn out meetings and arguments. And there was a lot of shouting and laughter as I recall.

I must have had a mental lapse when I volunteered to do the newsletter. I'd never done one and was pretty new to the typing game, but what the heck. I'd try anything once, I guess. Lots of us were in the same boat, just sort of muddling through. And the newsletter seemed to fit my abilities and interests more than jobs like finding a location for the coffeehouse, fundraising, posters, sound system, making tables, scheduling, etc. There were a lot of phone calls made to fill the newsletter, sometimes 3 or 4 just to get the schedule. Scheduling wasn't easy either. Sometimes there seemed to be as many TBAs as performers.

There was no Isthmus in those days, so we had a small calendar of folk events. I'd call some of the various old-time, bluegrass, and Irish groups who had expressed interest in being listed. It seemed like it was feast or famine, too. Sometimes more material than space and other times next to nothing, but always that important piece that missed the deadline but got squeezed in somehow. And then the original was taken to the printer and I picked it up the next day.

Meanwhile, I had coaxed labels out of someone who had access to the computer and who was real busy but somehow found time to do them. Then, lick the labels, sort by zip code and then finally to the post office! Several people helped me out when I was in a jam a few times. It was a challenge, fun and a great learning experience. I guess that's what WHITW (Wild Hog in the Woods) is all about.

Still More Letters!

A birthday greeting sent our way from Sue Gould, president of the Madison Folk Music Society:

The simple words "Happy Anniversary" don't quite express how delighted we are to join our colleagues in the Madison community in congratulating you on reaching your tenth year. This achievement is really remarkable and it speaks to the dedication and perseverance of the members of the Wild Hog in the Woods Coffeehouse.

On many occasions over the years our organization and the Wild Hog in the Woods have successfully co-sponsored and otherwise collaborated on musical events. At present, the Wild Hog's coffeehouse is one of the only settings in the Madison area where, on a weekly basis, people can go to hear consistently high-quality acoustic folk music. Traditional and contemporary music; foreign and domestic; blues, bluegrass, jazz and swing the Wild Hog has offered and promoted all of these for the enrichment of this community. It is also one of the few places in this area where performances by local musicians are encouraged and relied upon; it is a focal point for fostering and developing musical talent.

One thing that has always impressed me is the special spirit of cooperation that exists between the Wild Hog and other folk music oriented groups. In addition to co-producing concerts, the Wild Hog has loaned us their sound equipment, provided masters of the sound board to keep things running smoothly, and furnished volunteers for MFMS events. Also, members of the Wild Hog have served on the Madison Folk Music Festival Steering Committee to offer expert advice and emotional support when needed. This special working relationship was one of the things that first attracted me to the MFMS and the Wild Hog. Our two organizations share both mutual interests and mutual members.

On behalf of the Madison Folk Music Society I am proud to salute our colleagues at the Wild Hog and to sincerely wish you many more successful years. We pledge to continue to work by your side whenever needed.

This letter is from a 'newcomer', Michele Jacques:

Most of the letters which make up part of this special issue of the Newsletter have been written by the "original" members and founding folks of the Coffeehouse. I'm offering to be the exception to this group, as I came to the Hog at a later date. I guess I've sort of considered myself a newcomer, although when I stop to think of it, the first time I went to the Coffeehouse was in 1981, and I've been more or less a regular ever since.

That first night was at the old University Avenue location, and I came to hear Vicki Mecozzi and friends perform a selection of songs for spring. I only knew one person in the room, she was the one who first introduced me to this thing which was called, (for some reason unknown to me) "The Hog." Not long after I arrived, I was greeted by people at the food table, and others in the room who seemed to think of me as some long lost friend. I felt very welcome. After the set, the performers, the people who I later learned were the night's volunteers, and some others decided to go to Ella's on State Street for some pound cake. It sounded like a good idea to me, so I tagged along. That evening was the start of some very long and very close friendships.

Later, I became bolder. I started to go to the barn dances. One summer night I drove over to Olin Park. As I approached the barn, I could hear the fiddles and see the dancers through the open windows. I thought at the time that here was entertainment at its finest, and was happy to be a part of it all. Up to this day, however, I don't think I have danced more than a total of a half a dozen times at any of the scores of barn dances I've gone to. My real fun at the dances is selling cider! Now you dancers will find it hard to believe, but I found my niche in life when I got my chance to work at the admissions table and to pour out the hundreds of glasses of cider to all you thirsty folks. I still do it today.

And that brings me to the real point of my letter. I am a Hog who can't play an instrument, who wouldn't be able to sing a song if my life depended on it, would be mortified if I found myself on the stage or dance floor, and can barely tell the difference between a bass and a banjo. I rarely recognize any "big" names in the folk music world, and wouldn't know if a performer's set was critically acclaimed or just almost passable. But I do know that the Hog is a place where I don't have to worry about any of those things. My participation and enjoyment comes from listening and learning, both of which can easily be done at the Hog. I know that I can relax for an evening of music at the Coffeehouse, or can sit and talk with friends at the barn dance and will go home feeling light as a feather because of it.

Through helping out at the Coffeehouse, I have met some of those "big" names when the Hog sponsored a special event. But even more importantly, I have met a lot of the regular folks who make up the countless Thursday and Friday nights of volunteers and performers, and have come to know them as friends. For me, the Hog represents friendships, and cooperativeness, and a spirit of fellowship which can be felt when working together on any project, be it big or small. I have the Hog to thank for these kinds of memories and experiences (once I was even hired for a part-time job because I knew how to put together a bulk mailing thanks to doing it for the Hog newsletter!)

So now I have learned that this thing called "The Hog" is the people who make up all its various parts. The unity which seems to somehow guide us through all the events, sets, dances, meetings, and discussions has been present from the start - although some of the folks have changed. One night at the Coffeehouse I read Gordy Hinners' letter, (which is reproduced in this newsletter). I have never met Gordy , although I have heard his name throughout the years. Yet I was amazed at how much I identified with his comments, for even though the Hog he speaks of is of a different time, it is never-the-less one in the same. So long live the Wild Hog in the Woods, and long may the people who create it continue to share in its fellowship!




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