In the Beginning: Starting PFS

Meryle Korn

Late in the summer of 1976, John Ullman (who also helped found the Seattle Folklore Society) contacted a bunch of young folkies to brainstorm about starting a folklore society in Portland. I don't remember everyone who was at this kick-off, but some of the interested parties were Rick Meyers, Sue Sargent, Ron and Maureen Nagy, Bill Imhof, Doug Norlin, and yours truly. We called the new organization Portland Folklore Society and hoped to become an umbrella organization for all of the ethnic music and folk dance groups in the greater Portland area. So much was going on, back then! Practically every ethnic group in town had its own organization: Latvians, Scandinavians (Norse Hall was their center); British, Irish, and Scots each with their own group. Alas, the “umbrella” failed, but we did publicize the other groups' activities.

We formed a committee and started spreading the idea of a folk society around town. Our first “official” meeting was on or about October 16, 1976 at the Reed College Commons, and officers were elected: President Doug Norlin, VP Rick Meyers Vice-President (I think), Secretary Sue Sargent. Bill Imhof volunteered to coordinate concerts and dances, Ron and Maureen stepped up to initiate and edit a newsletter (later named “Local Lore”), and I became Treasurer.

Doug knew an attorney, Duncan Callister, who had recently begun to practice in Portland, and Mr. Callister drew up our articles of incorporation as a non-profit organization. We were about as non-profit as they come -- as I recall, his fees were covered by donations from the Board. We borrowed a copy of the Seattle Folklore Society's By-Laws and modelled ours upon them. Oregon incorporation law allowed non-profits to have a Board of a minimum three persons, and in our bylaws, we specified a three to seven member Board. Sometimes we struggled to get three members; other years, we had a full seven.) We established a dues schedule: $5 individual membership; +$2 for additional members of the same household; $15 or $20 for business patrons; and $35 for lifetime membership. (None of us was sure the organization would last very long.) With the legal stuff in hand, Rick Meyers, underwritten by a CETA grant, went through the process to get our (separate) non-profit mailing status with the Post Office.

We started presenting concerts of folk music and contra and square dances almost immediately. Bill Imhof (and perhaps other Board members) contacted a local tavern on SE 3rd Ave., Euphoria, Inc., and they agreed to let PFS take charge of their Tuesday evening entertainment. Every Tuesday, Bill scheduled either local or travelling musicians/singers to perform, and added a monthly dance at the same venue. A little over a year later, however, Euphoria changed hands and became a sports bar. PFS was able to move our Tuesday night music to Arbuckle Flat, a coffeehouse in downtown Portland operated by a collective that featured yoga and East Asian dancing on other nights. During those two years, PFS presented Claudia Schmidt, Bryan Bowers, Josh White, Jr., Larry Hanks, and other nationally known folk performers along with a lot of local groups playing Appalachian, old-timey, bluegrass, celtic and other folk styles of singing and instrumental music. We continued the monthly dances, although Arbuckle was neither large enough nor laid out well for contra lines. We could fit four or five squares, “folk” squares with live music rather than the more formalized “country” squares with recorded music and fancy costumes. A bit over a year there and that venue was lost to new ownership and remodeling, so we moved for a short time to the Ninth Street Exit coffeehouse in the basement of Centenary Wilbur Methodist Church, a venue too small for dancing. We may have presented weekly music at 9th St. for another year, but Bill Imhof moved to Seattle and no one else stepped up to keep the Tuesday concerts going.

Without a free venue for regular weekly concerts, PFS's activities (and visibility) diminished considerably. Through it all, the newsletter, now named Local Lore at a member's suggestion, continued to provide a “net” for the local folk network. Local Lore went bi-monthly in the mid-'80s (editor fatigue). The society continued to present occasional large concerts at such venues as The Old Church, the Northwest Service Center, and PSU's Lincoln Hall auditorium, as well as irregular house concerts.

Ron and Maureen Nagy produced the first newsletters. I had recently begun to work for a mailing list service bureau, and one of my first learning exercises was to organize and computerize the PFS mailing list. This was done using punched cards running on IBM 360 and 370 equipment.

We also had begun holding weekly Monday night song circles that moved among other venues -- PFS members weren't heavy drinkers and didn't add much to the bottom line of any cafe or tavern, so we had to move around quite a bit. Our longest-running song circles were at the Horse Brass Tavern; after that (but not necessarily in order) were the Cheerful Tortoise, the Blue Heron, Jiffy Squid, the Colonial Inn, the Everett St. Cafe, and maybe another one or two, until member Kurt Liebezeit opened his home to the song circles and we raised the rafters there for several years! And once a month (twice a month when Ron and Maureen moved to Astoria and I began co-editing the newsletter with Doug Norlin) we'd do a “fold/staple/mutilate & put on address labels” party and in Kurt's kitchen sort them into bundles for mailing, When Doug died altogether too young at age 28, I became editor and continued doing that, plus served in various Board positions, until about 2011. After Kurt could no longer host, Becca Parker took over and hosted in her Sellwood home, but by that time, we were using a mailing bureau to get out Local Lore.

Even before the Monday song circles, early on, we had monthly song circles in the homes of various members. Kathleen Ingerson has done a great job lining up host-homes for the Second Saturday song circles!

In the early 1980s, some PFS members more interested in dancing and affiliation with the national Country Dance and Song Society branched out and founded the Portland Country Dance Community. Other PFS members helped start the Stumptown Cloggers and the Oregon Bluegrass Assn. A look at early boards of directors showed several PFS board members also serving on the boards of these related organizations. In the mid-'80s, an influx of members brought new energy and new projects. During Hobe Kytr's tenure as president, a regular concert series was held at Metro Learning Center (MLC). A series of restaurant-based concerts organized by Ira Frankel and Linda Huddle explored European and Middle Eastern traditions as well as American traditional folk music. Song circles made their debut in the 1980s as well. Maye Thompson hosted regular monthly Saturday song circles, and David Ingerson continued that tradition when Maye moved away. Numerous other hosts carry it on; Kathleen Ingerson continues to coordinate hosts for the Saturday Song Circles, now held on the 2nd Saturday each month.

The Monday Night Song Circles first met at the East Ave. Tavern before the Irish instrumental sessions, then moved several times before coming to rest at Kurt Liebezeit's home in SE Portland for over three years. Since then they've been in several other homes on both sides of the Willamette.

The Corvallis Folklore Society had started an autumn, Friday evening-Sunday afternoon retreat, the Silver Falls Musical Gathering, which was so much fun that David Ingerson founded Singtime Frolics in the spring of 1985. Moggy Vanderkin and I helped him early on and continued to serve on the Singtime committee, along with others who came and went over the years. Later organizers included Ellie Douglas-Rice, Ashira Belsey, Bonnie Messinger and Steve Mullinax. The first Singtime Frolics was held at Camp Howard in the Cascade Range, then in 1994, moved to Camp Adams near Molalla. Singtime Frolics focuses on a prime interest expressed by the PFS membership in surveys over the years: singing. Singtime has grown from about 60 participants the first year to near 100 most years since 1996. Since 2014, Menucha in the Columbia Gorge has been its home. The Singtime committee is active year around in planning and reviewing the event to continually improve it.

A PFS Summer weekend camp-out was founded in 1991 by Kurt Liebezeit and held at the Millikan's farm in Yamhill County.

The PFS 3rd Friday Coffeehouse began in April, 1993, with the driving energy of Maria Falasca and Mark Bautista. The coffeehouse concerts took off with immediate success and continue to play to satisfied audiences. Jack Bohl took over booking in September, 1995. A Songwriters' Support Group was formed since PFS sponsored a songwriting workshop with Bob Franke in October, 1995.

In PFS's first ten years, PFS members hosted a folk music program on KBOO radio. When “Front Porch Music” left the airwaves, there was a hiatus until a new group of PFS members began the Folk Espresso program on Monday mornings at 5:30 AM in early 1996.¬† PFS members continue to host many of the 5 day/week early morning folk shows on KBOO.

A final thought: Every single one of PFS's activities has been spearheaded by volunteers! The membership ebbs and flows, but so far (at least), someone has always stepped up when long-serving members have burnt out.