By Phil Cooper, former Board member
You were asking about some of the early Midwestern gatherings. The first two were held in Aurora, Illinois at a holiday inn that has now changed hands many times and is a shadow if its former self. It has shag carpeting downstairs where we had the song circles that probably had mold from the ages in it already. It made you think you were sitting in somebody's '70's era hippy van.
The first year mostly had people talking in conference rooms about various aspects of getting ahead in folk music. Nothing really formally presented. The evening went on with a song circle, rather than anything organized. There also wasn't much of a registration fee. However, mostly folks from the Chicago area came.
The second year was in the same place. The panels started to take form. I remember blowing off some of the panels to jam outside on the lawn with other musicians. The second year also had a really nice Friday night song circle. It started small with Margaret and me and a few fox valley folklore society members. I recall Kathy Folkerts coming in and singing a very nice version of "The Wee Weaver" as one of the highlights of that evening.
I missed the next couple years, but they had moved the conference to Lansing, Michigan and to Madison, Wisconsin somewhere (they were in Madison twice, so not to confuse the two). I heard stories on the first Madison conference of an all night party in someone's room that was the stuff of legends (I'm not telling who did what, since I wasn't there).
The conference came back to Aurora again, this time more organized. Mike Fleischer and Mike Yuhas organized an open mic (sort of the beginning of what we do now). After that was another trip to Madison, where the conference was fine, but the hotel wouldn't allow jamming after hours. That year jam sessions happened at various people's homes after the open stage. That was a sleep deprivation year.
The following year the conference went to Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have fond memories of searching for greasy diners for breakfast. Jamming at the hotel allowed. I'm sure Margaret and I did panels, but I don't recall on what topics.
Then came Wadsworth, Ohio - the last hotel conference. While I enjoyed going there and had fun there was an undercurrent of tension because of some frictions in the local presenting organization. That's when I recall the notion of a board coming up. I think there's plenty of people who can give you fond remembrances of the first couple Lake Geneva conferences (the cold parking lot singing session the first year, etc).
Last year I had fond memories of blowing off the peer group sessions to play Irish tunes by the lake. It seems most years I enjoy finding folks to blow off peer group sessions and play tunes (playing music together is something that should be fostered after all).