Folk music group releases festival anthology

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Folk music artists, including, from left, Skip Jones, a Red River-based musician; Dan Robinson, the host of Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Simply Folk”; Andy Cohen, a performer from Memphis, Tennessee; and Keith McGillvray, a performer from the Shawano area, play together during the CD release party on Wednesday at Glas. The party had originally been intended to be an outdoor celebration, but rainy weather forced the party inside.

It was only one night, but the release of the Shawano Folk Musical Festival anthology was 40 years in the making.

“It’s the best compilation I’ve ever heard,” said Joel Kroenke, one of the festival’s board members, at a CD release party Wednesday at Glas. “When I first got it in the car, I drove for 2½ hours so I could listen to it uninterrupted.”

The two-disc anthology features 40 songs from 40 different artists from when the festival first started in 1979 to today. Even though all of the songs are from folk music festivals past, they cover a wide range of genres, according to Kroenke.

“We’re very proud of the way it came together,” he said.

There are only 1,000 copies of the anthology, and 200 of them were already committed prior to the release party. Dozens more were sold during Wednesday’s event.

The process of preparing the CD took about 11 months. The festival planners asked Hans Christian, a German-born musician and producer, to help craft the CD at his studio in Sturgeon Bay.

“To bring 40 disparate recordings and make it flow, my hat’s off to him,” Kroenke said. “He’s a perfectionist in the studio.”

Randy Bruce, another festival board member and one of the artists featured in the anthology, said Christian was the only producer he thought could do what the festival wanted in a way that made it seamless.

“If you’re a musician, and you want to go somewhere where you feel at home and where you’re going to get the highest-quality recording at decent prices, Hans was very affordable,” Bruce said.

Dori Jurger, another festival board member, said it was great to put a year of her life into preparing the anthology. She noted that more than 450 artists have participated in the festival since its inception, so it was a challenge whittling it down to 40.

“We listened to all of their assorted albums that they recorded. Some had only one album; others had a list this long,” Jurger said, holding her arm straight out for emphasis.

Despite the many hours listening to albums, Jurger said her part of the job was easy. She noted it was Christian who had the tough job of making everything flow as one.

“He dealt with CDs that were recorded in people’s basements and CDs that were recorded in high-tech studios and old vinyl records from the ’60s,” Jurger said. “He put it together and made it sound like it was meant to be.”

Jurger said a number of anonymous donations were made to help finance the anthology.

Some of the songs were originals, but others were re-recorded by the artists themselves. Bruce noted that one artist took a song performed 10 years ago and added a verse specifically for the anthology.

“I picked up the discs in Madison last week, popped one in the CD player and started listening to it,” Bruce said. “I was just getting into Shawano when the 40th song, which just happens to be my ‘Goin’ Back to Shawano,’ played.”

Besides a tribute to the artists that have graced Shawano’s festival over the years, Kroenke believes the anthology is a tribute to the longevity of the festival itself.

“It’s an amazing legacy that we’ve been doing this for 40 years,” Kroenke said. “We’ve been growing and changing and have had people come out and give their energy.”