50 years, The Coffee House at Milwaukee’s
Redeemer Lutheran Church has been an acoustic
music and folk venue.
was a volatile era, that period in and around 1967. The
Vietnam War was at its apex, race riots raged in cities
including Milwaukee, demonstrations of dissatisfaction
were being mounted the world over.
Milwaukee manifestation of hope was - and is - a simply
named alcohol-free “listening room” near the
Marquette University campus. According to a news release
regarding its 50th anniversary, which will be celebrated
Saturday, “The Coffee House was born of the troubled,
yet hopeful times of the ‘60s.”
Coffee House, 1905 W. Wisconsin Ave., began in
conjunction with the Lutheran Campus Ministry at
Marquette and has always been situated at Redeemer
Lutheran Church. Lutheran minister “Alan Davis was
really the spark plug,” Coffee House spokesman David
HB Drake recalled. A mission statement indicates its
founders envisioned The Coffee House as “a place where
persons may meet in unhurried conversation and where the
questions, the issues, the interests, the hopes that lie
within and around us may unfold in an atmosphere of
openness and candor.”
well-known folk performance artist from Milwaukee - his
sobriquet is “Milwaukee’s troubadour” -
who formerly resided in Waukesha, Drake began his
affiliation with The Coffee House 49 years ago.
“Practically every acoustic musician (from the area)
who ever made it to the middle range (of celebrity)
started there,” Drake said in a recent interview.
“The first thing I ever did in public is opening for
someone else at The Coffee House.”
to the release, The Coffee House is among the nation’s
oldest continuous folk sites. The Coffee House bills
itself as “an acoustic music and spoken word venue,”
that last phrase in deference to the poetry, skits and
such. “Lutheran churches have Bible study; well, this
was societal study,” Drake explained.
just how would Drake define “acoustic music”?
“Music without commercial additives,” the
singer-songwriter and player of several instruments
offered. “Songs that have a story to them ... teaching
you something or making a comment, without special
effects. If you pulled the plug, the (acoustic)
performer could keep on going. Rock bands would be dead
in the water.”
noted entertainer suggested that Larry Penn would be The
Coffee House’s most accomplished alumnus. Penn died
three years ago at 87. “I would consider him the
Milwaukee singer-songwriter who went the farthest,”
said Drake. “Pete Seeger recorded his songs.”
performers whose reputations reach well beyond the
Milwaukee-Waukesha area will visit The Coffee House
Saturday, when “Wisconsin’s longest-running acoustic
music venue” marks its milestone anniversary.
Madison-based musical humorists Lou and Peter Berryman;
bandleader-guitarist Bill Camplin, who identifies his
hometown as “Fort Atkinson by way of Pewaukee,” owns
a nightclub in the former city and has collaborated on
projects with Peter Buffett; and family-focused music
men Dave Fox and Will Branch, who have encouraged
audience participation in gigs from Winnipeg to southern
Louisiana, will be concert headliners.
anniversary celebration, slated to run from 2 p.m. to 11
p.m., will also feature such pillars of the local folk
scene as Sandy Weisto, John Stano, Peter Lee, Jym
Mooney, Mud River Lee, Tom and Barb Webber, and Drake
himself. Sessions on poetry and humor, songwriting and
social justice are to be offered, as well as a
PowerPoint presentation on the venue’s half-century.
For more information, visit www.the-coffee-house.com.
freewill offering is being requested of attendees, who
are invited to dine, and bring a dish to share, at a 6
p.m. to 7:30 p.m. potluck meal.