Old-time folk artists lead spring Acoustic Brew season

Sam Gleeves & Tyler Hughes will perform Saturday at the Acoustic Brew Concerts series.
Sam Gleeves & Tyler Hughes will perform Saturday at the Acoustic Brew Concerts series. Photo provided

Now in its 26th year, Acoustic Brew kicks off another spring season Saturday, with Sam Gleeves & Tyler Hughes leading the way. A long-standing community fixture, the nonprofit, volunteer-run concert series features primarily folk artists.

However, Jim Colbert, one of the volunteer organizers, said that just because their season lineup is all “folk,” that doesn’t mean there isn’t a thorough variety in the types of music offered.

“At Acoustic Brew, we try very hard for ... diversity in our programming. So, while it’s all ‘folk,’ in any given year we try to include bluegrass, singer-songwriters, old-timey, blues, roots, harmony-based, world music ... so it’s not a narrowly-defined series covering just one part of the musical spectrum,” he said.

When choosing the performers for the season, Colbert and his team go through a unique process. They never book a headliner unless one board member has seen them perform live.

“No matter how good a video someone may post on video sharing sites, or what kind of buzz a performer may be generating, there is just no substitute for seeing a performer live — seeing how they interact with the audience, their personality, the pacing of their performance, that sort of thing,” Colbert said. “We have board members that hit the major festivals through the country during the summer, as well as visit the folk conferences like NERFA, Folk Alliance, etc. So we have a sort of ‘wish list’ for our booking committee, and we then start trying to get in synch with who is available when.”

Colbert expects the opener to draw particularly well — he describes Tyler Hughes & Sam Gleeves’ style as “Appalachian-flavored, old-time music, both traditional and original.”

Others he thinks will draw larger crowds include Ellis, who he calls “one of the most dynamic performers to ever grace the Acoustic Brew stage, just effervescent,” and Victoria Vox, the season closer who caters to the resurgence of interest in ukulele music.

For Colbert, though, the performer he’s most excited about is Michael Jerling, who appears March 10.

“I’ve been a fan since the late ’80s when he was a member of the Fast Folk organization in New York City,” he said. “I had the chance to hear him play in Connecticut back in November, and I jumped at the chance to bring his storytelling and dry sense of humor to the Center for Well Being.”

Regardless of which show you see this season, though, Colbert promises “a great listening environment and a true sense of community. ... All the spring shows are in the (Center for Well Being) in Lemont, which has unbelievably warm and resonant acoustics. And for those who have only experienced live music at arenas or festivals or very large venues, you will be delighted at the up-close and personal feel our shows have.”

As Colbert and the other organizers are putting together a season of shows, they keep some primary objectives for the audience in mind. They “hope the audience leaves feeling inspired, challenged, optimistic ... and eager to return for our next show as well,” Colbert said. “Our performers can make you laugh, cry and want to get up and dance ... sometimes all within the space of one single song.”

For those not overly familiar with the folk music scene, Acoustic Brew encourages new listeners.

“I’ve never been to a folk series, from Texas to New Hampshire, that I felt didn’t appeal somewhat more to an older demographic than a younger one,” Colbert said. “That being said, we try very hard to keep an ear out for acts that are appealing to a younger audience, and we’d really encourage the students to come try us on for size some time. Don’t be afraid of ‘the F-word’ — folk.”

The benefits certainly seem obvious, as Colbert describes.

“You’re not fighting to hear the artist over the cappuccino maker or barroom clatter, and you’re getting the opportunity to hear some of the preeminent acoustic artists in the world, up close and personal with virtually no barriers, including a sound system, between audience and artist.”


  • What: Acoustic Brew Concerts: Sam Gleeves & Tyler Hughes
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Center for Well Being, 123 Mount Nittany Road, Lemont
  • Info: www.acousticbrew.org