Curt and I spent many a Friday night in the early 80’s attending live folk performances at the Bluewhale Coffeehouse. The coffeehouse was part of Good Times Programming, started in 1972 on the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus. It was purely student-based and student run back then.
“The students performed all the work to get the programming and talent to campus and signed all the contracts. No approvals were needed. Students were doing a lot of things that professionals do today.” –Campus Compass, UWGB
That was very much in the spirit of the University in its early years; an experiential, problem-solving, interdisciplinary approach to education. Hell, back then the University didn’t even have dorms – students were expected to find some place to live in the community rather than in a provided, isolated environment of a college dorm.
A lot of the performers were up and coming, but some were well established veterans of the folk circuit. They would have performed in Chicago or Madison or Minneapolis and the savvy students in charge would catch a booking as musicians moved through Green Bay. One of those students, who we believe had a big part in bringing in this talent during the years we attended, was Tom Slothower. Tommy was one of those perennial students (I think some semesters he only enrolled so he could work on Bluewhale programming). After leaving Green Bay I remember that he worked for a while at a booking agency in Ann Arbor, Michigan. From a Google search it now appears he is John McCutcheon’s road manager. Well done Tommy!
The actual coffeehouse was held in the Fireside Room of the Shorewood Club of the golf course on the UWGB campus (they don’t play golf at night so it was a good adaptive use of the space). The stage was pretty narrow, about a foot high and surrounded by seating that was on an odd assortment of old chairs and couches. You got there early to get the good “soft” seats. At the back of the stage, painted on barn boards and propped up on stools was the “Bluewhale Coffeehouse” sign (photo at top of post). The audience was typically a motley crew of students, faculty and community members. Many young families would bring their kids so there was always little ones dancing, or playing while we listened to the likes of Bill Staines, Scott Alarik, Si Kahn, Utah Phillips, Jean Redpath, Connie Kaldor, Claudia Schmidt, Greg Brown, The Tannahill Weavers, John McCutcheon, Ed Trickett/Gordon Bok/Anne Mayo Muir, Paul Cebar and the Milwaukeeans, Randy Sabien and Stan Rogers, to name just a few.
Another former student, Mike Stearney, who was involved with the coffeehouse from 1976-80 (before our time) says that the performers were paid very little, maybe a couple hundred dollars (from ’83 -’85 General admission went up from $2.00 to $4.00, Students w/ I.D. got in for 50 cents less.) and many times Mike put them up on his couch for the night. It was a far cry from the pre-planning, legal contracts and security that is an integral part of today’s entertainment world. We are glad things were easier back then or we wouldn’t have had a chance to see half of these fabulous musicians.
-Thanks goes to the Kelly Kramp and Lynn Rotter of the University Union staff and Mike Stearney, who is now Dean of Enrollment Services at UWGB, who lent us these few remaining posters, photo and T-shirt to be used in this post.