Sunday, July 04, 1999

After 35 years, Balladeers have much to sing about

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jerry Springer did it. So did John Denver, as well as several hundred of your neighbors. They've all sung for the Queen City Balladeers, the area's venerable folk music club.

        Started during the '60s folk craze, the Balladeers still hold forth at the Leo Coffeehouse in the University YMCA during cooler months. Come summer, the group moves outdoors to Eden Park's Seasongood Pavilion for its annual concert series, Edensong.

        Over the years, the Balladeers have attracted performers ranging from a pre-superstar Mr. Denver in 1969 to Cincinnati's best-known politico/anchorman/talk show ringmaster.

  The 35th annual Queen City Balladeers Edensong schedule:
  Friday— Wild Carrot, Raison D'Etre and WB64 Family Movie, A Bug's Life
  July 16 — Bob Danzilo, Clete Francis, High Wired, Fred Steffen, Changeling.
  July 23 — Kyle Meadows, Brian Henke, Doug Perry Ensemble, Mike Helm, Kentucky 31.
  July 30 — Chris Collier, Mike Boer schig, Janet Pressley, Mohenjo Daro, Bromwell-Diehl Band.
  Aug. 6 — Ma Crow & the Flock, Andrea Dale, Mama's Boys, Mary Kroner, Silver Arm.
  All shows are free and begin at 8 p.m. Information: 352-4080; 829-8360. The Edensong series is hosted by the Cincinnati Park Board, which provides Seasongood Pavilion.
        This year, the Balladeers celebrate the 35th anniversary of those Eden Park shows.

        The first concert is Friday, with the groups Wild Carrot and Raison D'Etre.

        The second show, July 16, includes longtime Balladeer Fred Steffen.

        “I've been with them since I was 25 or 26,” says the 46-year-old singer/guitarist.

        Mr. Steffen, of Oakley, had played in rock bands. But as he got more interested in solo acoustic music, he gravitated to the Balladeers.

        “Word was that it (the Leo Coffeehouse) was a good place to play to get an idea if your stuff was any good,” he recalls. “They were a good audience. They weren't cruel to you, but they would tell you what they thought.”

        When Mr. Steffen was just getting involved in the Balladeers, he met such local folk vets as Walter Craft and Rob Reider.

        “It was the place for folk music in Cincinnati,” says Mr. Reider. He had been directed to the Balladeers by John Denver, whom he'd met when Mr. Denver was the front man for the Chad Mitchell Trio. “After the concert I asked him, "Where does folk music happen in Cincinnati?' He said, "Queen City Balladeers, Sunday nights at the Y, tell them I told you to come.'”

        As a University of Cincinnati freshman, Mr. Reider did just that. He introduced himself to the group by singing “Bells of Rhymney,” a Pete Seeger song and a Denver standard. “I sang that song and was fast with the Queen City Balladeers for about 10 years.”

        If Leo Coffeehouse is the training ground, Edensong is where local folk artists show off what they've learned.

        It features the cream of the coffeehouse acts, bringing the homespun flavor of that venue into the great outdoors.

        “I think I did my first summer concert in '69, maybe,” recalls Mr. Reider. He remembers doing the Dillards' “Doug's Tune,” with Joe Stone on banjo and covering Billy EddCQ Wheeler's “Coal Tattoo.” “And I probably stole something from John Denver; probably stole from Peter, Paul & Mary and the Kingston Trio, too,” he chuckles.

        “I always thought the Balladeers was a great thing — all sorts of people doing all sorts of music.”

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