Come join us for a presentation with Mark Guarino featuring his new book, COUNTRY & MIDWESTERN: Chicago in the History of Country Music and the Folk Revival, the first book to document nearly 100 years of country and folk music history in Chicago and to show the role the city has played to innovate the music throughout that period. He will appear in conversation with New Orleans writer Sue Strachan. Following the presentation, The Scamp Walkers will perform country music from the book.

Chicago is revered as a musical breeding ground, having launched major figures like blues legend Muddy Waters, gospel soul icon Mavis Staples, hip-hop firebrand Kanye West, and the jazz-rock band that shares its name with the city. Far less known, however, is the vital role Chicago played in the rise of prewar country music, the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s, and the contemporary offspring of those scenes.

In Country and Midwestern, veteran journalist Mark Guarino tells the epic century-long story of Chicago’s influence on sounds typically associated with regions further south. Drawing on hundreds of interviews and deep archival research, Guarino tells a forgotten story of music, migration, and the ways that rural culture infiltrated urban communities through the radio, the automobile, and the railroad. The Midwest’s biggest city was the place where rural transplants could reinvent themselves and shape their music for the new commercial possibilities the city offered. Years before Nashville emerged as the commercial and spiritual center of country music, major record labels made Chicago their home and recorded legendary figures like Bill Monroe, The Carter Family, and Gene Autry. The National Barn Dance—broadcast from the city’s South Loop starting in 1924—flourished for two decades as the premier country radio show before the Grand Ole Opry. Guarino chronicles the makeshift niche scenes like “Hillbilly Heaven” in Uptown, where thousands of relocated Southerners created their own hardscrabble honky-tonk subculture, as well as the 1960s rise of the Old Town School of Folk Music, which eventually brought national attention to local luminaries like John Prine and Steve Goodman. The story continues through the end of the twentieth century and into the present day, where artists like Jon Langford, The Handsome Family, and Wilco meld contemporary experimentation with country traditions.

Featuring a foreword from Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks and casting a cross-genre net that stretches from Bob Dylan to punk rock, Country and Midwestern rediscovers a history as sprawling as the Windy City—celebrating the creative spirit that modernized American folk idioms, the colorful characters who took them into new terrain, and the music itself, which is still kicking down doors even today.

Mark Guarino writes about national news and culture from Chicago for ABC News, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other outlets. His byline has also appeared in Reuters, the Guardian, Al-Jazeera America, and the Chicago Tribune. He was the Midwest bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor for seven years.

Sue Strachan is the author of THE CAFÉ BRÛLOT. She a veteran journalist who has written about New Orleans culture, history, and current events for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, New Orleans Advocate, and New Orleans Magazine.

Event date: 

Thursday, June 15, 2023 - 6:00pm to 7:30pm

Event address: 

Octavia Books - 513 Octavia Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
Country and Midwestern: Chicago in the History of Country Music and the Folk Revival By Mark Guarino, Robbie Fulks (Foreword by) Cover Image
By Mark Guarino, Robbie Fulks (Foreword by)
ISBN: 9780226110943
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: University of Chicago Press - April 24th, 2023

“Mark Guarino’s magnificent history, Country & Midwestern, proves that the Second City was first among equals in the development of American roots music. A ruthless researcher and scintillating storyteller, Guarino provides critical context and moving portraits of the pickers, grinners and pioneers who shaped Chicago’s contributions to country and folk. A long overdue but welcome volume that will sit alongside other essential works on the subject, from Bill C. Malone’s Country Music USA to David Hadju’s Positively Fourth Street.”

— Bob Mehr, author of the New York Times bestseller Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements

“In this remarkable and thrilling book, Mark Guarino writes that “Chicago’s role in country music and the folk revival has never earned a closer look.” Well, it gets that now in a book exhaustively researched, stylishly written and exciting on every single page. In it I find people I knew well (even my father), many more that I heard play and sing in clubs, and some that are new to me. They are all here, vividly, the rogues, rascals and geniuses who made and keep making our city sing.”

— Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune columnist and 2022 Fuller Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame

“With an epic scope, gorgeous photographs, and useful discographies, this is a vital contribution to the history of American music and required reading for country and folk music fans.”

— Freda Love Smith, Booklist

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