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Golden Link Folk Singing Society

A Brief and (Fairly) Accurate History of the First Five Years of Golden Link

(As Remembered By The Ancients, C. Cass & A. Hopkins, 1976)


Golden Link was first known as “the folk music club” and grew out of a guitar class taught by Mitzie Collins in 1970-71. (Mitzie was then known Lederhouse, but that's another story.) Our first meeting was held on a hot May night in 1971 at the home of Roger & Carolyn Cass.  It was Tuesday, May 18, to be exact: even at the beginning it was Tuesdays.  Some of the “Charter Members” who were there (records of this period are incomplete) were Betty Lyons, Dick and Maggie Sauvain, Joan and Allen Hopkins, Bob and Karen Olyslager, Mitzie, Mandy O’Dell, and Roger and Carolyn.

The club continued to meet at members' homes during the spring and summer of 1971. An organizational questionnaire was distributed to people at these meetings: it began, “We are organizing a folk music club in Rochester—are you interested? What direction and activity this club takes will depend on its members. As an overall statement and purpose this club will be dedicated to the appreciation and enjoyment of folk music. What shall we call ourselves?” By the fall of 1971, we were ensconced in the basement at 105O East Avenue, thanks to the generosity of Asbury First Methodist Church.

The September 1971 newsletter, painstakingly dittoed on a single page and circulated by Betty Lyons, solicits suggestions for a club name to be decided at the Sep. 28 meeting. It also states, “Everyone who is interested in playing and singing folk music is welcome at our meetings, but if you want to remain on the mailing list, please give or send Carolyn $2.00 to cover the cost of postage.” The name “Golden Link,” suggested by the liner notes for the Folk-Legacy album "The Golden Ring,” emerged from discussion at the September meeting.

The first GL-sponsored performance was Oct. 26, 1971: a mini-concert featuring Mitzie, the Flower City Ramblers (Bob Olyslager, Allen and John Hopkins), Rick Muka & Bob Schwartz. Admission was a stiff 25¢, and the November newsletter notes approvingly a gate of $12. A membership list attached to the newsletter contains 30 names, including new ones such as Barb Erbland, Mary Ann Geib; Marge Carlier, Tim Connolly, Bette Hunting, Ruth Koss, Al Rehn, Gail Requa, Russ & Sue Sciandra, Carl Yoder, Georgia Young, and Dick Scudder.

By January 1972 themes had begun to creep into the meetings: Jan. 11 was “Foreign Folk Songs,” Jan. 25 "Cowboy and Western Songs.” At this point we were meeting twice a month at 105O. Jan. 29 marked our first hired performers: David and Mimi Jones from New York City gave two guitar workshops and an evening concert at the Asbury First Fellowship Hall. Publicity for this concert introduced the club to the larger Rochester audience, through a picture and story in the Democrat & Chronicle and two local papers. Scene, the newspaper published by the Rochester Arts Council, had done an article on the club in December 1971.

The March newsletter had expanded to eight pages, including record reviews, a review of a Flower City Ramblers concert by Mandy O'Dell, coffeehouse news, and another membership list (we seem to have spent a lot of time doing membership lists.) This list featured such new names as Peggy & Ray Baumler, Ted McGraw, Lynn Pilaroscia, Bev Sacco, Bob Stewart, Marian Tallmadge, and Bill and Ellen Thomas: 56 names in all.

Golden Link burst into local prominence on Mar. 5, 1972, when Upstate magazine did a feature article, complete with color pictures, interviews, and a description of a meeting. The next few meetings were jammed with newcomers, and it became obvious that the club had outgrown some of the joys of informality. As a direct result, the first Sounding Board came into existence at an organizational meeting on Mar. 18. The first members were President, Carolyn Cass: Vice President/Recording Secretary, Dick Scudder: Newsletter/Membership, Gail Requa: Program, Mitzie Collins: Publicity/Education, Rick Muka: Treasurer, Carl Yoder: Telephone Chairman, Tim Connolly: Librarian, Carl Yoder: Name Tags Roger Cass: and Chairman of the Board, Betty Lyons. The board decided to take 36 popular songs and assemble a Golden Link songbook.

By May 1972, all these organizational efforts were bearing fruit. Meetings were expanded from two to four per month: 1st Tuesday, Sounding Board; 2nd Tuesday, Theme Night; 3rd Tuesday, Special Interest Groups; 4th Tuesday guests & soloists. A brief attempt was made to charge non-members 25¢ to attend meetings. Guitar and banjo classes were organized, with Gail Requa, Rick Muka and Bob Whitworth as instructors.

In the summer of 1971 John Roberts and Tony Barrand, bearded British balladeers and bawdysingers, had dropped in informally en route for a picnic at Dick & Maggie Sauvain’s. In1972, we decided to formalize the picnic concept (if I were doing a real historicalanalysis, I’d call 1972 the Year of Formalization), Russ & Sue Sciandra’s Turtle Hill Farm in Holly was the location, and Aug. 12-13, 1972, marked Turtle Hill Festival I. Mitzie gave a children’s concert in the afternoon, John & Tony performed at night. Sue’s goat’s milk fudge was a big hit, and the long relationship between Dick Scudder and Sam thegoose was begun as love at first sight.

Gail Requa was now doing the newsletter, and it began to feature yellow paper. The Traditional meeting, designed as a small members-only group meeting in people‘s homes, met on Sept. 19, and monthly thereafter. October marked a new Sounding Board, with Mitzie Collins taking over as president. Carl Yoder continued as treasurer, Allen Hopkins as education chairman (workshops & classes), Carolyn Cass as program chairman, and adding newcomers Karen Olyslager, Craig Seasted, and John Richter to the Board.

GL's second “outside” concert was staged Nov. 16, 1972 when Ed and Penny Trickett performed at Asbury Fellowship Hall. It was quickly followed by a house concert at Mitzie’s on Dec. 3, featuring Joe Hickerson, and by a banjo workshop and concert with Ray Andrews on Jan 20, 1973. Golden Link was becoming an established “name” folk club, and word began to get around to the performers who work the Eastern club-and-coffeehouse circuit. At this point the Park Avenue Coffee House had closed and the Genesee Teahouse hadn’t started yet, so Golden Link tried to fill the gap by an expanded concert schedule. Another important event occurred in September 1972, when the club presented a program at the first Rochester Museum Folk Festival. Golden Link was becoming recognized as Rochester’s central folk music organization,

Things got busier: Jan. 30 offered a “local special" concert featuring the Swamp RootString Band, which was just getting organized on its way to fame & fortune at Union Grove,etc. In February 1973, Eldon Stutzman of the Guitar Center gave a workshop on "Care andFeeding of Instruments," and George & Vaughn Ward made their first appearance for us. Ourbusy concert schedule was also paying off in terms of expanded memberships: the March 1973newsletter proudly announced membership of “over 15O!”

Local musicians Kit Norr and Dick Smith divided a "Coffee House Concert" in the 1O5O basement on Mar. 24, 1973; other activities that month included an autoharp workshop with Skip Evans, at which 17 autoharps miraculously sang as one, a Repertoire Workshop (that’s what we were calling Theme night) on Irish songs, Sounding Board at Craig Seastead’s old house (before he got his new house, before he moved to Connecticut), Traditional meeting at Betty Lyons’, and the Monthly Sing.

April 1973 marked the debut of the Golden Link emblem, designed by Allen Hopkins, Grumblers complained that the letters encircling the guitar looked like they said "Olde Link,"but Allen triumphantly took home a year’s free membership—which looked good at thetime, since he was out of work. Golden Link also joined the Arts Council, of Rochester.

In May, Sara Grey and Ray Andrews gave a wonderful concert in the Fellowship Hall, somewhat enlivened when the sound-setup man left a label on one microphone stating that itwas less sensitive than the others, and therefore good for banjo! Some GL members alsojourneyed to Buffalo, at the invitation of George and Vaughn Ward, to lend vocal support on a Public Television videotape the Wards were making.

Bottle Hill, a bunch of authentic Catskill mountain boys (mainly from New Jersey), hit Rochester in June 1973 for a Golden Link bluegrass concert. We made it Country Month: Dr. John Morgan, noted pharmacologist and hillbilly pedagogue, gave us a country music workshop, and the Repertoire Workshop was, you guessed it, devoted to country music.

July brought Turtle Hill II, though it was still called the "Golden Link Picnic." An afternoon concert was given by the Flower City Ramblers, a children’s program by Mitzie Collins, and an evening concert by the fabulous Friends of Fiddler’s Green from Toronto. Rich Castner led folk dancing with both live and recorded music, Sam the goose followed Dick Scudder around all day, and GL made its first ventures into haberdashery (club T-shirts) and construction (the Turtle Hill outhouse.)

In September 1973, a sizable contingent of Golden Linkers performed at the RochesterMuseum Folk Festival: Donna and Bob Russell, Ray Baumler, Marian Tallmadge, Bob and KarenOlyslager, Dick Scudder, Gail Requa, Georgia Young, Bette Hunting, and John Morgan performed, and Skip Evans and Marie Brate shouldered the burden of coordinating the program. 

October brought a new regime: Bob Olyslager was installed as president, Craig Seastead as treasurer, Marie Brate as program chairman, Karen Olyslager concert co-ordinator, and Mitzie Collins, Joe LaMay, Allen Hopkins and Ray Baumler as board members. The outgoing treasurer, Carl Yoder, reported us $392.43 in the black. The new hand on the presses of the newsletter belonged to Betty Kinsman, who announced that we now had “72 card-carrying members.”

October also brought a dulcimer workshop and coffeehouse concert with Margaret MacArthur. An attempt was made to organize “listener workshops” where members with extensive record collections would host groups to listen to music of a particular type. November was notable for Judy Woodward's workshop on songs suitable for entertainingat hospitals and nursing homes, which some wag entitled "Old Folks at Homes.” Otherthan the title, this was one of our successful workshops; the same cannot be said for December 1973 when Allen Hopkins’ harmonica workshop drew a sellout crowd of three. Maybe the world isn’t ready for the harmonica yet. Club members were ready, however, for our 1st Annual Christmas Party on Dec. 11; it was well-attended and festive.

Fall 1973 was also active on the instructional level, with Allen Hopkins teaching a class in beginning/intermediate fingerpicking that carried on into the New Year with some basic flatpicking. January 1974 featured a Monster Mini-Concert, with Joe LaMay, Judy Woodward, Skip and Marie, Dick Scudder, Bob and Karen Olyslager, and Donna-Ray-and Bob (notyet officially the Bushnell’s Basin Delegation).

Under the expert guidance of Betty Kinsman, the newsletter was expanding, especiallythe calendar section; every effort was being made to list events not only in Rochester,but concerts of interest in Buffalo, Syracuse, etc. Betty also began hosting Fold,Spindle and Mucilate nights at her house, at which the newsletter would be collated and stapled to the accompaniment of coffee, cookies and concert tapes. Betty’s calendarandtasks were made easier by the activities of the year-old Genesee Tea House, which wasnow booking out-of-town folk musicians, and by the exchanges of newsletters with otherclubs.

Looking at the March 1974 newsletter reveals how berserk we went that month. Three concerts were scheduled: the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys on the 3rd, local Irish group The Rising on the 12th, and Lou and Sally Killen on the 24th. A group of jug band enthusiasts also planned to meet, as well as the usual four meetings. It probably was a blessingthat Lou Killen had to postpone his appearance until April; the Black Mountain Boys concert was well attended, but The Rising’s wasn't, and it led to the infamous beer-in-the-church-refrigerator incident that gave us an anxious moment over our relationshipwith Asbury First.

The Killen’s concert we missed in March came ‘round in April, and was held at the Harp’s Club on Buffalo Road. Another April concert featured George and Vaughn Ward; the proceeds were donated to the support of SingOut!, the folk song magazine. Other feature activities were a mandolin workshop, a “Songs of Farewell” theme night, and a TraditionalMeeting at the Russell’s, to which some members came by canoe on the Barge Canal–singing the “Skye Boat Song”!

The May newsletter included a membership list, effective 3/74, which listed 127 names; eight more were listed within the newsletter as “new members.” Also included was a listof summer folk festivals, a review of the Cornell “huge” folk fest of the spring, and themusic to “Colours” by Donovan–that was the May theme. Bottle Hill made a reappearance, this time at the Genesee TeaHouse, and scared the concert arrangers by failing to “checkin” until 2 hours before the concert. A sell out crowd, however, attested to the continuing popularity of bluegrass. The fine, relaxed country music of Tracy Schwartz wasalso featured for the first time, with a concert and fiddle workshop.

A banjo workshop by Rochester musician/teacher Drew Freck began June 1974 and the Museum Folk Festival ended it. Then we slid into July (led off with Joe and Anne LaMay’swedding), and Turtle Hill III. This one was the best yet, with great music both fromGL members in the mini-concerts and round-robin sings, and George Wilsonand DebbieSaperstone at the Saturday evening concert. Some members were worried after a featureD & C article on the club in April had been followed by “Best Bets” listing of thefestival, that we’d get overrun with Hell’s Angels and rock’n’roll freaks. However, theonly thing we were overrun with was good music supplied by good people.

Under the leadership and research of Betty Lyons, members of the club put together aProgram of Erie Canal songs in late summer and early fall, and presented to the Perinton Historical Society in Fairport on Sep. 17. Another fall feature was the publicationin the newsletter of, “The Hell’s Angel,” a parody of “The Wild Rover” supplied usfrom England by Roger Saunders, who was brought to Rochester by the long arm of Kodak A less successful activity was our attempt to organize an Explorer post around the themeof folk music; although the people from Otetiana Council BSA did a bang-upjob selling us on the idea, they couldn’t sell the prospective Explorers.

On Sep. 8, a gallant few of us journeyed halfway to Syracuse, to Fair Haven State Park,to hold a joint picnic meeting with the Salt City Song Miners of that city. However,our gallant few outnumbered their gallant few substantially; this didn’t prevent agood time for all those who attended.

October traditionally is our first month of the year, with elections and the new fallschedule. October produced the following Sounding Board: President, Allen Hopkins, Secretary, Gail Requa, Membership, Ray Baumler, Newsletter, Betty Kinsman, Treasurer, ScottUtley, Board, Bob Olyslager, Betty Lyons, Bill Thomas, and Skip Evans.

October 1974 was another off-the-wall month; Margaret MacArthur dulcimer workshop, Bill Staines first Rochester appearance (and not very well-attended, if you can believe it) the 11th, and Tracy and Eloise Schwarz presenting a workshop the 20th (Eloise had to cancel). As the newsletter put it, “October–Music Month!" Tim Clutterbuckalso began teaching a very successful guitar class this month. 

November brought an excellent banjo workshop with John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers; December another Christmas party–I think this was the one where Kevin Buckland somersaulted onto Allen Hopkins' guitar, which luckily was a steel-bodied Dobro. Bob Olyslager expressed a desire in the newsletter for a group to play old-time andbluegrass music; this became the String Band Project. Linkers also appeared and sangat the Rochester Museum Christmas program.

January 1974 began with disappointment–a scheduled Ed Trickett appearance had to be cancelled–but February began with an outstanding concert by Jean Ritchie, which drew anoverflow crowd to the Genesee Tea House. On the 4th, Mitzie Collins and Tom Bohrer gave aworkshop on New England country dance, and we had a couple of squares going in the 1050 basement. Our March workshop featured incredible balalaika playing by David Chrapkiewicz, who also exhibited some of his hand-built instruments. Gail Requa began beginning guitar lessons.

April Fool’s Day featured a Western Song Workshop with Harry Tuft of Denver– no fool he and a blizzard that hit on the 5th didn't deter a good crowd from attending a string band concert with Skunk’s Misery of Ann Arbor, Michigan. May had a real potpourri of activities; on May 4th, Tracy and Eloise finally materialized to give their workshop. EldonStutzman did another care-and-feeding workshop on the 6th. A crew of Linkers provideda program of railroad songs at the Bicentennial Freedom Train in Henrietta on the 11th;Bill Thomas organized the program, including the Flower City Ramblers, Bushnell's BasinDelegation, Scott Utley, Al Rehn, Skip Evans Steve Dinin, Marian Tallmadge, and Bob andKaren Olyslager. And on the 10th some members showed up at Kinsman’s to move a certain small brown building to a new location.

June brought the Museum Folk Festival, at which The Wakefield Dancers (or were they theMelrose Dancers? Well, you know who I mean) added dancing to an afternoon-long programof performing; all the names elude me, but fine sets by Barbara Byrnes, Kelly Beller,John Morgan, and Bushnell’s Basin Delegation, and Nancy Park were among them.

Turtle Hill IV on July 26-27 was even better, if possible. Bill Staines, need we say, was fantastic. Julia Day MCed a fine Mini-concert of Link members, there was dancing, a hayride, and a campfire, and the Sunday Morning Doughnut Patrol kept many hungry gospel singers waiting as they scoured Orleans County in search of the Elusive Friedcake. (Did you know that the only place to get 7dozen donuts on Sunday morning in OrleansCounty is Batavia?) On the 29th GL members including Dennis Kellogg, Barbara Byrnes, Bushnell’s Basin Delegation, Nancy Park, etc. performed at the Orleans County Fair.

A huge contingent of Golden Linkers braved the rain to attend the Fox Hollow Festivalin Petersburg on Aug. 8-10. Betty Lyons and Marian Tallmadge even flew there–beats ridingthe freight trains. And Marian, Gwen Curtiss, and Betty Kinsman discovered the joys ofThruway travel when their car died on the way back. August also marked the debut ofthe Contemporary third-Tuesday meeting, as a chance for the Dylan-Paxton-Denver freaksto strut their stuff. This meant that Traditional, Contemporary, & String Band Project meetings were the same night–whatta choice!

September began with a picnic in Ellison Park, memorable for homemade champagne, home made ice cream, and homemade music. GL members gave a shivery concert to help dedicateManhattan Square Park downtown on the 9th–Craig Seastead flew in from Connecticut toplay the banjo–and a drenched Canal Program on the 13th at Perinton Park. Even thoughBette Hunting tried to hurry the speechmakers along, we still had the last song rainedout. And, sad to say, the Traditional Meeting, reduced to fewer than a half-dozen regulars, finally failed to schedule itself for September.

A marathon September Sounding Board meeting, with Skip Evans’ neighbors pounding on thewalls, produced a revised meeting schedule–pretty much what we have now. The Song Sharing meeting was introduced to recapture the group-singing atmosphere that markedour beginning, and given the first Tuesday. Second Tuesday, Theme Night; third, Contemporary; third Monday Sounding Board; third Wednesday, String Band Project; fourthTuesday, Open Sing. At the same meeting, Richard Newman was engaged to give a class inbeginning old-time banjo, and a ridiculously busy schedule was planned for October.

October 1975–surely you remember? Margaret MacArthur at the Park Ave. Project on the 5th; Bill Vanaver & Livia Drapkin at 1050 on the 10th; a party for concertina star Alistair Anderson at Ted McGraw’s on the 15th; Sounding Board elections on the 28th–plus the regular meetings! And also the banjo class! Someone should research the folk club equivalent of Parkinson’s Law–or the urge that drives lemmings over Norwegian cliffs.

The above-mentioned election produced the present Sounding Board, under the firm butkindly leadership of Gail Requa, President; Scott Utley, Treasurer; Ray Baumler, Membership; Betty Kinsman, Newsletter; Julia Day Secretary/Arts Council Rep.; Karen Olyslager, Hospitality; Mitzie Collins, Allen Hopkins, Dennis Kellogg, Carolyn Cass, board members. The first activity of November was an appearance at Sibley's “A Nation From Nations” program, featuring some fine bluegrass from Richard Randall, GerryMeier and the Pickaways, and great blues by Mike Havelin. Dick Scudder gave a well-attended workshop in “How to Teach Guitar,” and two itinerant pickers from Minnesota, Bob Bovee and Pop Wagner, gave a concert of good-time old-time music.

Bill Staines was back in December, and we co-sponsored his appearance at the Genesee TeaHouse. A large contingent of Linkers performed at the Museum Christmas Festivitieson the 14th. The new year began with a sellout performance by Ed Trickett; some of usdidn’t believe 120 people could fit into 1250, but they did, and kept quiet enough tohear some fine music despite Ed’s sore thumb. On Jan. 25th, Paul Berliner from SUNYGeneseo demonstrated the mbira or thumb piano in a Sunday afternoon concert at the ParkAve. project, a rare chance to hear music not in the Euro-American tradition.

February 1976 brought a great workshop with Tracey and Eloise Scharwz; the Schwarzes, likeMargaret Macarthur and Bill Staines, have become GL “regulars,” and we're the richer forit. The Feb. theme was “Songs of Love and Lust.” In keeping with Valentine’s Day. Marchbrought Jacqui and Bridie from England, and a concert that can only be called “rollicking”: it also brought Wendy Grossman–perhaps a folk ‘star’ of the future? And it ended witha Monster Mini-Concert giving us our first look at the talents of members like Ken Paul, Mary Jane Badenoc, Laurie Winter, Jeff Sprague, Barbara Jablonski, Ann Dougherty, andJoyce Desmarais. And our most recent “history,” including appearances by Tony Saletan and Bill Steele, will be familiar, like the Battle of Waterloo, “to every school boy.”


Thus the Golden Link history, with much left out, no doubt. Many of the contributionsof other members are neglected, or can only be mentioned in passing: Mandy O’Dell’s contributions to the newsletter, Liz and Lynn Prytula’s decorations, tablecloths and wine bottles at every concert, Skip Evans’ fine silkscreen and hand on T-shirts. Also the singing groups that have sprung up among members. The friends that have moved away, but keep up their memberships: Roger Saunders in England, Judy Woodward in North Carolina, Jack Plum in Colorado, Bev Robinson in Utah, Craig Seastead in Connecticut. And themany ways different members have contributed and developed in folk Music: Bob Dixon beginning to build dulcimers, Dennis D’Asaro writing a song detailing how he found thatGLers invariably knew all the verses he didn’t know, many members beginning to perform, teach, and learn more about music.

We were a simpler group when we began: most of us at about the same level, with a fewmore advanced who were recognized as the leaders. When our mailing list contained 21names, and we met in living rooms, most of us were content to painstakingly follow thenotes and chord symbols on our music sheets. But, five years later, our computerized (thanks to Ken Paul) membership list contains nearly 200 names: some are performers andsemi-pro musicians, some listeners only, many in-between at different stages. We don’talways please everybody, but the Sounding Board keeps plugging away, trying to find themix of meetings, concerts, and workshops that will please the most members, and always listening to what the members say.

We owe a great debt to the “ancients” who got us started; we owe a great debt to Asbury First Methodist Church, a tolerant host for hundreds of functions; we owe a debt to organizations such as the Rochester Museum, who gave us a chance to use our talents. And let us never forget our debt to Russ and Sue Sciandra for the yearly use of TurtleHill Farm. But we owe the most to the members; thanks to them (you), we’re still “dedicated to theappreciation and enjoyment of folk music.”