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Book Review: Chicago Folk: Images of the Sixties Music Scene – The Photographs of Raeburn Flerlage edited by Ronald D. Cohen and Bob Riesman

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Many books documented the folk music scene of the 1960s, but none with this unique focus on a growing city, growing music scene and talent that would live on for decades.

Through photographs by Raeburn Flerlage, Chicago Folk: Images of the Sixties Music Scene brings back memories of the many great performers who came to town for the University of Chicago Folk Festivals. Through the book’s photos, we’re brought back to a time when live music and accessible performers were a common occurrence.

Chicago Folk: Images of the Sixties Music Scene puts Chicago in the spotlight, including great photos of Bob Dylan playing at Orchestra Hall in 1963. Pete Seeger, Win Stracke, playing along with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan… all this really happened, and is brought back to life in this photo history. With 150 images, including some at the Old Town School of Folk Music, which lives on, we sense the vibrancy of Chicago as an urban folk scene, attracting performers from around the nation.

Flerlage excels at candid photos of performers creating the music and revealing the energy surging through audiences. Although much of this music remains accessible to us today, online and through programs like Chicago’s Midnight Special on WFMT-FM, the photographs and chronology of folk music through the decade brings the '60s back to life in an extraordinary way. The culture, clothing styles, music halls and small clubs.

The book’s variety includes some anecdotal captions and many pages with thoughtful compositions capturing loosely-structured performances and jam sessions. Flerlage also had the ability to stun us with photos where performers nearly leap off the page. Bob Gibson, Josh White, and Odetta are vividly brought back to life.

Most of these unique photos, whether in performance, backstage, or in social settings, have never been published before. Through the efforts of editors Ron Cohen and Bob Riesman, folk music lives on in a way it never could on an iPod.

In the book's brief bio of Flerlage, we learn he was driven not just by a good eye for photography but by a desire for racial equality and social justice. His book serves as a good reminder of Chicago in the 1960s, where efforts continue today to attain this equality, and live music still captivates listeners.

Flerlage is also the author of Chicago Blues – As Seen From the Inside.

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