Cincinnati Folk Music Group Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Queen City Balladeers will celebrate their impressive history with a special free concert this Saturday,  the critically acclaimed road documentary about Indie Rock stars The National gets its local premiere, Smartfish Studio & Sustainable Supply

Sep 4, 2013 at 12:39 pm

In 1963, some students from the University of Cincinnati decided they wanted to start something that would examine, celebrate and showcase the increasingly popular Folk music they were discovering and falling in love with. It was the year of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington, which was anchored by “freedom songs” performed by Odetta, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan (whose The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album also came out that year) and others. Folk acts like Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez and the prolific Kingston Trio were releasing charting albums, while the Newport Folk Festival featured the biggest names of the genre and drew thousands of young fans from across the country. 

The American Folk revival was at the height of its popularity and those college students wanted something in Cincinnati to reflect it. 

In September of 1963, the Queen City Balladeers organization and its weekly Leo Coffeehouse series (originally called The Wise Owl) launched with live acoustic performances by primarily area artists in the basement of the YMCA on UC’s campus. The non-profit Queen City Balladeers would go on to organize Folk festivals (their EdenSong fests are still thriving today, this year becoming ArtSong), field trips, square dances and other activities, including music workshops, which continue to this day.

The nurturing Leo Coffeehouse is alive and quite well today, providing area Roots/Americana acts an intimate and attentive room to perform every Sunday from September through May. Leo — one of the oldest still-active Folk music venues in the country — moved to Old St. George church near the UC campus in 1999, then moved to its current home at the Zion United Church of Christ in Norwood in 2006. Leo Coffeehouse’s new season begins Sunday at 7 p.m. with a special session that kicks off with an open jam at 5:30 p.m. and will feature members performing and reminiscing about the Leo’s past and its legacy. 

But before the new season launches, Queen City Balladeers will celebrate their impressive history with a special free concert. This Saturday, from 6-9 p.m. at the Mayerson Jewish Community Center (8485 Ridge Road, Amberley), the Balladeers’ free 50th anniversary concert will feature some of today’s top Roots/Americana/Folk acts, each showcasing different facets of the music that continues to go through “revival” periods of popularity, like the one the music world is currently experiencing. Anna & Milovan & Luke, Jake Speed & The Freddies, Magnolia Mountain and Steve Bonafel & One Iota will perform at the concert, which local PBS affiliate WCET is said to be filming. 

For full information on Leo Coffeehouse and the Balladeers, visit 

More Local Notes

• Friday at 7 p.m., Mistaken for Strangers, the critically acclaimed road documentary about Indie Rock stars The National (whose members are Cincinnati natives, though they launched the group out of Brooklyn, N.Y.), will get its local premiere as part of this year’s Cincinnati Film Festival. The film — which was directed by National singer Matt Berninger’s brother, Tom — is screening at Memorial Hall (1225 Elm St.) in Over-the-Rhine. Tickets are available through for $10 in advance. Tom Berninger, also a Cincinnati native, will be at the premiere and partake in a Q&A with the audience after the film. For more on CFF 2013, including full programming details, visit

• On Sept. 3 at the Art Academy of Cincinnati’s Childlaw Gallery (1212 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine), the people behind the massive photography exhibition FotoFocus opened a new exhibit spotlighting some of the great concert photographers in the region. Reverberation: Capturing the Live Music Experience will run through the end of September, coinciding with the MidPoint Music Festival, in the gallery located just off the 12th Street MidPoint Midway (the strip featuring vendors, food, live music, the box truck carnival and much more). Hours will be extended during MPMF, with the exhibit staying open until 9 p.m. on Sept. 26 and 10 p.m. on Sept. 27-28. (Normal hours are 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Mondays-Fridays, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays). 

The work of 29 artists will be featured in the exhibit, including shots from legends like Melvin Grier (an award-winning photojournalist who shot many years for The Cincinnati Post) and Michael Wilson (whose portraits have been featured on the covers of albums by The Replacements, Over the Rhine, Lyle Lovett, Ron Sexmith and many others). Maurice Mattei, Sean Hughes, Keith Klenowski, Kara Smarsh and many others area photographers are also featured in the exhibit.

• This Sunday, just in time for the “Second Sunday on Main” art/music/food fest, Over-the-Rhine retailer Smartfish Studio & Sustainable Supply becomes Rock Paper Scissors, expanding Smartfish’s local supply stock and workshop offerings and also adding music and merchandise from Cincinnati musical acts. The shop (at 1301 Main St.) is planning on selling local musicians’ CD, vinyl, cassettes, T-shirts, posters and other merch through the store on consignment. Visit for more info.