Farmers' Market musicians celebrate anniversary CD

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It was the last Farmers' Market of the season: the air crisp, the vegetables even crisper, and the band celebrated their 25th anniversary. The Oak Park Farmers' Market Musicians who play every Saturday, June through October, at Oak Park's outdoor market, located at Pilgrim Congregational Church on Lake Street, have collaborated with several local businesses in order to put together a CD of 36 songs that celebrate the bluegrass, old-time, and other acoustic music they've been playing for the past 25 years.

A majority of the market musicians are Oak Park residents, and the businesses and professionals who helped to produce the CD itself are from Oak Park as well. Austin Alley Studios, Ebert Photography, Handyman Matters, Frame Warehouse, the Printing Store, Televent, Threshold Management, Party City of Berwyn, and Panacea Productions in Villa Park were "key to the project's success," said Vicki Chmura, a market musician herself and producer of the CD. "This is a community project," said Chmura.

With 26-34 musicians at any given Saturday performance, the players themselves are representative of that community project, a range of ages and backgrounds. "We have high-schoolers, teachers, pediatric surgeons, computer guys, nurses," said Chmura. Oak Parker Karen Daniel watched proudly as her 10-year-old son, Scott, played a short solo on his fiddle on Oct. 29. He was introduced to the group through his teacher, Farmers' Market musician Mike Casey. "He loves bluegrass and the fiddle," said Daniel, who thinks her son will continue playing with the group.

The CD is dedicated to the memory of Rich Harris, founder of the Farmers' Market music group along with his wife, Val, and Mike Casey.

"Rich was like a mentor to me, giving to the community of Oak Park through free concerts," said Chmura. His legacy is the energetic, collaborative effort of the varied musicians who gather at Pilgrim Church's parking lot every Saturday. Capturing the music of such a talented and varying group has been an important project for the musicians. "This is the first documentation of the entire group's music," said Chmura. The taping, produced by Chmura and Erik Grant of Panacea Productions and Columbia College, brought 26 of the musicians into the studios to create a permanent record of their work.

Oak Park resident Ben Stark plays banjo and guitar for the Market Musicians, and recalls how he joined. "I think one day I just brought my guitar, and I was hooked," said Stark who enjoys working with such a friendly group of musicians. He describes the CD as a permanent record of the Farmers' Market. "It's like having a CD that in a sense recreates a sunny morning at the Market."

"It's just fun to soak up the ambiance of the market," said Mary Grosso, Oak Parker and bass player alongside her husband, Jim Grosso, guitarist.

The atmosphere among the musicians and market-goers on the chilly Oct. 29 morning was as friendly and congenial as advertised. The market musicians played while Oak Parkers munched on donuts and sipped free stone soup, and occasionally purchased CDs. The morning was festive with donated balloons and promotional posters. A short celebratory meeting was held at 10 a.m. when Chmura gave a plaque to Val Harris, held a raffle for free CDs, and gave official thanks to and from the musicians.

"People have been coming for 25 years, their kids have grown up with this music," said Chmura.

The Farmers' Market Musicians Silver Anniversary Collection will be sold at Borders, Val's halla, Guitar Fun, and other Oak Park businesses.

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