Friends and neighbors: Sounds sweet and lonesome

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By David Pierini

Staff Photographer

Mike Casey was a brother in a religious order and contemplating his vows of obedience when he heard a calling of a different nature.

"I heard this singing of an old hillbilly ballad and it sounded like something from another world," he said. "It sent shivers up my spine."

Soon after, Casey was "knee-deep" in Bluegrass recordings.

Casey, 72, eventually left his order, drove a cab in Chicago and carried his fiddle and guitar from one open mic club to another, learning the melodies and embellishments that define the genre.

The journey landed him at an Oak Park guitar shop in 1981 as an instructor and then in a small second-floor studio near the corner of Chicago and Harlem avenues, where hundreds of kids and adults have passed through to learn fiddle, guitar or banjo.

"It was a leap of faith to open my own studio but once I got in there, it became quite satisfying," said Casey, the author of an instructional book on fiddle.

Casey's own strings continue to sing beyond his studio. He is in a blue grass band, is the leader of the Oak Park Farmers Market Musicians and travels to play in fiddle competitions. He also hosts a radio show, "Bluegrass Deluxe," on 88.9 FM from Triton College.

"I'm always trying to learn new things," he said. "Even in my sessions at the Farmers Market . . . Music is music. I like to be acquainted with it all."


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Frank Koob from Bellwood  

Posted: October 22nd, 2014 10:13 AM

So sorry Mike left us so soon. I was there when mike first picked up stringed instruments and learned Bluegrass from his mentor the late Paul Breidenbach. RIP.

Stuart Leitch from Rockford, MI  

Posted: August 1st, 2013 6:18 PM

Mike is a real treasure, part of the rich mosaic that makes Oak Park a great place to live and learn.

Matt Baron from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 1st, 2013 6:01 PM

Well done, David. Excellent and fascinating slice of life!

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