I love listening to the Oak Park Farmers Market Band when I shop at the market. These musicians play at the northwest corner of Pilgrim’s parking lot, near the donut sales and under a tall maple tree. When I was there recently, there were 20 musicians seated in a circle.
I’m not the only one who enjoys listening to the band. Many people of all ages sit at tables or stand around, some drinking coffee and eating donuts. All were enjoying the music.
I learned from Ben Stark, a longtime member, that the band began more than 40 years ago when the owner of Guitar Fun (the music store that used to be one block east of the market at Ridgeland and Lake) decided to come over to the market to advertise lessons at his store. He and several other teachers from the store would sit in front of a rack with advertising flyers on it and play music.
I thought the band was made of professional musicians who had to try out, but Ben set me straight: “The growth of the group was by a slow accretion of people who just showed up and joined.” When Ben’s daughter was learning guitar, his family went to the market to enjoy the music. They assumed it was a closed group but found out it was the opposite and joined the group.
“Each year new members join and other members move away or sadly pass away,” Ben said.
I wondered if there was a playlist, but no.
“We go around the circle,” he said, “person to person, one week counterclockwise and the next maybe clockwise, and each person chooses a song to lead. Since each person has his or her own musical likes, this leads to a large variety of songs.”
Standing behind Ben outside the circle, I heard the musician next to him call out, “Down Home Girl in D.” Other songs called included “Texas Girl,” “Pay Me My Money Down,” and “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.” Smiling musicians greeted the names of the songs, improvised, and jammed, while I got to ingest the music of the band and inhale the fragrant smell of freshly-made donuts.
The Oak Park Farmers Market Band likes to concentrate on bluegrass, “fiddle tunes” (instrumentals ranging from the British Isles to Appalachia and other parts of the U.S.) sometimes called “Americana” music. The main instruments played are guitars, banjos, mandolins, and fiddles, as well as accordions, ukuleles and harmonica players. Some of the musicians play more than one instrument.
“Sometimes songs work well and sometimes less well, but I suppose that is part of the charm of the group,” Ben muses.
Upcoming event: On Saturday, Aug. 12, the annual Corn Roast is happening. According to Colleen McNichols, the Oak Park Farmers Market manager, “It is a fundraiser for the market. The corn is supplied by three of our long-term vendors: R. Smits, “The Farm”; Nichols Farm & Orchard; and Geneva Lakes Produce. We roast the corn at the market, and you can choose melted butter, salt or spices on your ear and eat it right there on the spot. The entire complicated operation is run by the market commissioners and volunteers.” This event will happen rain or shine and only cash is accepted.
Joy Aaronson is an Oak Park resident, regular Oak Park Farmers Market shopper, and volunteer at the market. Joy has contributed to Chicago Parent and wrote the Kids’ World column for the former Logan Square Free Press.