by Mark Dvorak
If you happen to be in a car heading west on Ogden Avenue near Harlem, you'll soon cross over the DesPlaines River near a town called Lyons, Illinois. Right after the bridge you'll see a sign welcoming you to Lyons and no kidding, it says, "Gateway to the West."
Sometime after all the Native Americans were chased away from their homes in the bountiful Des Plaines River valley, wagon wheels and the hustle and bustle of a pioneer portage settlement would render the area dirt trails almost impassible during inclement weather. In the Chicago area then, that would be almost all of the time.
So a makeshift highway of sawed-in-half timbers was laid in the mud along the most oft-used Indian trail in the region, beginning somewhere east in the big stinky city, and heading all the way west to who knows where. The trail was renamed The Old Plank Road, a common name for such a thoroughfare in those days. Believe it or not, Lyons, Illinois really was the gateway to the west way back when. The next worthy stop for traders and travelers along this route would be Joliet, which was also known as "The Gateway to the West," until St. Louis got serious and built their damned arch. The Old Plank Road is known today as Ogden Avenue and the adventurous have confirmed that it now goes all the way to Colorado, ending somewhere high in the Rocky Mountains.
Twenty-five years ago this spring, a small group of folks in the western suburbs gathered in a store front coffee house in Brookfield, Illinois, not far from Ogden Avenue, with their instruments, ideas, only a little experience, and a stubborn wherewithal to see to it that an organization, a real organization this time, would become established and serve as a focal point for the various musical activities and interests in their little corner of the world.
What the hay, I was lucky enough to be one of those young people at the table that spring evening, talking the talk and learning to walk the walk. And by gosh, the Plank Road Folk Music Society has been walking the walk, very well thank you, ever since such talk was cheap and a six-pack of beer cost less than two-fifty.
To celebrate then, the passage of time and the on-going riches that our kind of music brings to neighbors and communities, The Plank Road Folk Music Society’s current and most capable board of directors has planned a gala event for this Saturday, April 24 in Lombard, Illinois, which is no where near Ogden Avenue.
Regardless, you can get there in any number of ways and it would sure be nice to see you. Bring your instruments, there will be jam sessions, simple food for purchase and an evening concert with yours truly. I will be remembering some of the songs and stories from those early days, and of course will be reflecting on all the fine people and good music it has been my privilege to encounter since then.
As “onward,” is one of my new favorite words, I’ll be trotting out some new stuff too. Along with Plank Road friends, we’ll gather to welcome the next new musical chapter at the First Church of Lombard, 220 South Main Street, Lombard, Illinois. Visit <www.plankroad.org> for details and directions. Things get going around 2 pm and last all the way until 9 pm. Afternoon events are free, the evening concert is free to Plank Road members and just ten dollars for everyone else. You can become a member that night, of course.