Folk Music Revival at Kearney State College

Many Kearney State College students took up the guitar or banjo in the mid-1960s.

A dedicated student space for folk music, debates, and coffee was opened in the basement of the campus Christian Center.

Folk Music Revival

The folk music rival brought musicians like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, The Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan to the forefront of American popular culture in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Quoting the Kearney Hub’s campus reporter, The distinguishing factor of the present folk music trend is its widespread appeal. The reporter added, it appeals to both young and old.

As a result, several folk groups and singers performed at Kearney State College in the 1960s. The Kearney State College student council tried to schedule the New Christy Minstrels for an April 1964 performance, according to an October 1963 Kearney Hub report. The Smothers Brothers, accompanied by Abraham and Esther Ofarim, performed in Cushing Coliseum on October 27, 1964. The Gaslight Singers and The Outsiders, folk singers from New York and Chicago, opened the Freshman Hootenanny in 1965. Later that academic year Glen Yarbrough performed for 1,500 students, far fewer than the 5,000 who attended The Smothers Brothers concert the year before. The Blue & Gold yearbook for 1966 claimed that what it called folk music saturation was behind the drop in attendance.

Folk music’s wide appeal sparked a wave of imitators on college campuses. This was especially true at Midwestern schools. Musicologist David Blake, in his 2016 study of campus folk music noted that-The rural settings of Midwestern campuses also provided closer proximity to the rural environs associated with folk music. For example, The New Folk Singers, which played campus on November 30, 1967, was founded by students at the University of Minnesota in 1965.

Many Kearney State College students took up the guitar or banjo in the mid-1960s. In 1964, the campus paper The Antelope suggested that-even a beginner can be plunking out accompanying chords on a banjo or guitar in a matter of minutes. The unnamed reporter found that this was key to folk music’s appeal, writing that-Americans of all ages from every walk of life are gathering in informal groups to sing folk songs. The songs they sing are not new, but the enthusiasm has been rekindled.

Several groups formed on campus at the height of the folk music revival, including The Roundeaus, The Troubadors, The Phi Tau Gamma Group, and The Sig Ep Trio. Like other groups, The Roundeaus began as a folk music appreciation group that shared music and sang. Eventually they formed a band, consisting of Dee Schaad, Dick Flagg, Jerry Wise, Lynn Casey, and John Calhoun. The Troubadors, The Phi Tau Gamma Group, and The Sig Ep Trio were smaller Greek-oriented groups. The former, a trio of Dennis Schmoker, Jim Hesse, and Darrel Jones were Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity members and regularly performed Friday afternoon shows in the Student Union. The Phi Tau Gamma Group and The Sig Ep Trio, as their names implied, were drawn from their respective fraternities. The Phi Tau Gamma Group was a placeholder name for the duo of Gary Plotner and Tom Cunningham. The Sig Ep Trio of Steve Lancaster, Alrae Olson, and Bill Brown, like The Phi Tau Gamma Group, primarily played fraternity functions.

Later in the 1960s, as the folk music revival fused into the wider countercultural movement, a dedicated student space for folk music, debates, and coffee was opened in the basement of the campus Christian Center. Known as The Sewer, the space was not religiously affiliated, rather one of its founders, John Richmond, said that it was-meant to be another student union, but this one has an atmosphere that is more conductive to debate and discussion. He added-If somebody wants to cover over here to play a guitar or study, that’s great. The only thing we insist upon are no liquor and no drugs.

Tastes changed and students turned to a variety of musical styles as the decade progressed. Yet, the folk music revival drew many students to both listen to and participate in the genre. While campus bands were and are still hardly uncommon, the proliferation of campus folk music groups across the country was unprecedented. Few though found fame. Nevertheless, The Antelope had hope for Kearney’s student musicians in 1965, noting that-Perhaps someday Kearney State College will be famed as the home college of a famous folksinging group?

By Kearney Creates Editor ~ Nathan Tye


Visiting Celebrities Series-Kearney Concerts by Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson

The Kearney Stepping-stone on the Giants’ Causeway

Many famous popular musicians have included a stop in Kearney on their tours, and not the least of them were two crowd favorites-Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. Here’s a personal recollection of their concerts-with some references included.

Let’s start with Bob Dylan in Concert.

There was low, constant buzz of conversation throughout the Tri-City Arena as friends talked among themselves, neighbors greeted neighbors, people settled into their seats. A feeling of collective anticipation floated through the air. The overhead lights flickered, and the noise ceased momentarily and then rose again. A few seconds later, the lights went down, the stage lights came up and the band members took their places. The crowd was quiet and then the main act, the only act shuffled on stage as the strains of Somebody Touched Me could barely be heard above the applause of the crowd and then the announcement-Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Columbia recording artist-BOB DYLAN.

It was Friday, April 20, 2001, and Dylan’s Starlight, Starbright tour had come to Kearney. The crowd was on its feet and mostly remained there for the next two hours which went by quickly and was over all too soon. Dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and bolo tie, Dylan’s presence commanded the stage. Next up was It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, and Desolation Row. Then Just Like a Woman preceded other familiar Dylan tunes.

Dylan neared the end of the evening with a fresh sounding audience favorite Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, a highlight of the night. The final song was Rainy Day Women. The crowd wanted more but it was over. Dylan was moving on to Kansas for his next venue. The audience was left with the euphoria of the past two hours and their memories for future reminisces.

The concert Set List:

Somebody Touched Me
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Desolation Row
Crash on the Levee-Down in the Flood
Just Like a Woman
Things Have Changed
It Ain’t Me, Babe
Masters of War
Tangled Up in Blue
Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
The Wicked Messenger
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Love Sick
Like a Rolling Stone
If Dogs Run Free
All Along the Watchtower
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Highway 61 Revisited
Blowin’ in the Wind
Rainy Day Women

Scott Bauer, [email protected] – Kearney Review, April 21, 2001

By Jean Jacobson ~ personal recollection


What could be better than one Bob Dylan Concert? Well, more, of course.

But until that happens what about three Willie Nelson concerts?

On the Road Again with Willie Nelson in Kearney, Nebraska-Not 1, Not 2, but 3 Times

Willie has been writing songs and performing since 1962. He was just recently named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, just 30 years after having been named to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and at 90, his A Beautiful Thing won a Grammy. All that highlights the fact that this American music icon visited Kearney on at least three occasions for concerts.

The first was in 2001 on Sunday, October 7 at the Tri-City Arena-later the Viaero Event Center) in its first year of operation.

Willie’s road intersected with Kearney again at the event center on September 12, 2005 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets went on sale July 29. In a departure from his country roots, Nelson performed songs with a reggae flare from his then recent album titled Countryman.

The last concert of Nelson was Friday, August 17, 2012 at the Viaero Event Center
Dressed in black jeans, black t-shirt and red head band, Nelson played the standards.
Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, You Were Always on My Mind, and his signature song On the Road Again. A giant flag from the Lone Star state backed Nelson and the band. Without a lot of conversation and no intermission – presenting his own songs and songs written by Hank Williams and others – it was a non-stop 90 minutes of all Willie and his Family. It doesn’t get better than that, if you’re a Willie Nelson fan.

A Partial Set List for that concert notes his singing these and more.
Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
On the Road Again
You Were Always on My Mind
Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain
Good-Hearted Woman
On the Road Again
Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
Georgia on My Mind
Move It on Over
Fun on the Bayou
All The Girls I Loved Before
I’ll Fly Away
I Saw the Light
You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore

Although not scheduled for another Kearney concert in the near future, it seems it’s about time.

Concert Bucket, You Tube video, August 17, 2012
Mary Jane Skala, Review – Kearney Hub | Section: Social, August 20, 2012

By Jean Jacobson ~ personal recollection

Categories: Music Tags: UNK Kearney