Real Rockford Area: Charlotte's Web performances to be put on DVD

Local music and arts institution has archive of every performance it has organized since 1972

Since 1972, Charlotte’s Web has served as arguably the single loudest and most important voice in the battle to keep alternative forms of performance art alive in Rockford. It is the longest-running performing arts club in the area, and has been a mobile, not-for-profit organization since 1989.

What Rockford residents have long known is that Charlotte’s Web has provided a forum for original artists to showcase their talents and share uncensored thoughts. “There were war protesters and people looking to make social statements,” said Charlotte’s Web leader Bill Howard. “[The performers] said what politicians couldn’t say.”

What many residents didn’t know is that every Charlotte’s Web show—from 1972 until today—has been recorded and or/filmed. This was done not with profit in mind, but instead, in the name of preserving alternative forms of thought often not popular in the mainstream.

This immense collection now has reached more than 15,000 hours of music, art, poetry and interviews. To put that in perspective, if one were to listen to tape 24 hours a day without any pauses, it would take well more than a year-and-a-half just to hear everything one time.

The problem, however, is that a very large percentage of that immense archive was preserved in analog (tape) format. Over time, cassettes are prone to wear, with the plastic simply giving out. Howard and his daughter, Lani Richardson, faced the predicament of how to gather enough monetary support to transfer the archive to DVD—a far more durable technology.

Their solution: To expand their focus from Charlotte’s Web to the World Wide Web. is a virtual museum of material recorded at Charlotte’s Web dedicated to ensuring “the integrity of our cultural legacy by recording and preserving a diversity of performing arts.” hopes that it can accomplish its mission by offering private memberships. Lifetime memberships are available for between $20 and $100. All members are granted access to the enormous archive, as well as the ability to purchase artist-approved recordings at discounted prices. “Everybody needs to hear this,” said Richardson.

Besides the immediate benefit of being able to access from home the largest performing arts archive Rockford has ever seen, members can also feel good knowing they have contributed to the documentation of local history—all “profits” are spent transferring old tapes to digital form, where they are more crisp and far easier to maintain.

Like many Charlotte’s Web enthusiasts, Richardson believes that to fully understand culture, people need to hear it expressed in a forum free from the constraints of popular radio or television. “True culture is beautiful, ugly, angry, joyous—every spectrum of the rainbow,” Richardson said.

Those thoughts, long preserved only in boxes, now have the opportunity to be heard in a more convenient format by a much greater audience. In the long term, hopes to create a physical museum to complement the one being built on the Internet. Meantime, the best way to ensure this irreplaceable treasure isn’t lost forever is to visit their Web site.

“This is an archive of Rockford that needs to be preserved,” said Richardson. “We need to remember what brought us here today.”

After all, according to Richardson, “It’s not about profit, it’s about preservation.”

For more information about Charlotte’s Web performances and a full list of membership benefits, visit

From the Sept. 21-27, 2005, issue

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