Charlotte’s Web has a new home for history and 40th season

James Lee Stanley (center) gave another witty and masterful performance at the new home of Charlotte’s Web, Mendelssohn’s Emerson House, for the Web’s 40th anniversary Saturday, Sept. 17. Bill and Karen Howard, the Web’s heart and soul of direction for those 40 years, smile after the show with their long-time friend at the soiree upstairs from the performance space in the new offices and studios of Charlotte’s Web and Snapshot Music. (Photo by Jen Baker)

By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher

After 40 years of being under many roofs, the new home of Charlotte’s Web and Snapshot Music fills the second floor of the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center’s Emerson House at 420 N. Main St.

Last Saturday’s (Sept. 17) performance by James Lee Stanley on the first-floor performance and social space of the Emerson House marked a great beginning of Charlotte’s Web’s 40th Anniversary Season.

Founded in 1972, Charlotte’s Web is a live music-producing organization, specializing in many genres of original music by national and international touring musicians. Some of those legendary performers include Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Doc & Merl Watson, Jon Luc Ponte, Stephan Grapelli, Odetta, Steve Goodman, John Prine, Koko Taylor, Bryan Bowers, Chic Corea, Robert Fripp, Henny Youngman, Timothy Leary, Martin Bogan and the Armstrong, Gamble Rogers, Robin and Linda Williams, Buddy Rich and Dizzy Gillespie. Rockford’s Cheap Trick had its first paying gig at Charlotte’s Web.

Snapshot Music is an on-site digital recording services company that has recorded and maintained the historical archives from the beginning of Charlotte’s Web in 1972, to 10 years of Rockford Symphony Orchestra performances under Charles Borstein, to 20 years of the Rockford Area Music Industry (RAMI) awards ceremonies, to 10 years of Fiesta Hispana, to 20 years of On the Waterfront Left Bank Stage performances, to performances of Rockford Dance Company, Without Shoes Dance Company, Rock Valley Children’s Choir, Kantorei, Black Theater Ensemble, Ebony Community Theater, J&J Dance and Tumbling, Fine Lines Dance Company, Boys & Girls Clubs Summer Theater, and ArtsPlace Emerge.

Lani Richardson, executive director of Charlotte’s Web, explained how she found this new local center for an organization with an international reputation.

I started with conversations with Bridget Frazer, the former executive director of Mendelssohn Club, in March of 2010,” Richardson said. “I’ve always liked this space as a potential home for the music museum, and the downstairs space has perfect acoustics for performances. The 40th Anniversary Season of Charlotte’s Web will have 15 of the 21 performances on the first floor of the Emerson House. Four will be in the Emerson Auditorium in the Mendelssohn Club at 415 N. Church St. We’ll also use the Rich Room at the Mendelssohn Club, and one or two performances will be at Memorial Hall. Then, the California Guitar Trio and Hometown Holiday will be at the Sullivan Center, of course.

As I spoke with Bridget, she revealed her vision of this area as an arts campus, including the Emerson House, Mendelssohn Club, the Rockford Theatre at the Woman’s Club and First Presbyterian,” Richardson continued. “We could each feed each other, and people would see all the activity around Main, Church and Park, with the Coronado right there. Then, there’s the museum campus right down the street. Rightfully, she thought things could just start spreading.

When Bridget left to take a post in Madison, the conversations continued with the interim director, Andrea Gibbs,” Richardson said. “In March of this year, we came up with an agreement, and we moved in June 1.

I’ve written a little bit on my blog at about the move,” Richardson added. “The process was really community support. People said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a couple of hours and a car.’ People want to contribute to our community. They want to participate and engage. That is what makes it so beautiful. We moved about a third of the archives from my parents’ house (Bill and Karen Howard, founders of Charlotte’s Web and Snapshot Music), and about two-thirds from our house.

We are on the second floor of this beautiful mansion, with our offices, extensive archives and our editing and mixing studios,” said Richardson. “Actually, we need interns and/or volunteers to help us digitize the collection from old reel-to-reel tapes and even cassette tapes from the first year of the Web. Yes, we welcome computer geeks and retirees to help bring our musical heritage into the modern age for preservation and presentation on the World Wide Web. Really, a 16-year-old or your granny could do this, you just have to press ‘track,’ and enjoy the music,” Richardson said.

The décor of the second floor is homey, with racks of VHS tapes, tables of various electronic mixing boards, recorders of all formats, equalizers, amps, lighting gear, flat-screen computers, desks, wicker furniture, fireplaces all set in 1940-50s décor. Yes, the place is a mansion with swirly patterned carpet, big staircases and small servant staircases and even a four-person elevator and a freight elevator operated by pull ropes. Before its more recent incarnation, Emerson House was the Burpee-Wood Funeral Home for many decades. The mansion was originally built as a home, and then became the first Keith Country Day School, founded by Belle Emerson-Keith. After seven years, Keith Country Day School moved to its current location on North Second Street. The air of education still lingers in spirit and physically with the original classroom in the basement, complete with blackboard, bookshelves and a cloakroom with coat hooks for very small people.

This space has been a great place to prepare for our 40th season here at Emerson House, featuring shows by James Lee Stanley, Trillium, Tracy Kash Thomas, David Roth, Claudia Schmidt, Muriel Anderson & Tierra Negra, Robin & Linda Williams & Their Fine Group, Bryan Bowers, Treasa Levasseur & The Daily Special, The April Verch Band, The Red Sea Pedestrians, Beppe Gambetta, Patrick Ball, Sparky & Rhonda, Doug MacLeod, Dana & Sue Robinson, California Guitar Trio, Doug & Telisha Williams, Claudia Nygaard, Monroe Crossin’ and, for a special treat at Memorial Hall, we’ll have Red Molly,” Richardson said. “Please go to our website and click on “Full Schedule” to scroll around and see more about these fine performers and their show dates.”

Single tickets for the season will go on sale one month at a time starting in September and range from $18 to $25 per performance. Serious fans will want to take advantage of two different subscription opportunities. The subscription packages provide substantial discount and guarantee you a seat at your favorite performances.

Several options are available for tickets: Subscription Package 1 Full Season is for 21 performances, priced at $300 (a value of $409). Tickets will be mailed to you for each performance, so you can easily give as gifts.

Subscription Package 2 Half Season is for 10 performances, priced at $180. This package provides you with a lot of freedom to choose performances you want to see. You will be sent a punch card. Simply provide the punch card at each performance.

The 40th season marks the culmination of years of effort by Rockford music producer Karen Howard, who has now passed the torch to her daughter, Richardson. Countless volunteers have worked to produce this legacy of more than 3,500 performances since the first performance on May 27, 1972. The Charlotte’s Web Board of Directors asks your help in supporting this season with the “$40 FOR 40 CAMPAIGN.” Your generous contribution in any amount will help to support the organization’s operating costs this season.

Contact any of the board of directors to volunteer or ask about upcoming shows; they are: Nic Juric, president; Cindy Lantz, treasurer; Kim Wheeler-Johnsen, secretary; Lani Richardson, executive director; Cedric Hanserd, volunteer coordinator; Jeanne Leezer, online calendars and outreach; Don Miller, fund-raising committee; Michelle Ryan, marketing committee; and Rob Kline, production. E-mail Richardson at

For more about Snapshot Music, their archives and upcoming performances, go to A separate, yet affiliated, organization from Charlotte’s Web, Snapshot Music is producing an exciting new series called “Concert Conversations,” recorded and filmed for runs on Comcast Channel 17. Attend and be part of these live, acoustic performances, and socialize with the performers after the show in the intimate environs of the Emerson House living room.

Achive shows will also be featured in an interspersed manner with the live show on Comcast Channel 17 through August 2012.

Please support Charlotte’s Web, an institution that has given Rockford a good name internationally for 40 years.

From the Sept. 21-27, 2011, issue

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