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Founder of Berkeley Folk Festival to Visit Northwestern

Barry Olivier to discuss Bay Area folk music scene during the 1950s, ’60s

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May 20, 2011 | by Hilary Hurd Anyaso

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Barry Olivier, founder and director of California’s Berkeley Folk Festival from 1958 to 1970, who taught guitar to the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty and others, will talk about the Bay Area folk music scene during the tumultuous years of the 1960s, when he visits Northwestern University’s Evanston campus May 26.

The conversation with Olivier will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 26, in the Forum Room on the Second Floor of the South Tower of the Northwestern University Library, 1970 Campus Drive. The event is free and open to the public.

Olivier sold his archive of festival materials to Northwestern in 1974. The festival is also the subject of history and American studies professor Michael J. Kramer’s research seminar “Digitizing Folk Music History: The Berkeley Folk Festival.” Kramer’s students have begun to assemble online projects around the materials in the archive.

“For my students and me, one of the best aspects of using the archive to create interpretive digital history has been that, largely due to Barry Olivier's direction, the festival operated with a deep sense of self-awareness,” said Kramer. “One can see in the materials how Olivier and his colleagues were themselves grappling with what the folk revival was about in its historical moment. To get to meet with Barry in person is especially invaluable to thinking about how we are to represent online the history of the festival, the folk revival and postwar America more broadly."

Olivier has been an active participant in the Berkeley folk music scene since the 1950s, and beginning in 1956 hosted “The Midnight Special” on the local Pacifica station KPFA. He started a music instrument shop in Berkeley to serve the growing folk music community during the mid-1950s and was involved in the earliest incarnations of the Berkeley Folk Festival in the late 1950s. To this day, Olivier continues to be one of the Bay Area's preeminent guitar teachers.

“Digitizing Folk Music History” is an upper-level research seminar for undergraduate students. The course is part of "Digital River of Song," a larger project in the digital humanities focused on creating a cross-institutional, archivally based online learning community for the study of folk and vernacular music.