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A place for Projectiles: Folk Project Golden Jubilee will celebrate half century of good vibes, May 19-20
A place for Projectiles: Folk Project Golden Jubilee will celebrate half century of good vibes, May 19-20
A place for Projectiles: Folk Project Golden Jubilee will celebrate half century of good vibes, May 19-20

Published on: 05/19/2023


This weekend, the Folk Project in Morris Township will celebrate a half-century since its founding in 1973. Or was it 1971? At that bar? The Thirsty Ear? When the venture was known as Project 21?

Let’s face it, folkies aren’t big on formalities.

Their math may be a little sketchy, the details, dog-eared as the pages of a Phil Ochs songbook. What matters is this nonprofit has endured for a very long time, through punk and pandemics, under assorted names, at various venues. The musical circle has remained unbroken. And that’s worth singing about.

And so its members shall — and everyone is invited to join the chorus. This (Approximately) Golden Jubilee starts on Friday, May 19, 2023, at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship.Hors d’oeuvres, mocktails and jazz will be served at 6:30 pm, followed by a 7:30 pm concert featuring a dazzling array of multi-talented Folk Project members, and The Robinson & Rohe Band as headliners.

On Saturday, May 20, the good vibes continue at the same location, with music workshops at 1:30 pm, dinner at 6 pm, and a 7:30 pm concert with more Folk Project ringers, capped by guitar greats Grover Kemble, Frank Vignola and Vinnie Raniolo.

Grover Kemble. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Admission to the concerts is $20 apiece. For $65, you can attend everything.

The Folk Project’s weekly Troubadour concerts (formerly known as The Minstrel and The Minstrel Coffeehouse) have showcased folk legends Tom Paxton and the late Jean Ritchie, and future legends like Susan Werner, Red Molly and The Kennedys.

It’s also one of the few stages where you might hear mountain dulcimers, balalaikas or bouzoukis.

“It’s not just a concert series. It’s a home for homemade music,” says Folk Project veteran Mark Schaffer.

Christine DeLeon, Mike Agranoff, Jean Rohe and Tom Paxton sing 'Time Has Made a Change in Me,' at Minstrel 40th anniversary concert in Chatham. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Christine DeLeon, Mike Agranoff, Jean Rohe and Tom Paxton sing at 40th anniversary concert. That was in 2015. Hmm…is there a math major in the house? Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Monthly open mic nights welcome all comers. The Swingin’ Tern offers contra dancing. There are Acoustic Getaway weekends and even, God help us, Ukulele Festivals.

Music underlies all this, of course. But it’s the camaraderie that keeps the regulars coming back, and snaps up unsuspecting newcomers.

“The Project has essentially become my family,” says singer-songwriter Mike Agranoff, Troubadour program chair and unofficial Chief Projectile, whose association with the organization spans at least a half-dozen venues in Morris and Somerset counties since 1975.


That notion–family–crops up over and over when you ask performers and volunteers about the Folk Project.

Betsy Rose and the Chicago Fire
Betsy Rose and the Chicago Fire in 2018.

Its president, Elizabeth Lachowicz, got hooked a quarter-century ago when she checked out the coffeehouse.

“Not only was I welcomed, but so was my little boy,” recounts Lachowicz, who will perform this weekend as Betsy Rose. She credits regular doses of Folk Project “good, clean fun” with bringing out the best in them both, and broadening their musical horizons.

From staffing the admission table to setting up audio gear to furnishing goodies at intermission, Lachowicz found opportunities to get involved and meet kindred souls. It felt good belonging to something bigger than herself; soon she derived a sense of ownership.

Betsy Rose and Mark Schaffer check the roster at The Minstrel Open Stage, April 13, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Elizabeth Lachowicz and Mark Schaffer check the roster for Open Stage in 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“I felt like it was part mine. I was one of the hosts and I loved it!”

Friday’s headliner, Jean Rohe, grew up on Folk Project stages. So did Sharlys Dugan, who danced, sang in English, French and Gaelic, and played harp and penny whistle alongside her brother and parents in Dugan’s Hooligans, a 21st-century reincarnation of The Partridge Family.

“I had the chance to meet an incredibly accepting community of people and they helped me become the performer I am today,” Sharlys says. “Cheers to 50 more years!”

dugan's hooligans
Dugan’s Hooligans in 2010 (L-R): George Leszczuk, the dad; siblings Sharlys and Connor Leszczuk Dugan; and Nancy Dugan, the mom. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Sharlys and her brother Connor were ages 7 and 9, respectively, when they auditioned for Agranoff.

He championed the Hooligans, and they were embraced by the Folk Project, where “open minds and curiosity abound, and a spirit of acceptance and wonder permeates the air,” says their mom, Nancy Dugan, the Shirley Partridge of the act, singing and playing keyboards.

Frequent appearances there kept the siblings Hooligans in name only, their mother testifies.

“The Folk Project experience got our family through the terrible teens with no issues, kept the kids on the better side of the community, and kept us close and communicating,” Nancy Dugan says. “I can honestly say the Folk Project was instrumental in our success in the community at large as well as within our family.”Another Folk Project favorite, Carolann Solebello, has played there with CC Railroad, Red Molly, Joni Mitchell’s BLUE tribute, No Fuss and Feathers, and as a solo act. She says she is deeply grateful.

The Folk Project is a pillar of the folk circuit, she says, because it really is more than a concert series.

“Like the name says, it’s a project, and above all, a community in the fullest sense of the word,” Solebello says. “If you make good and meaningful music — seasoned veteran or total newcomer — you’ll make friends at the Folk Project.”

Exactly how and where it all started may be open to interpretation; harpist Laurie Riley (see below) generally is cited as Founding Mother. What’s indisputable is the love that somehow keeps the Folk Project humming, even as founders come and go.

“Over the years The Folk Project expanded and contracted like an accordion,” Lachowicz says. “We’ve always maintained enough air to keep going.”

May its bellows always be full, Nancy Dugan says.

“I love the Folk Project. I’m greatly indebted to them for the best part of my life, and I hope it lives on and on.”

The Folk Project’s Golden Jubilee runs from May 19-20, 2023, at the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, 21 Normandy Heights Road, Morris Township. More details are here.



Longtime Projectiles say their coffeehouse (known today as The Troubadour) started in 1975–they celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015–and the Folk Project was incorporated in 1977.

This weekend’s Golden Jubilee, according to Folk Project Program Chairman Mike Agranoff, actually marks a 1973 Sussex County festival that was the first public event staged by the Folk Project’s forerunner, dubbed Project 21. That name referred to New Jersey’s 21 counties, says the Folk Project’s Mark Schaffer.

Got all that?

One thing most Folk Project veterans agree on is that it all started–sometime, somewhere –thanks to Laurie Riley, an accomplished harpist now on the West Coast.

So we’re going straight to the source. Take it away, Laurie:

In the ’60s there used to be a coffeehouse in Morristown called the Thirsty Ear, where I spent every weekend night from age 15 to 18, either performing or listening. In 1969, I went off to college for a year, and meanwhile the Thirsty Ear closed, leaving a gaping hole in the folk music scene in the Morristown area.

I started thinking that an organization and/or a concert series or another coffeehouse was needed. Music was my life, and I knew the same was true for many folkies.

So I was delighted when, in late 1970 or early 1971, an old fellow (whose name I don’t recall, but Jay Gibbs might remember) started a concert series featuring local musicians, and he had a vision for his organization to be state-wide, so he called it “Project 21” for the 21 counties of New Jersey.

After his first few concerts he developed health problems and asked me and the late John Huemer to take it over, which we did. Jay Gibbs joined us as a third director. About a year later, John dropped off.

We gained some new key members: Roger Goetz, Mary Ellen Sandahl, and others, and I headed up the team. Since taking over Project 21 in 1971, we’d been having evenings of music, concerts on Friday nights at IKTHUS in Mendham, the annual festival at Kamp Kiamesha, and various special larger concerts here and there, including a few at MUF (Morristown Unitarian Fellowship), and we had a newsletter.

Then our “coffeehouse” moved to the French Restaurant, and then to the larger place in Chester. In 1976, I got involved with the band Frostwater, and because the band was so busy I resigned from the “Board” (we had not yet incorporated).

After that, the remaining board members incorporated and name was changed to The Folk Project. It was at that point that Mike (Agranoff) got involved in leadership, and although that was half a lifetime ago, the rest is what I think of as “recent history.”

I think the reason it has lasted so long is fourfold:

1. We folkies needed each other. We were the musical outcasts from pop culture and world of Pop and Rock music, and most of us didn’t do drugs. So there were no other social groups that suited us.

2. Most of the members were musicians and we all played music for each other.

3.We were originally rooted in the idea that our own music was worth hearing in concert, not just the big names. And we had FUN. So we created a great foundation that I hope still underlies the structure and attitude of the FP.

4.Folk music is something that people become dedicated to, and it is not prone to fads and trends.  — Laurie Riley


(The Minstrel became The Troubadour series in 2019)

By Mike Agranoff. Dates approximate.

• 1975-1976:  The basement of a French restaurant in Chester called L’Auberge Provincal.  (Now an antiques store.)

• 1976 -1977: Black River Artisans, an 18th Century inn also in Chester.  Last I saw several years ago the building was still there, but unoccupied.

• 1977 – 1978:  The Mendham Youth Center (AKA The Mendham Shak). Still there as far as I know, although it may be under a different name.

• 1978 – 1983: The Morris County Cultural Center between Morristown and Chester on Route 24.

• 1983 – 199?:  The Somerset County Environmental Center, on the edge of the Great Swamp in Basking Ridge.

• 199? – 2005 : Back to the Morris County Cultural Center.

• 2005 – present: Morristown Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Morris Township.

Author : Kevin Coughlin

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