Two of the most distinctive voices in the Chicago folk music scene will unite on the stage of the Blizzard Theatre at Elgin Community College’s Arts Center this weekend. Singer-songwriters Bonnie Koloc and Susan Werner are co-headlining an evening of music that combines the spirit, sounds and storytelling of folk, jazz, blues and pop.
Koloc has been a major figure in the Chicago folk scene for years, collaborating with fellow singer-songwriters including Steve Goodman and John Prine. Since the first time she took the stage at legendary Chicago club the Earl of Old Town in 1968, Koloc has released more than a dozen albums, including her latest, “Bonnie Koloc – Rediscovered.”
She has become known for bringing her own personal touch to the folk world, merging it with elements of jazz and blues. Koloc says she loves the improvisational structure of jazz as well as the storytelling aspects of folk, creating music that she believes captures the human experience.
“It’s music that I hope speaks to the heart,” Koloc said. “I like music that speaks to us as human beings.”
Backing up Koloc on stage will be an accomplished group of Chicago-area musicians including pianist Don Stille, who has collaborated with Koloc numerous times and she says the interaction between them has created some of her favorite music. “Don is like my dance partner,” she said.
Growing up in Iowa, Werner said she became a fan of Koloc’s from the first moment she saw her perform live, and is excited to be co-headlining a concert with her. Werner burst onto the folk music scene in 1993 with her debut album, “Midwestern Saturday Night.” Since then, she has released nine more albums, toured the nation with leading folk acts and appeared on a PBS special with Peter, Paul and Mary.
Werner’s distinct version of folk plays up the storytelling aspects of the form, and she said it can be best described as “hippie cabaret.” By creating personas and characters through her songwriting, Werner said, she gains the freedom to write songs about virtually anything. “When you write for characters, you write as characters,” she said. “When you write as a character, songs can be much bolder than you may be yourself. You can say things in a song that you would never say to another person.”
Werner said she loves performing in the Chicago area because audiences a more attuned to what she tries to accomplish as an artist. “Humor is understood here, and the intent to make people laugh is understood,” she said. “If you just keep that groove going and smile through the applause, you can say just about anything.”
Koloc says she also is looking forward to performing in front of a hometown-area crowd again, especially when sharing the stage with a performer like Werner. “It’s always wonderful,” she said. “It’s really joyful.”