Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Over the decades, the Web has presented literally hundreds of artists. And despite always working on a shoestring budget, it has consistently won renown for both the quality and variety of its concerts. It's also survived economic woes that have felled many an arts organization. Lani Richardson is executive director of the Web. What does she think is the secret to the Web's success? Richardson says a location between Chicago and Madison helped, especially during the folk boom of the 1970s when the organization started. Plus, Richardson says, Charlotte's Web always treated every artist like a star:
The atmosphere was so inviting to the artists and the audience, that that magic intersection that happens between artist and audience, happened more often at the Web.
Richardson says that was due, in part, because the Web has always tried to make sure production standards have been of the highest quality. Top notch lights and sound, and sometimes even home-cooked meals for the touring musician, have all contributed to making the Web an inviting place for artists to come.
Richardson says, as a result, the Web got a reputation that drew in big names like Steve Goodman and Odetta early on, followed over the decades by hundreds of performers, like Doc Watson, Bonnie Koloc and others, many of who enjoyed coming back again and again.
Richardson had an inside view of the Web's beginning. It was her parents, Karen and Bill Howard, that helped birth and then nurture the organization for most of its existence. Richardson says it all started with a friend, Stephen Powers, who'd started a coffeehouse, called the Orpheus. They went to a show
and got bit by that bug. The Orpheus closed, and they said, what do we do now? There were a few other starts, and then [a] building became vacant on First Avenue...they called Stephen and said, want to do it again? - and Charlotte's Web was born.
Powers eventually moved on, but the Howards stayed. Karen Howard finally retired after 37 years at the helm, and Richardson was chosen to take her place. Richardson says she sees part her mission as continuing the high quality of the experience for artist and audience that her mother started. She's also trying to build it into a more independent organization, one that doesn't depend on members of the Howard family, or any individual, to be a success.
I want to make Charlotte's Web solid, so that even if my family moves to New Zealand, it will still continue to provide the Mecca, and the heart, that it does, to Rockford and the region.
In the meantime, Richardson says, the the music will continue.