Gurler house’s doorsteps feature bands in festival


Bands such as (top) Last Night’s Fun: Play Who You Are played traditional Celtic songs in front of the Gurler House during the 14th annual Gurler Folk Music Festival June 21.

By Carl Nadig

DeKalb | The Gurler Heritage Association hosted the 14th annual Gurler Folk Music Fest Saturday for an event of history and musical celebration.

Every year, the nonprofit organization hosts a musical festival on the front lawn of the Gurler House, 205 Pine St., where locals celebrate the history of the Gurler House, constructed in 1857.

“This was actually the first frame house of DeKalb, and it’s what’s called a Greek Revival style,” said Thomas Sims, Gurler Heritage Association president. “Prior to this house, all the structures in DeKalb were log cabins … . What George and Henry Gurler did was found the practice of sound dairy management in terms of sanitary hygiene.

“One of their famous exploits was they shipped milk from their farm in DeKalb to the World’s Fair in Paris, [which took] three weeks by boat. And it was still good by the time it arrived in Paris … . So, they really had a major impact in American agriculture.”

The folk festival began at noon with the Jim Kanas Trio playing an assortment of early jazz, bluegrass and American country from the ’40s and ’50s. As people were finding shade in front of an impromptu stage on the house’s doorsteps, the melodies of Woody Guthrie, George Gershwin and Frank Churchill echoed against the brick streets.

Later in the afternoon, Dave Balika and friends played Celtic songs with an upbeat flute, whistle and a flat, wooden, stringed instrument resembling a box called a dulcimer. As the evening concluded, a nine-membered group called Last Night’s Fun: Play Who You Are took the stage and performed more traditional Celtic songs.

“Depending on the group, the stuff that they [Last Night’s Fun: Play Who You Are] play, and the stuff I play is really old,” Balika said. “Some of the stuff I play goes back to the early 1800’s. Some of their stuff is even older.”

Admission to the event was free; however, the musicians booked for the show were compensated with sponsorship by the Mary E. Stevens Concert and Lecture Fund and WNIJ radio.

“We want it to be for the city,” said festival host Cheryl Johnson. “We want it to be a special event for the community that doesn’t cost any money, where they can bring their children, their dog and slop out on the lawn just to have a fun day.”