Bonnie Koloc is back in Chicago for a Hideout event

Bonnie Koloc is coming back, which means memories will flow for those who were lucky enough to see and hear her sing. Some of those memories go back waaaaaay. “For me it was 1969,” says former Tribune photographer Charles Osgood. “The year after she came here and the first time I heard her, I fell in love with her. … But so did everyone else.”

Koloc came here by train from her native Iowa in 1968 and quickly became, with the Quiet Knight and Earl of Old Town, one of our most beloved singers. A longtime resident of Iowa with her husband of decades, writer/teacher/publisher Robert Wolf, she doesn’t visit Chicago often enough to satisfy her fans.

But Osgood estimates he took “thousands of pictures of her, maybe tens of thousands” and you’ll be able to see some of them, which, by the way, have never been seen by the public before, in a slideshow when Koloc takes the stage at the Hideout on the afternoon of June 8, her first time at this enterprising and fun club.

One of the club’s owners, public school teacher Tim Tuten, is extremely excited and proud to have her. “I was too young to go into the clubs to see her, to see her and Steve Goodman and John Prine,” he says. “But I celebrate them. They’re like this power trio, and she’s the living embodiment of that, making it a living, breathing thing.

Koloc will share the stage with Mark Guarino, the author of “Country and Midwestern: Chicago in the History of Country Music and the Folk Revival” (University of Chicago Press). He tells me, “This has taken a long time. A few months ago I went to Decorah, Iowa, and interviewed her in front of the locals, and she played a few songs at an indie bookstore. I loved Decorah and had a great time with Bonnie and Bob for two nights. So we’re going to try to recreate it in the Hideout.

The pair delves into memories, remembering Koloc’s many recordings and concerts, her ups and downs. It’s been quite a career. A few months after arriving here, she shared the gossip column with Jimmy Durante and then appeared at the Empire Room, and that same year a newspaper critic wrote, “Bonnie Koloc doesn’t know where she’s going, but the public certainly knows where she’s going.” is. ” In 1971, she headlined Mister Kelly’s, with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the audience.

Some will tell you that Koloc should have been a big star. But having watched and listened to her over the decades, I take her word for it, especially what she said to me a few years ago: “I have a great life. I notice that I am so much happier in my older years. Singing is my greatest joy. It saved me.”

At the Hideout, Koloc will sing, accompanied by guitarist/singer/songwriter Steve Dawson, who not only has a new record about to be released, but is also learning Koloc’s songs during his songwriting classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

“There’s something youthful about Bonnie,” Guarino says. “She is full of spirit, ideas and is hilarious.”

The night before her Hideout performance, Koloc will be at the Dime Gallery (1513 N. Western Ave.) for the opening of an exhibition of her artwork. “The first time I heard her sing ‘Jazzman’ I was a kid,” says artist/gallerist Tony Fitzpatrick. “But she had a perfect voice in the upper register that could be mournful, sweet and transcendent. And her “I Can’t Sleep,” a tribute to Steve Goodman, is a sweet lament that feels like a gospel song. I haven’t seen her in a long time, but many times, years ago. Her art is just like her: elegant, coherent and poetic. … I love her.”

Bonnie Koloc sings with Corky Siegel at Maxim's on February 24, 2010. (Charles Osgood/for the Chicago Tribune)
Bonnie Koloc sings with Corky Siegel at Maxim’s on February 24, 2010. (Charles Osgood/for the Chicago Tribune)

Koloc has been a visual artist since childhood. In 1987, she returned to college to complete a bachelor’s degree in art education at the University of Northern Iowa. Since then she has been active as a graphic artist, painter and ceramist. She has had more than a few one-woman shows nationally and was part of the National Exhibition of the Los Angeles Printmaking Society in 1999.

She has illustrated more than a dozen books for Free River Press, her husband’s company. He and his colleagues are admirable, publishing collections of short stories documenting the lives of people without literary ambition across America. She created the striking album covers and linocut decorations for Wolf’s “Heartland Portrait: Stories From the Rural Midwest” and for his two books with Oxford University Press: “An American Mosaic: Prose and Poetry by Everyday Folk” and “Jump Start: How to Write from everyday life.”

John Prine, third from left, gives an encore with Bill Quateman, from left, Bonnie Koloc and Steve Goodman at Ravinia on July 21, 1972. (Charles Osgood/Chicago Tribune)
John Prine, third from left, gives an encore with Bill Quateman, from left, Bonnie Koloc and Steve Goodman at Ravinia on July 21, 1972. (Charles Osgood/Chicago Tribune)

The Dime exhibition will continue for weeks and now Koloc is scheduled to be there during the weekend. You might have the chance to meet her husband Wolf in the gallery. Also the ghosts of Steve Goodman and John Prine. So many of those who once populated her world are gone. But many stay. Tuten and Tony Fitzpatrick will be hanging out as well as some new fans. And if she does happen to break out into song, she will do so because, as she says, “Everyone has hard times in life, and I think my music can be healing.” It has been that way for me and I want people who listen to me to feel that no matter how hard things are, there will always be a better day. In a way, my mission is to convey my own joy to people who listen to me.”

And yes, as always, Osgood will be nearby, with a camera in his hands.

“An Afternoon of Conversation and Music with Bonnie Koloc” will take place June 8 at 4 p.m. at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave.; tickets $20 (ages 21+) at

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