History of the Two Way Street Coffee House

 

During the '50s and '60s, a number of churches across the country started coffee houses as an attempt at making contact with a segment of the community with whom they otherwise had no contact. Coffee houses took many forms. Some were political, some artistic, some activistic, some musical, some even religious. Together with other Downers Grove area groups, the high school group of the First Congregational Church of Downers Grove wanted to do something to address this concern, especially for teens and young adults in the community.

 

Funds were raised by the church youth group, largely from concerts and recording sales by the "Joyful Noise," a youth ministry of dancers, instrumentalists, and a chorus started at the First Congregational Church with participants from several other denominations. The coffee house opened for business on November 10, 1970.

 

Communication was the main purpose of the Two Way Street. The name was chosen to imply communications among people: generations, performers, customers and staff. The goal was to offer a "neutral ground" where an honest exchange of ideas and emotions could take place. The watchword was mutual respect.

 

Music was an important part of the programming from the start. Most early performers were students, but soon there were performers from the music scene in Chicago and well beyond. Many noted folk musicians such as Muriel Anderson, Lee Murdock, Andrew Calhoun, and Mark Dvorak, got a helping hand from the Two Way Street in the early years and still love to return today.

 

The Two Way Street has always been involved in the community. The staff helped with a series of concerts beginning in the mid '70s. In 1984, the Village of Downers Grove asked the Two Way Street to create a Folk Music Festival for the Downers Grove Heritage Festival. It grew from the original three hours on Saturday to include a concert on Friday night followed by several hours of folk music on Saturday, and ran for 26 years. It now presents a day of music in Fishel Park as a part of Downers Grove's Rotary GroveFest. And, together with other music organizations, the Two Way Street also frequently hosts events including sing-arounds, jam sessions, barn dances, concerts, and other community events.

 

In 2000, the Two Way Street began hosting monthly open mikes for college and high school students because there were not many venues where youth could perform. This has been a successful program, and some students have gone on to professional careers in music and played on our main Friday night shows. In some ways this is a return to the roots of the coffee house of providing a place for youth to come and hang out and perform.

 

The Two Way Street celebrates its anniversaries each five years with major concerts and participatory events drawing hundreds of people. In addition to a Main Stage concert, numerous rooms throughout the church are filled with people jamming, singing, dancing and song swapping. These events also honor the volunteers who have kept the coffee house going through thick and thin years.

 

Where music has been a major part of the coffee house, the real priority has been people. That extends to the performers. More than fifty percent of the performers are chosen from the local area to support those who face a shortage of good listening rooms. The coffee house also books national touring performers to create a reciprocal arrangement so local performers can find open venues when they tour the country. The Two Way Street has achieved an international reputation and is in great demand by performers from across North America and beyond.

 

Today, the Two Way Street continues as a place for making new friends, enjoying old friends, and enjoying live folk music. We hope that the coffee house is fulfilling the original mission of providing an atmosphere in the community in which all people can communicate.

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