The first book to document nearly 100 years of country and folk music history in Chicago.

Country &
Midwestern

Country & Midwestern

Chicago in the History
of Country Music
and the Folk Revival

Chicago in the History of Country Music and the Folk Revival

by Mark Guarino
Foreword by Robbie Fulks

Country & Midwestern book cover

The untold story of Chicago’s pivotal role as a country and folk music capital.

Chicago is revered as a musical breeding ground, having launched major figures like blues legend Muddy Waters, gospel soul icon Mavis Staples, hip-hop firebrand Kanye West, and the jazz-rock band that shares its name with the city. Far less known, however, is the vital role Chicago played in the rise of prewar country music, the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s, and the contemporary offspring of those scenes. 

In Country and Midwestern, veteran journalist Mark Guarino tells the epic century-long story of Chicago’s influence on sounds typically associated with regions further south. Drawing on hundreds of interviews and deep archival research, Guarino tells a forgotten story of music, migration, and the ways that rural culture infiltrated urban communities through the radio, the automobile, and the railroad. The Midwest’s biggest city was the place where rural transplants could reinvent themselves and shape their music for the new commercial possibilities the city offered. 

Years before Nashville emerged as the commercial and spiritual center of country music, major record labels made Chicago their home and recorded legendary figures like Bill Monroe, The Carter Family, and Gene Autry. The National Barn Dance—broadcast from the city’s South Loop starting in 1924—flourished for two decades as the premier country radio show before the Grand Ole Opry. Guarino chronicles the makeshift niche scenes like “Hillbilly Heaven” in Uptown, where thousands of relocated Southerners created their own hardscrabble honky-tonk subculture, as well as the 1960s rise of the Old Town School of Folk Music, which eventually brought national attention to local luminaries like John Prine and Steve Goodman. The story continues through the end of the twentieth century and into the present day, where artists like Jon Langford, The Handsome Family, and Wilco meld contemporary experimentation with country traditions. 

Featuring a foreword from Grammy-nominated Chicago singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks and casting a cross-genre net that stretches from Bob Dylan to punk rock, Country and Midwestern rediscovers a history as sprawling as the Windy City—celebrating the creative spirit that modernized American folk idioms, the colorful characters who took them into new terrain, and the music itself, which is still kicking down doors even today.

“Long before Nashville’s emergence as the country-music capital, Chicago held sway with the nationally broadcast “Barn Dance” and a honky-tonk row of music venues on Madison Street. Mark Guarino masterfully connects the dots between that star-making era to a contemporary scene devoted to insurgent country.

“This is a definitive and long-overdue look at a vital if underappreciated thread in how so-called “hillbilly music” evolved and flourished in a seemingly incongruous setting: the hard streets of Chicago.”

— Greg Kot, “Sound Opinions” co-host

“Mark Guarino’s magnificent history, Country & Midwestern, proves that the Second City was first among equals in the development of American roots music. A ruthless researcher and scintillating storyteller, Guarino provides critical context and moving portraits of the pickers, grinners and pioneers who shaped Chicago’s contributions to country and folk.

“A long overdue but welcome volume that will sit alongside other essential works on the subject, from Bill C. Malone’s Country Music USA to David Hadju’s Positively Fourth Street.”

— Bob Mehr, author of the New York Times bestseller Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements

“In this remarkable and thrilling book, Mark Guarino writes that ‘Chicago’s role in country music and the folk revival has never earned a closer look.’ Well, it gets that now in a book exhaustively researched, stylishly written and exciting on every single page. In it I find people I knew well (even my father), many more that I heard play and sing in clubs, and some that are new to me. They are all here, vividly, the rogues, rascals and geniuses who made and keep making our city sing.”

— Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune columnist and 2022 Fuller Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame

“With an epic scope, gorgeous photographs, and useful discographies, this is a vital contribution to the history of American music and required reading for country and folk music fans.”

— Freda Love Smith, Booklist

“Guarino’s richly textured cultural history is informed by his instinctive sense of the sounds and lyrics that originated in Chicago’s small taverns and clubs that were an ‘unusual hothouse for creativity,’ crucial to the reinvention of country and folk music.”

— Elizabeth Taylor, The National Book Review

“Those of us who came of age in the vicinity of Chicago understand its importance to country and folk music. The Windy City is home to some of the most prolific artists in the genre. Now, finally, author Mark Guarino chronicles the history of country and folk music in Chicago in his necessary and irresistible book Country and Midwestern.”

— Tamara Saviano, author of Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark

“Monumental … Music writer Mark Guarino tells a riveting story of the central role that Chicago has played in the development of country and folk music. Essential reading for anyone interested in the history of country and folk music.”

— No Depression

“It was not only a page turner, but from my experience, your account was right-on-the-nail accurate … The definitive book on the Chicago music scene. It could be the model for other books in other cities.”

— Frank Hamilton, co-founder of the Old Town School of Folk Music

“Growing up in Oak Park, Mark Guarino was raised in the womb of Chicago’s vibrant and diverse music scene. This history of country, folk and beyond is a living, breathing document that offers the heartbeat that made songwriter John Prine an Americana icon, and an alternative country scene that impacts globally.”

— Holly Gleason, Editor/Contributor WOMAN WALK THE LINE: How the Women of Country Music Changed Our Lives and co-author Y’ALL EAT YET? Welcome to the Pretty B*tchin’ Kitchen with Miranda Lambert

Country & Midwestern

Country & Midwestern

is available in your friendly neighborhood bookstore.
If one does not exist in your area, you can order from these online sellers.

is available in your friendly neighborhood bookstore.
If one does not exist in your area, you can order from these online sellers.

Events

Events

May 2, 2023 | St. Louis, MO

LEFT BANK BOOKS, 399 N. Euclid Ave.

Left Bank Books, the oldest and largest independent book seller in St. Louis, is hosting a conversation with Mark Guarino. 7 p.m. Reservations are required here.

May 8, 2023 | Chicago, IL

Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave.

The Chicago Humanities Festival and Sound Opinions host a launch party at the Park West! Featuring a conversation between Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis and Mark Guarino. A live taping is followed by a full show by Robbie Fulks and his band featuring songs from his upcoming album on Compass Records. 7-9:30 p.m. This is a ticketed event. Click here to purchase!

May 12, 2023 | Cleveland, OH

Visible Voice Books, 2258 Professor Ave.

An in-store conversation with Mark Guarino at Visible Voice Books and feature a country music DJ set by Cleveland’s Dollar Country! Details to come.

May 27, 2023 | Chicago, IL

Rattleback Records, 5405 N Clark St.

An in-store conversation between Mark and musician Lawrence Peters at Rattleback Records in Andersonville that will focus as Uptown, the Chicago neighborhood that was the landing spot for thousands of Southerners last century and home for dozens of storefront honkytonks. Featuring a musical set by the Lawrence Peters Outfit! 11 a.m.

May 28, 2023 | Madison, WI

Leopold’s Books Bar Cafe, 1301 Regent St.

A conversation and book signing with Mark at Leopold’s Books Bar Cafe, an independent bookstore, bar, and coffeeshop in Madison. 2 p.m.

June 8, 2023 | Milwaukee, WI

BOSWELL BOOK COMPANY, 2559 North Downer Ave.

Milwaukee’s greatest independent book seller is hosting a conversation between Mark Guarino and musician Paul Cebar. 6:30 p.m. It’s free, but reservations are required here.

June 10, 2023 | Chicago, IL

The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia St.

A special celebration of Country and Midwestern at the Hideout, ground zero for the alt-country scene in the 1990’s and beyond. Featuring a conversation with Mark Guarino followed by a special reunion of the Texas Rubies (Kelly Kessler and Jane Baxter Miller), a pioneering country duo that emerged during Chicago’s punk era of the late 1980s and early 1990s. 5 p.m.

June 15, 2023 | New Orleans, LA

OCTAVIA BOOKS, 513 Octavia St.

Beautiful Octavia Books, in the heart of Uptown, is hosting a conversation with Mark Guarino and New Orleans writer Sue Strachan, followed by a signing. 6 p.m.

June 20, 2023 | Chicago, IL

Gman Tavern, 3740 N Clark St.

The Gman Tavern Author Series is hosting a Book Celebration featuring a conversation between Metro/Gman New Media and Civic Events Producer Jill Hopkins and Mark Guarino. Featuring a set of live music from Danny Black (The Blacks) and band. 7 p.m.

June 25, 2023 | Oak Park, IL

Oak Park River Forest Museum, 129 Lake St.

A conversation at the Oak Park River Forest Museum with Mark Guarino that will focus on Oak Park’s role in the history of country and folk music via the Gate of Horn, the Old Town School of Folk Music, Flying Fish Records, and more. 3 p.m.

July 7, 2023 | Lake Villa, IL

Harbor Brewing Company, 136 Cedar Ave.

A conversation with Mark Guarino followed by a book signing hosted by Little Beans Books plus a set of music by The Breaks (Rich Sparks and Brett Neveu). 6-9 p.m.

July 20, 2023 | Chicago, IL

The Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State St.

A conversation with Mark Guarino at an event at the Harold Washington Library in the South Loop that helps celebrate the Chicago Public Library’s 150th anniversary. The focus of this event is the 1970s bluegrass scene in Chicago and will feature a conversation (and performance by) Special Consensus founder Greg Cahill, mandolinist Don Stiernberg, bassist Marc Edelstein, and guitarist Chris Waltz! Come learn about Chicago’s role in the history of bluegrass! Moderated by veteran Chicago journalist Monica Eng. 6-7:30 p.m. Click here to learn more!

July 22, 2023 | Hammond, IN

Paul Henry’s Art Gallery, 416 Sibley St.

An afternoon conversation with Mark Guarino in the former hometown of Bill and Charlie Monroe during their years at the WLS Barn Dance. With music by Dennis Leise. 2 p.m.

August 28, 2023 | Louisville, KY

CARMICHAELS BOOKS, 2720 Frankfort Ave.

A conversation with Mark Guarino at Carmichaels Bookstore moderated by Kentucky guitarist and composer Nathan Salsburg. 7 p.m.

September 9, 2023 | Chicago, IL

PRINTERS ROW LIT FEST, downtown Chicago

Mark Guarino is in conversation with Chicago Tribune columnist and WGN radio host Rick Kogan, followed by a music set by Jon Langford.  1:30 p.m. on the Center Stage. Visit the festival website for more details!

September 21, 2023 | Winnetka, IL

WINNETKA PUBLIC LIBRARY at THE BOOK STALL, 811 Elm St.

A conversation with Mark Guarino sponsored by the Winnetka Public Library on Chicago’s North Shore. The event takes place at Winnetka’s Book Stall, one of the Chicago area’s finest independent booksellers. 6:30 p.m.

October 8, 2023 | Nashville, IL

THE COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM, 222 Rep. John Lewis Way S

“Prine Time Chicago,” a 90-minute discussion and performance that highlights the history of John Prine and Steve Goodman in Chicago. Moderator RJ Smith interviews Mark Guarino, singer-songwriter Bonnie Koloc, and a special guest TBA. A performance will follow. The event is part of You Got Gold, a three-day celebration of Prine throughout Nashville to benefit The Hello in There Foundation, operated by the Prine family. Reserved tickets for “Prine Time Chicago” are available here. More information for You Got Gold is here.

October 13, 2023 | Libertyville, IL

THE CRAFTSMAN’S CAFE, 715 Milwaukee Ave.

A conversation with Mark Guarino followed by a set of live music by the band Crosstown. Free pizza and drinks! Reserve tickets here. Selling books is Little Bean Books of Antioch! 6:30 p.m.

October 14, 2023 | Chicago, IL

THE HIDEOUT, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave.

A celebration of the life of Win Stracke featuring a conversation between Chicago History Museum Director of Exhibitions Paul Durica with Mark Guarino followed by a set of live music by Mark Dvorak, Michael J. Miles, Rachel Drew, Steve Dawson, and Gerald Dowd. Also featuring members of Win’s family. Books will be available for sale. Reserve tickets here. 3 p.m.

October 15, 2023 | Chicago, IL

Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center, 3003 W. Touhy Ave.

A conversation with Mark Guarino hosted by the Chicago Jewish Historical Society. Featuring a set of music by the Don Stiernberg trio. 2 p.m.

October 22, 2023 | Chicago, IL

Martyrs, 3855 N. Lincoln Ave.

Hosted by the Old Town Teachers Organization (OTTO), which represents the teachers at the Old Town School of Folk Music, this event celebrates the first 15 years of the school’s history starting in 1957. Mark Guarino leads a conversation with early teachers Ted Johnson, Paul Collins, and Ed Holstein. Music and special guests are featured. 1:30 p.m.

October 27, 2023 | Berwyn, IL

Friendly Tap, 6733 Roosevelt Rd.

A conversation with Mark Guarino as part of the three-day Folktober Festival hosted by Music & Potlucks. Time TBD.

November 14, 2023 | Chicago, IL

Maggianos Little Italy, 516 N. Clark St.

The Society of Midland Authors, a 12-state literary society that dates to 1915, is hosting a conversation with Mark Guarino. Cocktail hour is at 6 p.m. and the 90-minute conversation starts at 7 p.m.

November 15, 2023 | Des Moines, Iowa

Beaverdale Books, 2629 Beaver Ave.

A conversation with Mark Guarino and celebrated rock journalist Don McLeese at Beaverdale Books. 6:30 p.m.

December 16, 2023 | Chicago, Illinois

The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia

A celebration of the songs of the late Michael P. Smith. Featuring a conversation with Mark Guarino and Jamie O’Reilly and Linda Marie Smith, two of Michael’s collaborators, followed by the songs of Michael performed by Gerald Dowd, Naomi Ashley, Steve Dawson, Dennis Leise, Judson Claiborne, Chris Farrell, Mark Dvorak, Rachel Drew, Jamie O’Reilly and Linda Marie Smith. 2 p.m.

December 27, 2023 | Chicago, Illinois

Interstellar Space Records, 2022 W. Montrose Ave.

A conversation with Mark Guarino and Hank Neuberger, the Grammy-nominated recording engineer and producer that will focus on Hank’s work on John Prine’s “Bruised Orange” album from 1978.

March 8, 2024 | Decorah, Iowa

Dragonfly Books, 112 W. Water Street

A conversation hosted by Dragonfly Books with Mark Guarino and singer Bonnie Koloc that will focus on Bonnie’s fruitful time in Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s. 7 p.m.

May 16, 2024 | Chicago, IL

PRIVATE CLUB

A private event in downtown Chicago.

Mark Guarino headshot

Mark Guarino writes about national news and culture from Chicago for ABC News, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other outlets. His byline has also appeared in Reuters, the Guardian, Al-Jazeera America, and the Chicago Tribune. He was the Midwest bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor for seven years. Visit mark-guarino.com.