Folkus History

The Folkus Project was created, officially, in the fall of 2000 as a nonprofit, community arts organization presenting folk and acoustic music in Syracuse, N.Y. The 2016-17 season is our 17th.

However, the roots of Folkus go back further, to Happy Endings Cake & Coffeehouse in Syracuse, which operated from 1993 until 2003. For virtually all of its existence, Happy Endings provided a stage for musicians, both local and touring (including a famous Tuesday night open mic). Although styles varied, the majority of touring acts that appeared at Happy Endings were folk/acoustic. Many, many of the acts that appear in the Folkus series today appeared at Happy Endings then, often making their first visit to Syracuse. Folkus owes its existence to Happy Endings’ owners, John and Shelby Crowley, pictured at right. (Sadly, Shelby passed away in 2005.)

In the mid-1990s, a local folk enthusiast, Joe Cleveland, was retained by Happy Endings part-time to operate the music series. Cleveland further developed the caliber of music at Happy Endings and solidified the folk/acoustic emphasis. It was also under his guidance that Folkus was established as a 501(c)3 in 2000.

Then, in 2003, representatives from May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society in Syracuse approached Cleveland for help establishing a music series at their church. Cleveland agreed, imagining a coordinated series of concerts staged at both Happy Endings and May. As it happened, though, Happy Endings closed in December 2003, for unrelated reasons. And so the entire Folkus Project series moved to May Memorial, in a format very similar to the present day.

Over time, the stature of acts and size of the audiences grew. With that, Folkus, as an organization, developed a broader and broader base of volunteer staff and management — fortunate, because in 2009 a change in career emphasis caused Cleveland to depart for theological training in Boston. The still-growing volunteer community he left behind re-mobilized and carried Folkus into the future.

Today, that version of Folkus thrives, with a core management team (roughly a dozen lead volunteers) and a roster of additional volunteers helping staff shows and perform other tasks. All the while, the variety and quality of music presented continues to rise, allowing Folkus to provide Central New York a menu of folk, acoustic, and Americana music greater than any time in the region’s history.