Emma Chase Friday Night Music has filled downtown Cottonwood Falls with homegrown music for two decades.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, more than 30 area musicians will present a special program from 7 - 10:30 p.m. tonight at the Prairie PastTimes stage, 220 ½ Broadway, in Cottonwood Falls. Admission is free.
“It’s going to be quite a show,” Coordinator Annie Wilson said. “Each musician will be performing one of his or her favorite songs, so folks can experience the remarkable variety of talent we have in our Friday Night Music community.”
This will be followed by a classic jam session and refreshments.
Held every Friday since 1999, the gatherings have been a free, family-friendly entertainment option for locals and visitors, helping spread the joy of traditional, live music. The first Friday of the month is Gospel music, the second Friday is bluegrass, the third is country, folk and bluegrass, and the fourth Friday is old time rock-n-roll and vintage country. This 20th anniversary show will be on one of their special-themed fifth Fridays.
The jam sessions are a “positive, open community where all musicians and listeners are welcome, and serve as a network and an incubator for musical talent,” Wilson said. Musicians learn from each other, broadening their repertoire and strengthening performance skills. The gatherings also provide a place to perform original songs and collaborate with others; Tallgrass Express and other regional bands have formed from these connections.
Attracting both locals and tourists from around Kansas, the U.S., and even other countries, the events were declared one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas Customs” by the Kansas Sampler Foundation. Friday Night Music is included in the Kansas Bucket List by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and has been featured in Kansas! Magazine.
In 1999, Sue and Monty Smith, owners of the Emma Chase Café, began the tradition of bringing live music to Cottonwood Falls. When the couple retired in 2014, a group of volunteers and organizations stepped up to keep the music going.
The Friday evenings are now managed and hosted by a volunteer group of musicians: Wilson, Rodney Bates, Dave Schimming and Howard Taliaferro. The nonprofit Center for Living Education sponsors the group, supported by donations to help pay expenses for rent, equipment and advertising. The group posts weekly Facebook announcements about their events.
Most of the year, music is held indoors on the stage at Prairie PastTimes, surrounded by arts and crafts by local Flint Hills artists, but when the weather is nice, the sidewalk of Broadway Street is their stage in front of the Symphony in the Flint Hills Gallery at 311 Broadway, just in front of the historic Chase County Courthouse. The street is blocked off and quickly fills with lawn chairs as the audience arrives. While parents and grandparents enjoy the live music and visit with one another, children ride bikes and play games of tag.
The 20th Anniversary Show is intended to celebrate two decades of this unique experience.
“We all feel so lucky to have this tradition in our area,” Wilson said. “Visitors often tell us: ‘There’s nothing like this anywhere else.’”