It’s been a long time now, and not many remember how it was in the old days, not really. Not even those who were there to see and hear it as it happened, and who shared, night after night, the mysterious spell created by the talk, the laughter, grease paint, powder, perfume, sweat, alcohol, and food — all blended and simmering, like a stew on the restaurant range, and brought to a sustained moment of elusive meaning by the timbres and accents of musical instruments… -Ralph Ellison, “The Golden Age, Time Past”
Twenty three years later, and I still miss the Table. Lots of us do. If you were there, no further explanation is necessary. If you weren’t, just know it was an incredible place: great food, a wide cast of characters, an unparalleled sense of community. There was the cooking, the art, the front steps, the Augsberger Dark.
And the music… that incredible music.
Much has been preserved from Nature’s Table over the years. The bread and chocolate chip cookies and so many other treats are still available, thanks to the Nature’s Table Cookbook. The cookbook, photos, schedules and lots more are available on Jeff Helgesen’s excellent site full of memories and history. But the music… that’s been elusive.
After talking for years about developing a site devoted to preserving the music recorded at Nature’s Table, it’s finally happening. Former Table employee Jeff Machota, long-time Champaign-Urbana taper Doug Berkman and myself have finally teamed together to try and collect and archive as many of the recordings made at this wonderful place as possible. Many recordings were made there over the years. Some were great, some weren’t. But that was the beauty of the Table; it was a place where you could go and try.
None of this would be possible without the help of those who made the recordings in the first place.
We’re just getting this going. It’s going to hopefully be a long-term project, so bear with us while we take our first steps and figure all of this stuff out. Relax, have a Gondolette and some red beans and rice, and watch us get this off the ground.