The Leo Coffeehouse is one of the oldest, longest running folk and acoustic music venues in the United States. The Leo was started in 1963, when a group of students at the University of Cincinnati formed the Queen City Balladeers and the Leo Coffeehouse.
The coffeehouse first opened in the basement of the University of Cincinnati YMCA and was originally called the Wise Owl. The named was changed to the Leo Coffeehouse and the music continued at the University Y for many years. The Leo moved down the street to Old St. George’s Church in 1999, and moved to its current home, Zion United Church of Christ in Norwood, in 2006.
Over the years, many nationally-known artists like John Denver and Utah Phillips have performed at Leo, but the coffeehouse is mainly an outlet for the many Tri-state area artists. These artists love performing to a “listening room.” where they don’t have to compete with pick-up lines and drunken conversations (as they do in bars) or the grinding of the espresso machines (as they do in most coffeehouse.)
The early years, as reported by Prudence Hunt in the opening of her article in the October, 1993 edition of Folk Notes, were times of high camaraderie
HAPPY 30TH ANNIVERSARY
TO BALLADEERS PAST & PRESENT
By Prudence Hunt
I’d like to teach the world to sing …
The above lyrics speak to the togetherness that people shared in ’60′s and ’70′s — a lifestyle exemplified in the Queen City Balladeers. In the summer, the Balladeers, as a group, held folk festivals, went picnicking, swimming and camping; in the fall they organized Halloween parties, hay rides, and square dances; and in winter it was ice skating and Christmas caroling.In 1975, there was even a group pilgrimage to the folk singers’ Mecca: the Martin Guitar factory in Pennsylvania. Member participation during these decades was astounding. On one evening, 180 people showed up at the Leo.
Meeting minutes from the ’60′s and 70′s show that the Balladeers were very much into community well-being as well. Members played at hospitals, schools, nursing homes, orphanages, country clubs and other venues throughout the city. Workshops and projects with other organizations were held regular basis. For example. Balladeers gave freely to early WEBN album projects.
Members also gave back to the Balladeers: there were T-shirt and sweatshirt sales; bulk orders of guitar strings to give members a price break. Each meeting including a “buy-sell” session where trading went on between members.
After all these years, one thing remains true: The Leo Coffeehouse is an incredible place for an evening of high-quality entertainment.
If you have a story to tell about the history of the balladeers, please add it as a comment below. If you have photos or other items to share, send them to the Queen City Balladeers using the contact form.