The History of Focal Point
Focal Point began in 1975 as a coffeehouse in the Old Orchard area of Webster Groves in the southwestern part of St. Louis County. The founders, Bill & Janet Boyer, owned a popular local music store (Music Folk) and had roots in traditional American folk music. In 1984 the organization changed management and the concert series expanded to include a greater percentage of national and international performers in addition to featuring fine local and regional talent. Currently, Focal Point concerts consistently feature top-quality performers whose grounding in various musical traditions educates and enlighten audiences while providing top-notch entertainment.
In the past, Focal Point concerts were presented at various locations around the St. Louis area (primarily University City & Webster Groves). Larger Focal Point concerts were held in auditoriums at schools and universities, as well as the Center of Contemporary Arts, the Missouri Botanical Garden, to name a few. In 1992, Focal Point moved back to Webster Groves, just down the street from the original location in Old Orchard and opened the Focal Point Arts Center. The 1920’s building with a hardwood floor provided a warm, intimate setting for concerts. With moveable seating, Focal Point was available for smaller dance/music groups & events on non-concert nights.
In January 2000, Focal Point found a new home in Maplewood, a community right next door. The new venue is also a 1920’s vintage building with a maple floor and work was done to renovate the building with our new landlords and hard working Focal Point volunteers. In May 2000, Focal Point presented our first concert in this new venue and have been rewarded with a lovely space dedicated to being one a St. Louis’ finest listening rooms.
We have continued the fine tradition of folk music concerts, increasing our series to 55-60 concerts yearly, and have gained new groups using our space on non-concert evenings. Swing, Cajun/Zydeco, Argentine Tango and English Country dance groups along with acoustic jams, poetry and improv theater all use the room.
Focal Point opened on April 24, 1976 at 8027 Big Bend in the Old Orchard section of Webster Groves. A non-profit coffee house, it was open three nights a week (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), offering a broad spectrum of music ranging from American and ethnic, folk to ragtime, blues and jazz. We lined up a lot of St. Louis talent for our opening night: Bob Abrams and Steve Mote, Jim and Julie Olin, Larry Sugarman, Jen Grosby, Southwinds, and the Delmar Brothers. The first Focal Point board consisted of my husband Bill and I, Dick Miller, John Shewmaker, and Robert Tabscott. Paul Stamer was the first manager.
The coffee house was a dream fulfilled for Bill and myself. We felt there was a need for a spot where local and traveling musicians on the coffee house circuit could perform in a warm friendly atmosphere to an audience of all ages. Thursday was open mike for those looking toward the future, and we saw a number of open mike groups grow and come back as regular Friday or Saturday night acts. In the first years of Focal Point we had performers such as Jean Ritchie, Bryan Bowers, Jean Redpath, Dan Crary, Norman Blake, Martin Carthy, and Bob Brozman. A good sound system has always been provided and non-electric instruments used. Parents were welcome to bring children, and small tykes often fell asleep on a bean bag chair or pew. Smoking was prohibited, and the menu was coffee, herb tea, cocoa, sasparilla, and donuts, with free bowls of popcorn.
In 1980 our son John was seriously injured in an accident and we were forced by economics to sell the Focal Point building and withdrew from its operation. Roberta Hudlow, who had been managing the coffee house, and a group of others including Judy Stein stepped in to continue its operation. Without their help, Focal Point would not have continued. For many years Focal Point had various homes including churches and COCA. Finally, is has its own home again in the old neighborhood — Old Orchard. In thinking about the many years that have passed, the many generous volunteers who have helped out, and the supportive audiences, I am reminded of a statement my brother Bob Beers made: If you throw a pebble into a pond the waves travel far from the center, carrying to the next circle, touching and expanding far from its origin. So it is with folk music and Focal Point — Let’s keep it alive!
from the Focal Point
20th Anniversary Book
Some of the many artists who have performed at Focal Point over the years:
Regional & Local:
Songwriter Spotlight Series: