Chris Vallillo
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Chris Vallillo

Macomb, Illinois, United States

Macomb, Illinois, United States
Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


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Chris Vallillo @ Postville Courthouse, 914 5th Street

Lincoln, Illinois, USA

Lincoln, Illinois, USA

Chris Vallillo @ Brown Bag Concert, Courthouse Square, Downtown

Peoria, Illinois, USA

Peoria, Illinois, USA

Chris Vallillo @ Riverboat Twilight

LeClaire, Iowa, USA

LeClaire, Iowa, USA

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Just in time for Presidents Day comes a new album saluting Abe Lincoln. Honest. Chris Vallillo's "Abraham Lincoln in Song" is a collection of mostly Civil War-era songs, including "Dixie" and "Battle Cry of Freedom."

The target audience? Certainly not the Britney Spears crowd. "Lovers of acoustic music, history buffs and especially the educational audience," will enjoy the album, said Vallillo, a singer-songwriter from Macomb, Ill., who has studied Lincoln's life and Illinois folk traditions.

This album probably won't shoot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 or dominate radio play. But Mark Summers, a history professor at the University of Kentucky in Lincoln's native state, said the project can educate as well as entertain. "Music shows you a good slice of the time period, tells you about sentimentality and the emotions at the time. I'd like to have it for my classes," he said.

The album of mostly acoustic ballads — released on Feb. 12, Lincoln's birthday — grew out of a one-man show in which Vallillo used period music to illustrate Honest Abe's era. "Battle Cry of Freedom," written by George F. Root, was inspired by Lincoln's call for Union volunteers in 1862. "Hard Times Come Again No More" is by Stephen Foster. There are additional songs about Lincoln's funeral train, a runaway slave and tunes said to be liked by Lincoln. "Aura Lee," written in the 1860s, is the melody for Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender."

"This should be of interest to anyone who loves Lincoln," said Vallillo, 53. "Dixie," though popularly associated with the South, was written by a Northerner and was reportedly Lincoln's favorite song.
"On the day peace was declared, he broke the news to the crowds by having the White House band perform the song," Vallillo said.

Instruments on the CD include guitar, fiddle, mandolin and harmonica. Vallillo will be selling it at his shows and on the Internet. He said recent projects like Ken Burns' "Civil War" documentary and the film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" have made roots music more accessible to mainstream America.

From 1990 to 1997, Vallillo was host and co-producer of the award-winning public radio series "Rural Route 3." He has sung at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Ill., other Lincoln historic sites, performing arts centers and small theaters.

Vallillo has no illusions about selling as many records as Garth Brooks. But he said the popularity of the 16th president should not be underestimated.
The album has the endorsement of the Illinois Bicentennial Commission, which is overseeing two years of events to celebrate Lincoln's birth on Feb. 12, 1809. "With the upcoming bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, that interest should be significant," he said.

On the Net:: Gin Ridge Music:

- Associated Press

Chris Vallillo: Abraham Lincoln in Song (Gin Ridge)

And now for something completely different: genuine early American folk music! February 12 marked Abraham Lincoln's 199th birthday (back when I was a kid, February 12 was a school holiday; now Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays have been shmushed together into a single ski weekend), so I though it would be nice to give a little virtual ink to this fine album of folk songs, most of them from Lincoln’s time; a few are even about Lincoln.
When I put it on for the first time, I was immediately struck by the lovely instrumental version of “Battle Cry of Freedom,” with mournful Dobro leading the charge—it instantly reminded me of Ry Cooder’s excellent version of the same tune from the underrated classic Boomer’s Story. From there, we get into vocal pieces that cover a broad range of folk styles from the mid-19th century: ballads, work songs, political tunes. When “Aura Lee” came on, I realized I’d learned it from my fifth grade teacher back in the mid-1960s (a hundred years after it was written), and could sing along from hazy memory. Guitarist/singer Chris Vallillo is an appealing guide through this forest of mostly obscure folk material—he delivers the songs completely without irony or modern cynicism, and he’s a sterling picker to boot. He’s ably assisted by a small group of acoustic players. The liner note annotations reveal that this or that song was a favorite of Lincoln’s, while this other one was used during his campaign. The notes on “Dixie’s Land (Dixie)” are particularly illuminating: “The famous line ‘I wish I was in Dixie’ is not a Southern expression as most folks might expect. It actually came from the circus people of the North who began to yearn for warmer climes as the increasingly cold weather began to make life in the tents unbearable.” Lincoln liked “Dixie” so much he has it played as his inauguration…and as the true uniter that he was, he also had it played to crowds outside the White House following Robert E. Lee’s surrender. Also cool is the 1990 Norman Blake tune “Lincoln’s Funeral Train,” one of just two modern songs on the disc.
The sound is both rich and pristine; top-notch all the way.
Must play: “Battle Cry of Freedom,” “Dixie’s Land”
Produced and engineered by Chris Vallillo. Mixing by Vallillo.
—Blair Jackson
- Mix Magazine

In Abraham Lincoln's time, you didn't dock your iPod, search your satellite stations or even tune in an AM broadcast. Rather, all music was performed live and was part of every social gathering.

Musician Chris Vallillo will highlight Lincoln and music of his era Sunday in a performance organized by the Friends of the Lisle Library. Vallillo, who is based in Macomb, typically plays music that explores the history and culture of the Midwest. On Sunday he will play theater acoustic guitar and bottleneck slide resonator guitar, as well as an instrument Lincoln himself played -- the juice harp.

Q. What type of music will you perform when you appear in Lisle?

A. I will do period folk songs from Abraham Lincoln's lifetime. I start with his birth and run through his presidency and death.
When he was president, he brought a lot of music into the White House. He and his wife, Mary Todd, really turned the White House into the showplace it is now. It had never before been used in that way prior to the Lincolns.

Q. What musical pieces have you linked to Illinois' favorite son?

A. There is a wide variety, from "Barbara Allen," his mother's favorite song, to Stephen Foster songs like "Dixie," which he loved. There also are songs from the Civil War and political campaign songs.
When Lincoln was a young man he worked on a flat boat and went down to New Orleans, so I play a flat boat song. Some say that is where he saw the horrors of slavery and set his mind against it.

Q. What makes Lincoln a favorite historical figure?

A. Lincoln managed to take the country through a terrible time of the Civil War. He was a masterful politician and played that game better than anyone else in a time of ugly politics. But he was also a great humanitarian, and that really set him apart from other historic figures of his day.

Q. How do you incorporate history into your music?

A. I love to use the old folk songs as a window into the past. These are songs written by people that experienced the actual events of the day, written in a language and musical style of the day.

Q. How do you hope your performance touches the audience?

A. I always wanted to perform music of substance. Not just quick entertainment, but actually had something of value above and beyond the immediate. With the Lincoln show, I engage the audience into the idea of Lincoln and the things he accomplished and struggles he went through. It gives the audience a sense of him as a man more than him as a leader.

Q. With your education in anthropology, why did you switch your career to music?

A. My first professional career was as an archaeologist and I did that for a living for about three years. At this point, I became a fairly good amateur musician, and while I loved it, I had never tried it professionally.

I was young and was in a field that had very little work for the number of people looking, so at one point I thought I would try playing music. I just wanted to do something that I loved and make a living at it. I have been blessed to make it my living ever since.

But my love of the past has worked its way into my music and is largely responsible for the kind of shows I am doing now.

Q. What does it mean to be a member of the Illinois Arts Council's Artstour Roster?

A. You have to be prescreened and accepted into the program. It is a wonderful thing because it gives performers opportunity but, more importantly, it gives them credibility. If you make it into the group you are a professional of a certain caliber.

Q. When are you most productive in writing music?

A. I tend to be a night person, and often when I come home from a show I will sit up in my studio and doodle around on the guitar while I have a little adrenaline left over from the show.

Q. How has your upbringing colored your music?

A. I was born in Hammond, Ind., and moved all around the Midwest every few years because my dad was a civil engineer. I was exposed to a lot of parts of the Midwest. I was always attracted to folk music and history, so those things went hand-in-hand with wherever we were living.

Q. What band or musician would you like to play with from the past?

A. If I have to pick, it would be a member of the Carter Family. They are some of my all time favorite musicians. Ry Cooder also is simply a phenomenal guitar player of all styles.

-- Joan Broz
- Daily Herald

From Espie Estrella,
Your Guide to Music Education.

Guide Rating - FIVE STARS

The Bottom Line
Chris Vallillo is an Illinois State Scholar for the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibition on Roots Music, New Harmonies. His passion for music and history is clearly evident in his latest cd offering titled Abraham Lincoln in Song. This cd makes history come to life and celebrates Lincoln's legacy through music that you'll love listening to.

Pros --
Historically-rich selection of songs
Excellent vocals and arrangement
Great packaging
Very informative liner notes
Used vintage instruments such as a 1940's Gibson Southern Jumbo guitar and a 1927 Gibson tenor lute

Cons --

Produced by Chris Vallillo and released under Gin Ridge Music
Contains 13 carefully selected songs that are associated to Abraham Lincoln.

Songs were researched to be historically accurate and highlights Lincoln's life through contemporary folk and period songs.

Showcases Chris Vallillo's vocal ability and musicianship through the use of vintage instruments
Endorsed by the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission
Cover photo is from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and the cd is packaged in an environmentally-friendly cardboard.

The liner notes contains historical information pertaining to each song
For teachers, this cd will make a great addition to any history, social studies or music curriculum
Songs are expertly arranged and recorded made more appealing by Chris Vallillo's singing.

Guide Review - Product Review of "Abraham Lincoln in Song" Music CD

In honor of President Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial birthday celebration this February, Chris Vallillo, a singer-songwriter, performer, six-string and bottleneck slide guitarist, has released his latest cd titled Abraham Lincoln in Song. The said cd contains 13 carefully selected songs that celebrate the life and legacy of one of America's most beloved presidents.

Abraham Lincoln in Song takes you to a historically-rich voyage through contemporary folk songs and period music such as "Battle Cry of Freedom" and "Aura Lee." The musical instruments used in each song (e.g. harmonica, jews harp and bottleneck slide guitar) add to that nostalgic feeling and Chris Vallillo's ability as a singer/storyteller holds you captive.

The packaging is well-designed with a cover photo from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and additional images of Lincoln on the inside. The information under each song gives you a better understanding of its connection to Lincoln. For example, the song "El-A-Noy" is said to be a favorite of his and the song "We Are Coming Father Abraham" is said to have been sung to him by Union Troops before he delivered his famous Gettysburg Address.

This is a perfect example of incorporating music to teach history in an engaging way.

Chris Vallillo still hears the voices of the dead, raised in song and story. The Macomb folksinger treasures those voices, and helps keep their songs, their storie alive.

But Vallillo, a former anthropology major and an Illinois Humanities Council "Roads Scholar," emphasizes folks music is not only about resurrecting the words and melodies of the dead. Folk music remains about the "folk" -- the people -- and Vallillo continues to seek out stories about life, change, and hope in rural Illinois.

For example, when Morris-area farmer Gerold Steffes died in a August tractor accident and his neighbors rallied to help harvest his family's crops, Vallillo was drawn to the poignant sotry. The "Final Harvest, on this 1995 album "The Best of All Possible Worlds," was dedicated to the community's spirit -- "I thought, this has to be preserved."

Amid a world of "flash-bang production" and high-tech video, he reported the "one person-one instrument" appel of folk music appears to be generating a new following.

"We went through the big folk scare or the folk boom in the '60s, however you want to look at it, where folk music very briefly became a popular music," said Vallillo, who recently has performed at the Illinois State Fair and on "The TWilight," a Mississippi River riverboat.

"It now seems to be growing in a slow but healthy way -- I see a lot of younger people performing, playing, even just for their own pleasure. One of the things I find so exciting about folk music is that it is music much like it was 150 years ago. One p[erson with one instrument, can make music."

Vallillo plans soon to release a new CD mixing roughly half original and half contemporary folk songs.

In 1987, Schuyler County's local arts council asked then-Rushville resident Vallillo to undertake a folk music collecting project under an Illinois Artws Council grant. With guidance from and professional recording equipment supplied by the Library of Congress' Folk Life Center, he embarked on an expedition into the Illinois River Valley, which includes Schuyler, Fulton, ,Brown, and Cass counties.

Vallillo sought area residents boarn and raised in the pre-radio era, before recorded music. "At that point, the last of that generation was still alive," he said. "They were literally dying out, weeks after I'd see them, sometimes."

He interviewed Illinoisans about the music to which they once listened and "how they used the music." If his subjects were musicians or at least willing kvocalists, he recorded "what they had retained, what they'd remembered."

Jesse Smith, 97, recalled his family singing while doing the chores ("Music was part of life -- it wasn't something you turned on in the background," Vallillo noted). Homer Biedenbender, who carved his own fiddle from black walnlut because "he couldn't afford to buy a store-bought fiddle," died 10 days after performing for Vallillo. Vallillo dedicated his song "Walnut Fiddle" to the musician and blacksmith.

"One of my favorites was a man named Lawrence Royer," Vallillo recalled. "Lawrence was in his 90s, and he played and built hammered dulcimers. He was a remarkable man -- he knew all sorts of rural life things very few people remembered any more, and he'd done this incredible series of paintings about life in the turn of the century specifically to preserve that information and to pass it on."

"He told me about this mother, Mary Lancaster, who had been in a singing school in the 1880's. Certain communities would gather up some extra money and hire a traveling music teacher to come in. She had written out all the hsongs (she'd learned) in this beautiful Spenserian script handwriting.

"Lawrence was telling me this story, and he gets up, walks out of the room, and comes back in with these pieces of paper. They were the actual sheets, written in 1884, and he starts to sing these songs to me. I about fell over. I was able to record him singing most of tshe songs on those sheets, and I actually learned one of them myself ("When Katie Comes Down to The Gate").

The Library of Congress maintains the master tapes compiled by Vallillo during his roughly six-month project. A second set is available for public review at Western Illinois University, Macomb, and Vallillo is seeking a home for yet a third set -- possibly as part of The Mississippi River Experience, a new Quad City exhibition showcasing the music of the river.

The river played a major role in shaping Illinois' musical tasts. In the 19th Centrury, Illinois was "a very cosmopolitan state," in large part because its extensive Mississippi-Illinois River network and steamboat travel made it possible for residents of rural communities to "take a day trip" to Peoria or visist St. Louis over the weekend.

As Illinois grew, it developed more miles of rail than any other state, further improving transportation of people, ideas and music.

"We didn't have isolated pockets of music like people in t - Illinois Times

West central Illinois wears many faces. We see some in the stares or bigger cities like Galesburg and Quincy or in the glances of county seats like Macomb and Carthage. Then there are the hidden faces: those peering down long-forgotten county gravel roads. These are the faces revealed in "Best of All Possibler Worlds," a collection of a dozen songs from Rushville singer-songwriter Chris Vallillo.

Chris is one of those artists able to look at an object and see its wider importance, all the while remaining keenly in tune with the heritage of the region. A few years back, Vallillo attended an exhibit at the Dickson Mounds Museum in Lewistown which featured the work of Jean Marlette (from LaHarpe, formerly of Canton). While there, he saw a picture of a piano; his response to the photo resulted in "Babylon Bend." The song tells of the gatherings where the piano was played and of the lovers who danced to its melodies. Edgar Lee Maters would have been proud.

Vallillo's music carries the influence of the folk era of the late 1960's and early 1970's. At times he evokes Gordon Lightfoot (as in "Walnut Fiddle"), at times, Steve Goodman or a less-commercial Dan Fogelberg. The producer of the CD is Rich Adler, noted for his work with John Hartford, John Prine, and others bearing styles similar to Vallillo's. But this music is vintage western Illinois.

You'll be familiar with the themes of the ten original songs in the collection, among them: sweltering summer days, helping neighbors during the harvest, old buildings that tell stories of generations. Chris Vallillo captures a bygone era as only a good troubador can. And after hearing his music, you might even want to go for a ride on a Sunday afternoon to see some of the places he writes about (most of which are probably just an hour or jso from where you live). "Old Building," for example, is about the old Center Schoolhouse, just off Route 24 between Rushville and Beardstown. Even the photos on the CD jacket, including some excellent work by Tim Schroll of Colchester, capture the local flavor.

There's some good pickin' here, too, as a host of talented Nashville musicians were selected to accompany the solo guitarist. Ronnie Godfrey (the Marshall Tucker Band) plays piano, Andrea Zonn (who backed Lyle Lovett) takes fiddle and viola, Ron Huskey, Jr. plays bass (mostly stand-up), and David Schnaufer chimes in on moutain dulcimer. Schnaufer was also featured this year on "Rural Route 3," the public radio program Vallillo hosts from Western Illinois University.

"Best of All Possible Worlds" is available through mail and online at The mailing address is Gin Ridge Records, PO Box 144, Macomb, IL 61455. While bordering on melancholy at times, it still would serve well as a uniquely western Illinois gift. - River to River Magazine

Nearly every culture has its troubdours. In the Midwest, prairie poets and tune smiths plow and plant and hoe our collective culture, nurture it with stern affection, and serve up the harvest in a doen or so well-seasons lines of Midwestern dialect, garnished with a tune as simple and as tasteful as a prairie wildflower.

Carl Sandburg was a troubadour, as was Springfield's Vachel Linsey (athough it was said Linsey couldn't carry a tune if it were tied around his neck). But troubadours they were, songsters to another generation. Our generation has it's own troubadours, only we don't call them such -- they're singer-songwriters today. NO matter what we call them, when they are good, singer-songwriters are poets in the tradit9ions of the bards, a resonant voice of the culture from which they sprang.

Chris Vallillo is an Illinois troubadour, a singer-songwriter. Like Sandburg, Vallillo is from western Illinois. At his home in Rushville, Vallillo writes and sings the songs of his own experience, songs about the land and the people who inhabit the valley between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, songs about small-twon life, songs about growing up and growing old in the Midwest, songs about the death of industry, songs about moving on.

Earlier this year, Vallillo released "The Western Illinois Rag," his first solo effort and what her refersr to as "a contemporary portarit of rural America in words and pictures." Teh cassette tape features ten of Vallillo's compositions, all of which celebrate some aspect of life in the Midwest. The tape was partially funded by a grant fromt the Illinois Arts Council with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Vallillo's music is infectious. His tuens and melodies are haunting and restrained, uncluttered by studio gimmickry, subtle without a pretense to cleverness. The title track of the tape is a straight forward guitar instrumental, finger-picked and unaccompanied. "The Western Illinois Rag" isn't a rag in any sense other than in name; you'll not hear elaborate melodies ala Joseph Spense or Scott Joplin. But the melody is complete and unaffected -- a rural rag unadorned. Vallillo sests the tone for the rest of sthe tape with this selection, and what follows is one delight after another. "Autumn," a delicatedly embroidered composition, weaves some very tasteful mandoiln playing around Vallillo's ear-pleasing baritone, a voice reminiscent of another troubadour, the late Phil Oches. Other selections include "When You Were Mickey Mantle (and I was Stan the Man)," "Goodbye Independent Trucker," and "Rolling Down the Highway Alone," all well thought out compositions free of studio gloss. Allison Krauss, the teen-aged Olympian fiddler for a Champaign-based ensemble called Union Station, addes her distinctive touch to several of the tracks, as done John Pennell, bassist for the same band. The results are predictable. Vallillo, troubadour that he is, rarely disappoints.
- Illinois Times

If success in the music business world is measured on the basis of peer recognition, good bookings, and creative output, singer/songwriter/player Chris Vallillo deserves a gold star for achievement. The multitalented multiinstrumentalist from west-central Illinois began more than 25 years ago as a songwriting guitar picker looking for steady work. Today Vallillo is recognized as one of the Midwest’s premier artistic voices in traditional and contemporary roots music. Since his 1985 finalist placement at the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival songwriting contest, he has forged a career that includes several respected releases of his own work, plus numerous outstanding special projects. From 1990 to 1997 Vallillo hosted and co-produced Rural Route 3, an award-winning public-radio music program. He developed education-oriented historical programs based on original and traditional folk music, including a successful show on Springfield’s most famous citizen, called Abraham Lincoln in Song. His days and nights are filled with folk-festival showings, county- and state-fair bookings, kids’ shows, a monthly hosting slot for an acoustic-music concert, and the occasional gig on the Twilight, a steamboat that cruises the Mississippi up Iowa way.
“I always say there aren’t really any bad shows,” Vallillo says, “though some are definitely better than other ones.”
During 2006, Vallillo broadened his range from the familiar vistas of west-central Illinois by co-hosting Arts Across Illinois on Chicago public television, a live program later broadcast statewide. In September he appeared at Millennium Park in Chicago for the newly instituted Great Performers of Illinois festival. Recently he was chosen state scholar for New Harmonies, a traveling roots-music exhibit sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution that’s scheduled for six museum stops in Illinois.

“It’s part of a program called Museum on Main Street that brings an exhibit about the national history of roots music to smaller towns,” Vallillo says. “Each region adds its own local history to the show.”
Vallillo has always been known for his strong, melodic voice and exemplary finger-picking. Lately, though, he’s acquired a different technique.
“I find playing bottleneck slide an interesting art form and a very expressive medium,” he says. “It incorporates well into the songs I do, from Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family to Civil War songs, a John Gorka tune or an original. It translates an emotive sound.”
How does Vallillo explain his ability to maintain a successful career?
“I want to play music, so I do it more as a survival technique than anything else,” he says with a laugh.

Chris Vallillo performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts (420 S. Sixth St., 217-523-2787), sponsored by the Prairie Grapevine Folklore Society.

Tom Irwin at
- Illinois Times


Chris Vallillo studied archeology in college, but when that didn't suit him professionally, he decided to give music a shot.
"I figured if I was going to starve, I was going to go ahead and try to play music and just see if I could make a living at it," he said in an interview last week.
But Vallillo's vocational choices aren't all that different: Both archeology and the study of folk music involve the excavation of artifacts to help illuminate the way people lived deep in the past. Vallillo - a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and folklorist based out of Macomb - is one of the main-stage performers at the Midwest Folk Festival this weekend in Bishop Hill, Illinois.
"I've just always had an interest in history and the past," he said. "When we're doing archeology, what we're looking to find out is about the everyday lives of people. We know the big battles and the huge political forces that happened over the last several thousand years. But what we don't know are the details of people's lives. ... I sort of applied that same concept to the collecting of music, and it gave me this depth of feeling and understanding about how this music was used, and what it meant to people, and how it worked."
But when he left archeology in the late 1970s, he didn't leap into folk music. He played in a typical touring band for five years before becoming a solo artist. And then in 1986 he applied for an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship and received it.
"That really made a tremendous difference to me personally," he said, "because all of a sudden, an institution of worth was giving me a pat on the back, saying, ‘Yeah, we like what you're doing and we think that it's worth pursuing in this artistic form,' rather than singing in a bar, which is not what I wanted to do."
Since that fellowship, Vallillo and Illinois cultural agencies have periodically renewed their relationship. Vallillo co-produced the Folk Songs of Illinois CD for the Illinois Humanities Council in 2003 and did the field work for the Illinois Arts Council's Illinois Mississippi River Valley Project.
He's also hosted and co-produced a nationally syndicated public-radio show, Rural Route3, and earned praise for both his songwriting and his guitar-playing. Dirty Linen wrote, "He brings to his music [an] eye for detail and a sense of history, ... vivid original story songs delivered in his crisp, expressive tenor."
His work collecting the songs and stories of the rural Midwest have had a profound impact on his songwriting, he said. In the mid-1980s, he said, "I was actually sent into rural Illinois to interview and record the last of those folks that were born in the days before recorded music and radio and television. Their songs and stories are a large part of what I perform today, and they were a huge influence on the music I write.
"I always like the know the story behind the song," he said. "It was like being given a license to talk to these people that would not normally talk to some person off the street. But I had the credibility of doing this project for the arts council. All of a sudden, these folks that had this tremendous knowledge - which they didn't really think was all that important - were willing to tell me their stories. And it was the most wonderful thing. And I remember thinking that I would have gladly done this for free. Of course, I don't want to tell that to anybody."
The project "allowed me to get into the lives of these people," he said.
Although some people might find the study of old songs quaint, Vallillo learned from them. "A song that lasts a hundred years lasts that long for a good reason," he said. "It connects with people in a very basic way."
The main lesson is that perfection is overrated. "At times it feels more important to go with a gut reaction than being so concerned about everything being precisely correct and properly structured," he said. "Because more often than not, they [folk songs] are not. ... There is just some certain spark in it that resonates with people in such a way [that] the song is still sung.
"What I've learned is to look for that spark. It's very difficult to define."
Of course, not all the old songs hold up very well. Humor, in particular, doesn't seem to transcend time. "A lot of songs that were considered incredibly funny in 1880 just aren't that funny in 2006," he said. "The context that we see these things in has radically changed, too. The whole nature of the country is completely different."
Vallillo is now working on a six-city traveling tour of the Smithsonian's "New Harmonies" exhibit. The roots-music tour will be visiting six cities - all with fewer than 25,000 residents - in 2007 and 2008, and Vallillo is the state scholar for Illinois. "My job is to help each of those six communities discover and create their own portion of the exhibit that reflects that community's roots music, or folk music," he - River Cities Reader

Chris Vallillo uses folk music to show the legacy of our 16th president
By Jamie Greco, Daily Herald Correspondent

February 9th, 2006

Chris Vallillo's first career in anthropology isn't as far removed as it seems from his current vocation as singer/songwriter.

Touring the Midwest presenting "Abraham Lincoln in Song," a program of music and narrative meant to give fresh insight into the life of Lincoln, Vallillo has put his first career to work for him within his second.

"(The program) traces the life of Abraham Lincoln using folk music that he knew, or was directly associated with him - even songs specifically written about him in the Civil War era and a few contemporary songs written about him today." Vallillo explained.

"These will be performed on a variety of instruments, primarily guitars. And I will tie the whole program together with a narrative of his life and a number of stories he used to tell," he said.

"He (Lincoln) was a very famous storyteller."

Vallillo's previous career in anthropology comes into play when rooting out these stories and songs.

"I've located and documented a number of actual Lincoln stories as part of the narrative," he said.

Vallillo, a resident of Macomb, in western Illinois, expected that traditional anthropology, defined as the study of humanity, would be the direction his life's work would take after he graduated from Beloit (Wis.) College with a degree in that subject.

But his passion for music would soon redefine his studies.

"After about three years of struggling to make a living as an anthropologist, I decided if I was going to struggle making a living I'd rather do something I truly love, which is music."

He ended up blending the two careers in an innovative way, mining the musical memories of southern Illinois with a process called music collecting, an effort to record songs that were popular in the time before recording devices were available.

This twist on anthropology has resulted in a body of work that Vallillo has organized into an historic record of music that might otherwise be lost.

"I've incorporated a fair amount of the material I've collected and researched into a body of music that I perform that illustrates Midwestern history."

Much of what Vallillo has learned has been filtered through his interest in Lincoln and will be presented at the Old Main Museum in Elgin on Feb. 12, Lincoln's birthday.

"This was a remarkable man, a self-made man who had very strong beliefs of a moral nature, even though he was not outwardly religious," Vallillo said.

Vallillo believes that what makes Lincoln one of the most beloved figures in history has more to do with his commonality than the lofty heights he achieved. He never lost his innate sense of humanity, his very strong touch with the common man.

"Those are values you rarely see in people that achieve that level of office."

Vallillo created the program under
illo created the program under the sponsorship of the Illinois the sponsorship of the Illinois Humanities Council’s Road Scholars, a speakers bureau of the council.

"I would think someone like Lincoln
could be elected today," Vallillo said.

"The politics of today are so bitter
and divisive.

Here was a man who really avoided that and stayed to the issues at a time when there was every bit as much mud-slinging as there is today.

I think people thirst for that."

- Daily Herald


Hear sounds clips for all of Chris's in print recordings at his web site

ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN SONG-----------------2008-------

The life of Abraham Lincoln spanned a period of change, growth and struggle in our young nation, and the music of his era movingly characterizes these remarkable times. Award-winning folksinger Chris Vallillo uses contemporary folk music, and period folk songs to shed light on one of history’s most beloved figures — not only as a remarkable leader, but as a man — who knew and loved many of these very songs himself.

"With Abraham Lincoln in Song, Chris Vallillo takes the audience on a musical journey, making history come alive with his excellent blending of music and storytelling. He grabbed hold of the museum visitors here, establishing excellent rapport with the audience with this thoughtful, humorous and moving show."

Phil Funkenbusch
Director of Theaters, Shows Division
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
and Museum Springfield, Illinois

Battle Cry Of Freedom
Lincoln's Funeral Train
We Are Coming Father Abra'am
Hard Times Come Again No More
Dixie's Land
Auara Lee
Hoosen Johnny
Darlin Nelly Gray
Lincoln and Liberty
Let the Band Play Dixie

THE DANCE --------------------------------------------------
Newly released in May 2005, “The Dance” features Chris Vallillo on acoustic guitars, bottleneck slide and vocals and includes seven original songs and instrumentals along with four contemporary folk songs and an old Stephen Foster tune just to keep things interesting:

The Dance
Hopelessly Midwestern
Let Them In Peter
Diamonds Falling From The Sky
Sunday Drivin' On A Monday Afternoon
Small Victory
I'm Movin' On
Homemade Ice Cream
Some Sweet Day
Emily's Waltz
Hard Times Come Again No More

AURAL TRADITIONS-----------------------------------------
"Now that's real music!"
- Old Man, Hannibal Folklife Festival, Hannibal MO

The late 1800's and the early 1900's were a time of growth and prosperity for the Midwest. With the introduction of radio, musical styles merged and grew replacing the old with astounding speed. AURAL TRADITIONS captures that time presenting a slice of the musical pie that entertained, enlivened and strengthened the people of the rural Midwest between the 1860's and the 1930's.

The songs range from well known numbers like the Carter Family's classics Life's Railway to Heaven and Keep On The Sunnyside Of Life, Jimmy Rogers's Traveling Blues, Albert E. Brumely's I'll Fly Away to obscure gems such as When Katie Comes Down By The Gate (learned from Lawrence Royer, a 96 year old man from rural Bader, IL whose mother had been taught the song in the local one room schoolhouse in 1884).

Steeped in the roots styles of music that were such a big part of the heritage of the region, Vallillo performed on a variety of vintage instruments, a 1936 "Angelus" wood bodied dobro, a 1940's Gibson Southern Jumbo guitar, a mid 30's Kalamazoo Mandolin, and a 1880's era hammer dulcimer bringing this music to life with an authentic accuracy.

"This is a Classic of the Genre."
- Kerrville Kronikles

"Vivid, original story songs... delivered in his crisp, expressive tenor... accompanied on this fine recording by some of Nashville's best."
- Dirty Linen

Anyone who has ever listened to late night radio (or sat behind the board at 3:00 am wondering if anyone was listening) will relate to the title track, Best Of All Possible Worlds, a tribute to an old late night radio show of the same name. Then there's the Walnut Fiddle, the story of Homer Bedenbender and his aged home made instrument. The lazy slide guitar and harmonica of Hot Day paint a flawless picture of a steamy August afternoon in the Mississippi Valley while Driving Into The Storm captures that flash point of anger and frustration where driving face first into the lightning seems like the only sane choice. And to shift gears, there's the bottleneck slide version of Amazing Grace - played on a turn of the century $2.00 Sears and Roebuck guitar which takes that classic gospel song in a whole new direction.

Co-produced with Grammy nominee Rich Adler at Suite 2000 in Nashville, The Best Of All Possible Worlds features some of the best acoustic players in the business: Folks like the late Roy Huskey Jr. on bass, Kenny Malone on drums, Andrea Zohn on fiddle, Deanie Richardson on mandolin, David Schnaufer on dulcimer, Ron Ickes on dobro and Jim Hoke on harmonica.

THE WESTERN ILLINOIS RAG------------------------------
(Cassette only release, currently out of print, soon to be re-released on CD.)
"It is a beautiful recording and will be enjoyed by all those, like me, that enjoy evocations of rural America so well done."



Chris Vallillo is a nationally acclaimed singer/songwriter and folk musician who makes the people and places of unmetropolitan America come to life in song. Having spent the last 30 years in the rural Midwest, he has a natural affinity for American roots music. Performing on six-string and bottleneck slide guitars and harmonica, Vallillo weaves original, contemporary, and traditional songs and narratives into a compelling and entertaining portrait of the history and lifestyles of the Midwest. Dirty Linen magazine described the music as, vivid, original story songs delivered with an eye for detail and a sense of history while Folk Wax Magazine Editor, Arthur Wood said Vallillo's guitar playing flows like warm honey and is a true aural delight.

For Chris, a good song is as much a work of art as any painting or sculpture. His music has a timeless quality about it, with one foot in the past and one foot in the future. Perhaps the archaeology degree Vallillo earned at Beloit College helped him see the important little details of life which imbue his songs with a sense of history. His prairie poet style has been compared to Edgar Lee Masters and Vachel Lindsay and you can hear the strains of the Carter Family and Jimmy Rogers reflected in his writing. Its roots based original and contemporary folk with the rich acoustic textures of bottleneck slide, finger style and flatpicked guitars that echo the influences of Mississippi John Hurt, Norman Blake, Doc Watson and John Fahey.

A recipient of a 1986 Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship Award for music composition, Chris was also a nominee for the Illinois Arts Council's 1987 Governor's Award for Individual Artist. From 1990 through 1998 he served as the performing host and co-producer of the nationally distributed, award-winning public radio performance series Rural Route 3. His most recent project, a one man show titled Abraham Lincoln in Song, received the endorsement of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and the accompanying CD of music reached #10 on Billboards Bluegrass Album Chart in March of 2008. He is currently serving as the Illinois State Scholar for the Smithsonian Institutions traveling exhibit on roots music New Harmonies.

Chris Vallillo is a member of the Illinois Arts Council's Artstour Roster, the Illinois Arts Councils Artists in Education program, the Illinois Humanities Council's Road Scholars program, and the Heartland Fund's Community Connections program. Each of these prestigious programs provides funding assistance for the presentation of talented professional artists to audiences throughout the Midwest.


2009-2011 Illinois StateScholar for the SmithsonianInstitution's travelingexhibition on Roots Music, NewHarmonies.

2009, Abraham Lincoln in Song performed at the Lincoln Presidential Museum, The Lincoln Home National Historic Site, the Gettysburg Battlefield National Museum and President Lincoln's Cottage, Washington, DC.

2008: March 8th Abraham Lincoln in Song CD reaches #10 on the Billboard Bluegrass Album Charts

2008: Keynote Speaker, Conference of the Midwest Open Air Museum Coordinating Council, Using Music in a Museum Context

2006-2008: Illinois StateScholar for the SmithsonianInstitution's travelingexhibition on Roots Music, NewHarmonies

2006: Host and performer of WTTW, Chicago Public Television's Arts Across Illinois -Centerstage, Live!

2003: Artistic producer and performer for the Illinois Mississippi River Valley Project Festival

2003: Co-producer, Folk Songs of Illinois CD for the Illinois Humanities Council's Heritage Music Project

2001: Administrative Fellowship, Illinois Arts Council to conduct the Illinois Mississippi River Valley Project

2001-2002: Conducted and documented the field work for the Illinois Arts Councils Illinois Mississippi River Valley Project

2000: Performer and producer of the On the Farm Harvest Festival for the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL

1998: National Federation of Community Broadcaster's Special Merit Award for National Music/Entertainment Series for the nationally syndicated radio series, Rural Route 3

1995: National Federation of Community Broadcaster's Bronze Reel Award for National Music/Entertainment Series for the nationally syndicated radio series, Rural Route 3

1990-1997: Host and co-producer of the nationally syndicated public radio series Rural Route 3

1993-1994: Composed, arranged and performed the theme song and other period music for the sound track of the 22 part public television series, The Civil War and Reconstruction

1992-1993: Composed, performed, and recorded the soundtrack for Illinois Historic Panorama, a thirteen part public television s

Band Members