Aug. 22, 2002
For 27 years, Herndon residents in search of fajitas, tacos and the occasional margarita have turned to the Tortilla Factory. But what many locals might not know is that for 15 of those years, music fans from around the region have flocked to the same restaurant in search of some of the nation's finest folk music talent.
On Aug. 27, the 17-year-old Folk Club of Reston-Herndon will celebrate its 15th year at the Tortilla Factory restaurant in Herndon. The non-profit member organization is dedicated to the advancement of acoustic music and the preservation of folk traditions. Founded in 1985 by Rose Haskell, the group attempts to duplicate the intimate folk club format found in English pubs.
Folk club members are quick to thank the Tortilla Factory's two owners, Chuck Curcio and Ron Fox. "The loyalty and dedication they have shown us is to be commended," said Ray Kaminsky, president of the club.
"Even though the Tortilla Factory could sell this room twice over on a Tuesday night, they still let us in," said Ellen Kaminsky, Ray's wife and vice chair of the Herndon Cultural Arts Center Advisory Committee. "They are just amazing generous supporters of the arts."
<b>FOR HIS PART</b>, Curcio acknowledges that his restaurant would probably make a little more money if they had not loaned out the room each Tuesday night for the last 15 years, but he says he wouldn't have it any other way. Fifteen years ago, the restaurant had just added the backroom and they were not using it on Monday and Tuesday nights, Fox said. "Unlike a lot of national chains, we aren't solely concerned with the bottom-line," the owner said. "And unlike a lot of restaurants, we have the luxury of flexibility. It's easy to separate our space from the rest of the restaurant."
Dave Hurd, one of the club's founding members, remembers the days when the club didn't have a place to call home. Originally, the group met at a now-defunct Reston restaurant, the Acorn. The folk club bounced around two more times in the Reston-area before landing in Herndon. Almost immediately, the club began to draw music-lovers from around the entire Northern Virginia region, Hurd said. "Had we continued to do the scoot around-thing, I don't think it would have done well, ultimately," he said. "Every time we moved one location to another, we would lose some participants. Now after all this time, people know who we are and just as importantly, they know where to find us."
The retired-music lover moved to Stephenson, Va., a small town near Winchester, three years ago. Hurd, however, keeps coming back to Herndon and to the Tortilla Factory on Tuesday nights. "I can't imagine not making the trip. Great music and tons of friends, what more could you ask for?"
<b>CURCIO, HIMSELF</b> a past president of the Council of the Arts in Herndon, has been part owner of the establishment since 1988. "It's a very special relationship. We have always considered ourselves a community-oriented restaurant. We feel we need to give back to the community that supports us so well," he said. "Besides they have always been real good customers. We are like a family. It's a definite mutual relationship."
"One of the nicest features of the Club is that it's been there for so many years, that members have watched each other's children grow up in the room. Many of these children are carrying on the music traditions learned at the club," said Kaminsky, whose own son was a regular patron while he was growing up in Herndon.
Bill Farrar, a Herndon landscaper and longtime friend of Ron Fox, is a member of this extended family. Farrar had been coming to his friend's restaurant for years before he ever heard of the Folk Club. One day, about three and a half years ago, Fox convinced Farrar to check out the backroom one random Tuesday night. "I remember him looking at me and saying, 'you are not going to sit here and eat alone — you are going to folk club.'"
Ever since, Farrar has been a fixture at the Tuesday night sing-alongs. Farrar, the wisecracking Herndon-native, met his current girlfriend one Tuesday night. "I love the music," he said. "There are all types and kinds, even a touch of rap."
"It's great because we get a lot of kids and young artists for our open mic nights," agreed Ellen Kaminsky, sipping a light beer before last Tuesday's performance. "It can be very cutting edge, very avant-garde or new-age guitarists. Sometimes we get people who are just learning their chords but they have great voices."
Once the show starts and the lights go down, it is all about the music. "It's a respectful audience. We are here to listen and the artists are always embraced," Kaminsky said. "There's no booing and no heckling, at least for the first-timers. This is a true 'listening' club."
While her husband is a frequent acoustical performer on the Tortilla stage, Ellen Kaminsky occasionally moonlights as the emcee for many of Tuesday shows. "It is a warm friendly and safe environment," she said. "It's definitely not some pick-up joint. It's just a great place to come, have a beer at the end of a long day, and listen to some fabulous music with a charming little family of friends."