By Jane Keller Gordon, Assistant Editor
Franklin – Thirty years ago – in rented space in the Franklin’s Masonic Hall – Circle of Friends (COF) Coffeehouse was launched by members of the First Universalist Society in Franklin (FUSF). Now, up to 300 people enjoy a variety of live folk, Celtic and Blues on Saturday nights at 8 p.m. from September to May, every two to three weeks at the FUSF Meetinghouse.
Jake Jacobson, the group’s executive director, never expected to take on that role.
“I’ve only been involved for 28 years. When you volunteer you take on more and more. That’s what happened to me, and now I have a title, which I’ve given myself,” he said.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Jacobson said that music was not a big part of his life. An electrical engineering graduate of Columbia University, he moved from New York to Massachusetts for his first job with Raytheon.
“I’ve had a dozen jobs over my storied electrical engineering career,” he said. Forty-two years ago, Jacobson married his wife Ann Willever, and that’s part of his connection to the COF Coffeehouse.
Jacobson and Willever joined the FUSF when their children were young. Willever, a teacher, eventually became director of religious education there. She went to theological school and became an ordained minister. Willever, who was the FUSF associate minister, is now retired, as is Jacobson.
When the FUSF Meetinghouse was built in 2001, the members had the COF Coffeehouse in mind. Concerts are held in the sanctuary, where the seats are moveable, allowing for different configurations.
“The space is great, with wiring under the floor and in the walls. We have an excellent sound system and decent stage lighting, which performers really like,” said Jacobson.
The COF Coffeehouse is affiliated with the church, to which it pays rent and makes an annual donation.
“This year we expect to donate $6,000,” said Jacobson.
Jacobson and his group of 20 active volunteers have recruiting acts down to a science.
“Performers contact us, and our volunteers go to festivals and conferences. We’re always looking for new talent… We have popular performers every two years, but try shake things up otherwise,” Jacobson commented.
Past well-known performers have included Janis Ian, Richie Havens, Tom Rush, Peter Yarrow, and Livingston Taylor. This year’s holiday concert on Saturday, Dec. 7, will feature Winterbloom, a four-member talented group of singer/songwriters from the Boston area.
“Since we have launched online booking, we have a better sense of how many people will show up,” Jacobson said.
“The COF Coffeehouse audiences are appreciative and the performers love it.” The volunteers are happy too,” he added.
MaryAnn O’Connor is one of those volunteers.
“Volunteering at the COF Coffeehouse this past year has been great for me! I moved into the area, not knowing a soul, not having been to a coffeehouse for at least 20 years,” she said. “Helping out at the coffeehouse brought me back to my younger days and I’ve enjoyed it just as much as I did back then.”
Michelle Kelly, who is both a performer and volunteer, added, “The COF volunteers are a loyal, fun-loving, and talented group of people. Most of the performers recognize the professional quality of the sound and lights we provide, not to mention the gourmet desserts that COF has become known for in the coffeehouse circuit. I’m proud to be part of the team and hope that we can continue to bring quality musical acts to Franklin for years to come.”
Circle of Friends Coffeehouse is located at 262 Chestnut St., Franklin.