Obituary: Folk music mourns a friend in Al Haug

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 8, 2013 - 8:03 PM

Al Haug

Al Haug kept the waters flowing in the folk music stream as it meandered through and, at times, spilled beyond the West Bank of Minneapolis.

Haug, a musician with an affinity for jug bands who dusted off the old songs for broadcast and for years booked folk acts at college-town coffeehouses, died Saturday of prostate cancer in Minneapolis, where he'd lived his whole life. He was 64.

At KFAI Radio (90.3 and 106.7 FM) throughout the 1980s and '90s, Haug's "Walk Right In" and "Folk Roots" shows "served up music that might have otherwise gone unheralded and unheard, rescuing musical treasures from yard sales and dusty attics, long before the days to come, when instant file-sharing made this task much easier," said Jay Peterson, a longtime West Bank musician.

Haug booked acts at two hallmark West Bank venues, Coffeehouse Extempore and the New Riverside Cafe, for more than 20 years until the late 1990s.

"His support of live music and musicians, his vast musical knowledge, both were wonderful resources for so many of us," said friend Polly Vollmer-Heywood, whose husband, Phil Heywood, is among the many folkies Haug brought before West Bank coffeehouse microphones.

"I met Al in about 1975, when I was a dessert baker at the New Riverside Cafe, and Al began to cover a few shifts a week there," Vollmer-Heywood added. "It was a collectively owned and run business. We all did just about every job, and I recall that Al worked as cook -- and bottle-washer -- as well as doing some maintenance work" before jumping into the music side of things.

This weekend's Minneapolis Battle of the Jug Bands, at age 31, touts itself as "the oldest and longest-running jug band get-together in the known universe" and is declaring that it will soldier on at the Nomad and Cabooze nightspots on Cedar Avenue despite losing Haug as its "organizer extraordinaire."

He "played the jug and the washboard and the harmonica," said Arlene Presley, Haug's sister, who grew up with him in the family home near Lake Nokomis and graduated a few years ahead of her brother from Roosevelt High School in the 1960s. "He was a hippie."

She said Haug studied journalism and sociology on his way to a degree from the University of Minnesota. He also studied broadcasting, but when he was about to be hired at a commercial station in town, "They told him he had to sell advertising," Presley said. "He said, 'No, I'm not going to do that.'"

Haug had what Presley called a gift for one-liners and a "very dry sense of humor."

He would say he's having a "relationship with prostate cancer," she said. "'Sticking with me till the day I die. A very jealous partner, this one.'"

As for a "religious" affiliation, Haug was a devout Frisbeetarian, saying, "When you die, your soul gets stuck on the garage roof."

In 2010, a "Near Lifetime of Community Service Award" was given to Haug by the West Bank Community Development Corp., acknowledging his "45 years of making music, making trouble [political activism] and making a sense of community in the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood."

Away from the folk scene, Haug "also was very active with sheltie rescue," Presley said. "He would foster dogs from the Humane Society in Golden Valley."

Peterson said Haug took in "almost every deaf, blind or otherwise disabled or 'lost' doggie they offered him. He and [his dog] Neptune were truly the mayors of Riverside Dog Park."

Presley is Haug's lone immediate survivor. Plans for a memorial event are pending.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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