The very first official "RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) Mothers Wine Emporium with Aileen and Elkin Thomas Spaghetti Dinner" took place at the camping area of the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1985.
The setting was ideal, and unusual. Most of the RPI group were camped in a group, thanks to the efforts of Jim Frankenfield. He arrived early and staked out a claim for the Mothers contingent. To find space for a tent is unusual, but to be together was a minor miracle.
The group consisted of Lisa and Lori Beer, Jim Loar, Jim Frankenfield, Bill Ryan, Ellie Finegan, Tom Duchesneau, Brian Cholfin, Roy Atkinson, Denice Angwin, and others.
It must be noted that, in Philadelphia, during the third week of August, there is sure to be an impossible heat wave or the first of the fall monsoons. In '85, it was the official beginning of the rainy season. There was mud everywhere.
The happy band of campers didn't let that minor detail bother them. After all, the Rolling Rock was cold (read frozen -- was that really dry ice?) and there was plenty of it. The idea of an RPI community dinner was put forth and agreed upon. It would be a spaghetti dinner. Plans were put into motion to make it happen on Saturday afternoon.
In the previous two years (1985-85) the stage of Mother's Wine Emporium at RPI had been graced by the warm sounds of Aileen and Elkin Thomas. We had all become a part of the journey. In 1985 they were also scheduled to perform at the festival. Why not invite them to break bread with us? What are friends for anyway?
Unheard of. . .Onstage performers just don't come to the camping area. . .not at Philly!! Why, they didn't even have wrist bands to get to the tent grounds.
Never to be daunted, Elkin simply mentioned that they had been invited, and security really couldn't NOT believe a man that looks like that (could you?)
The dinner was a great success -- lots of food (did I mention it was spaghetti?) Plastic silverware, paper plates, and some plastic dishes thanks to Gortons the fish people. Oh, and yes, lost of Rolling Rock. There was a constant buzz from our neighbors around the tent area, "LOOK, those people have performers with them. They WHAT?"
That was the first. There have been many since, all very special. The first four were held at Bill Ryan's. (One year we used a car out on the porch, a '62 Mini, to keep the beer cold). Two years at Jim Barnwall's, then a year at Marc Edgar's Troy apartment. In '93, we found a home at Mark Graber's in what we hope will be the beginning of many more dinners to come.
WM J Ryan (aka Dr. Bill), Historian on Record