The Fogelberg Trail

Four years ago, while on a cross-country trip, I stopped at Riverfront Park in Peoria, Illinois, to see the Dan Fogelberg Memorial. This collection of inscribed boulders and a thoughtfully-placed bench with a plaque honors the multi-faceted singer-songwriters whose career lasted more than 30 years before prostate cancer took his life at the young age of 56. Casual fans are familiar with the several hits of his 1981 album The Innocent Age (“Leader of the Band,” “Run For the Roses,” “Same Old Lang Syne,” and “Hard to Say”), other ballads (“Longer”), or recordings that may qualify as folk-rock (“Part of the Plan”). But fans know he dabbled with anything from rock, classical, jazz, bluegrass, and even Baroque-inspired Christmas music. He wrote songs for guitar and piano, and played other instruments as well.

Sometime after that trip, I came across a YouTube video featuring an audio tour by Hugh Higgins of the Fogelberg Foundation of Peoria for a commemorative trolley ride, highlighting sites around the city relevant to Dan’s music. Maps and pictures in the video help one find all the sites. I knew I had to go back someday, and a vacation to the region provided that means.

The tour starts across from Woodruff High, his high school. At the corner of N. Monroe and Abington Parkway, Abington has been re-named Fogelberg Parkway. He began his career while a student at Woodruff, with a group called the Coachmen. The second stop is the Glen Oak Amphitheatre and Lagoon and Glen Oak Park. He played here in August 1975 to a hometown crowd, then afterwards received the American Music Association New Artist of the Year award.

Now the amphitheater is a ghostly shell of its former self. The area is fenced off and padlocked. From all indications, the site was hosting events as recently as the summer of 2019. The logical conclusion is that it is a victim of COVID, though there’s no reference on the web. Regardless, I just try to imagine a young Fogelberg on stage on a summer’s evening, delighting locals with songs from his first two albums, including the popular Souvenirs, as well as from the soon-to-be-released Captured Angel.

The next stop is the Short Stop Food Mart on East Frye. On Christmas Eve 1975, Dan came here to buy whip cream to top Irish coffees for the family. He bumped into a high school sweetheart; the pair shared a six-pack in the parking lot and went to their respective homes. This chance encounter turned into one of Fogelberg’s biggest hits: “Same Old Lang Syne.” At the time the store was a Convenient Food Mart, and also considering it was 45 years ago certainly things have changed; but it still is a thrill to visit, and re-imagine that iconic scene he so wonderfully depicts in the song.

Luthy Botanical Gardens and Springdale Cemetery, both just up the road, figure in the song “The Last Nail” with the line “We walked together through the gardens and graves, I watched you grow to be a woman.” As Higgins notes, it’s not documented that the line refers to these two sites, but it’s easy to see how it would. (The song refers to a longtime relationship that started in high school – a different girl than the one that “Same Old Lang Syne” is about).

Then it’s up a hill on Grandview Drive to a spot between two pine trees overlooking the Illinois River. Fogelberg spent many hours in this “sacred spot” reflecting and writing. In 2010 a Dan Fogelberg Memorial Commemorative Committee member had a bench placed so that others could enjoy the view as well.

The last site is the actual Memorial, which includes lines from songs “Icarus Ascending” (a tune devoted to artists who never achieve fame), “Ever On,” “River of Souls,” and “Part of the Plan” all etched onto either one of three large boulders that overlook the river, or on one of several smaller rocks paced along the bike trail. A bench features a plaque which includes his photo and a quote I remember from my previous visit:

“I never got into music to be the latest, greatest thing. I’m a musician because that is what I am. I will create music the way I want to whether a million people are listening or no one is listening. That’s not the point of creating music. The point is following your own creative instincts.”

After leaving Peoria and the river which was such a part of his youth, Fogelberg made a name for himself at the University of Illinois, attracted the attention of producer Irv Azoff, went west to pursue his dreams. His early records contain several songs about his Illinois roots and though he eventually settled on both a ranch in Colorado and in a seaside town in Maine, it is exhilarating to experience the Fogelberg Trail.

The audio tour may be found here.

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