by Mike Corrigan

Yes, it's true. MOTHER GOOSE PROGRESSIVE COFFEEHOUSE has moved. Michael Poulin and his gang of incorrigible optimists have transplanted their fledgling performance art venue concept from the Community Building on West Main to a space in the rapidly developing Rail Side Center, a block of previously underused buildings along West First, directly south of the Fox Theatre. Mother Goose is a non-profit collective for the presentation of progressive artists. In more expansive terms, it is a small group of local residents seeking to encourage an appreciation of not only the arts, but of such oft-ignored cornerstones of civilization as direct human interaction and intellectual discourse.

Every Saturday night, a portion of the largely vacant building at 1011 W. Main is transformed into a casual, smoke- and alcohol-free performance arena. Last week, the featured artist was classical guitarist Leon Atkinson. This Saturday, American folk legend Mark Ross will perform. In the weeks to come, look for Spokane's the Panics, the acoustic folk duo of Humphrey & amp; Hartman, comic poet Les Barker and folk singer Rosalie Sorrels.

"I think you can tell from our programs that we're going to be a serious contender for entertainment attention in Spokane," says Poulin. "As of now, all we do is Saturday nights. Until we get more people who want to help and some more money, that's all we can manage."

Mark Ross has been traversing this country with guitar in hand and harmonica in mouth for more than 30 years. For a fellow with a notorious aversion to work, he's certainly done his share toward the preservation of American folk music and the ancient tradition of "wandering troubadour." A short list of the people he's shared the stage with includes Utah Phillips, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, David Bromberg, Rosalie Sorrels, Pete Seeger and Hazel Dickens. Aside from his alleged (and apparently, well documented) sloth, the perennially good-natured Ross is infamous for routinely subjecting his audiences to personal stories about life on the road.

"If we can get him to play at all, we'll be lucky," laughs Poulin. "He's a very entertaining person and he has more stories than God. He knows everyone and has the dirt on everybody. And that business about his aversion to work is absolutely true. I heard about Mark from Utah Philips who talked about him primarily in terms of his aversion to work. He said that the reason Mark moved to Butte was because he felt it was guaranteed that he'd never find any work there."

The last time Poulin contacted Ross, the folk singer was performing in Utah and was considering travel options for his impending trip to the Inland Northwest.

"He said that money was a little tight and that he was most likely going to hitchhike or hop a freight. He's been on the freights forever. You know, if there's one thing that can be said about Spokane, it's that it's a great train town. So that's kind of convenient for him."

Poulin, a recent transplant to Spokane from the San Francisco area, began Mother Goose, in part, for personal reasons.

"I'm relatively new to this town," he says. "And my wife and I were really spoiled by the coffeehouses and other venues in the Bay Area. It's really exciting to have a space like this where everything is kind of invited and welcomed. In terms of revitalizing a city, places like this are crucial. A lot of small cities become big precisely because of the arts community. There's so much talent around here. The sad part is, there's so few places to play."

While Mother Goose has staked a claim to a small corner of the building for its Saturday night shindigs, the rest of the structure is largely unused -- a blank slate, if you will. The flexibility of the space is something that local artist and building manager Kurt Madison -- along with the project investors and property owners -- would like to maintain.

"The owners of the property and the investors are very interested in promoting, fermenting, supporting the arts," Madison says. "They want to see serious art projects come together in town in general, and hopefully in their buildings in particular. First Night was our third fairly major event in this space in the last four months. The response was wonderful. And people are talking about Mother Goose. We're really interested in interacting with anyone who is doing creative works. We're trying to get the arts community lined up and focused. I would say that the city is ripe for this kind of thing."

As artists, individuals and groups gradually make use of the building, Poulin and his Mother Goose collective will continue to mix it up with national and homegrown talent and dream of expanding their musical offerings.

"My wish list involves adding children's stuff on Saturday morning and a freeform drumming thing Sunday afternoon," he says. "I'd love to see the building accommodate that sort of thing. But that requires more bodies. Right now, there are basically three and a half of us. We're scrounging for tables and chairs and we still haven't found any sound systems on the cheap. But we're working on that."

Skate for a Cause: Habitat for Humanity @ Numerica Skate Ribbon

Wed., Nov. 30, 4-8 p.m.
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