Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024

Executive Director | Interview with an Acorn Artist | Staff Spotlight | Acorn News | Acorn Updates


Letter from the Executive Director

, Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024

Dear Friends of The Acorn,

We are hard at work launching exciting upcoming events throughout the summer – and can’t wait for you to join us for more unforgettable live performances! 

From nationally acclaimed acts like Mavis Staples and Steve Earle, to the second year of both the Acorn Tree House Family Series and The Acorn Dramatic Arts Camp, to thrilling local artistry in our Midwest Made Series – and beyond – The Acorn’s summer season is packed with unmissable, one-and-only experiences for everyone.

Our biggest event of the summer is The Acorn Music Festival – June 14, 15, & 16. We’re building on last year’s inaugural festival, packing the weekend with over 19 artists, pop-up performances around Three Oaks, and a new outdoor stage area to be totally immersed in the music festival experience. Whether you are looking forward to artists you are familiar with (Acorn favorites like Anne Harris, Chuck Prophet, Joe Pug, Chicago Farmer & The Fieldnotes, and more), stoked to see artists you’ve listened to but never seen live at The Acorn, or discovering your new favorite musical acts to refresh your playlists – this is an incredible lineup. The headliners (Red Wanting Blue, The Verve Pipe, Heartless Bastards) represent an eclectic mix of musical styles, and are prominently featured at major festivals elsewhere across the country throughout the festival season. Check out our Spotify playlist to get acquainted with new music, and be sure to buy your tickets in advance at our website!

The Acorn is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, with a mission to serve our local community through a robust array of programs for all ages, and ticket sales only cover 68% of operating expenses. We rely on donations to make all of these valuable program activities possible, and hope you will consider supporting our efforts through a tax-deductible donation.

Thank you for your support of The Acorn – we’ll see you this summer!

, Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024

Ashley Magnus
Executive Director



Interview with an Acorn Artist

, Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024

AJ Swearingen and Jayne Kelli

With their siren harmonies and prolific songwriting, AJ Swearingen & Jayne Kelli's body of work has cemented them into the Americana scene, being hailed by Red Line Roots as artists “others would do well to emulate down the road." The duo achieved critical success with their independently released albums, The Marrying Kind and Cold-Hearted Truth, earning features on Gretsch Guitar, Americana Highways, Cowboys & Indians Magazine, and NY Country Swag. With songs heavily nodding to the folk and country of the '60s and '70s, they've shared the stage with legends ranging from Crystal Gayle and Kenny Rogers to folk icons Tom Rush and David Bromberg.

Along the way the Bethlehem born AJ and Lapeer, Michigan's Jayne found themselves on a mission to share the iconic music of Simon & Garfunkel with new audiences around the country, along with stories and insight that will make you laugh. AJ has been performing this music for twenty years with mastery of Paul Simon's intricate guitar playing. His deep baritone blends perfectly with Kelli's angelic vocals delivering a true tribute to the sound of the 1960's Greenwich Village, NY coffeehouse performances.

Both artists were heavily inspired by the great '70s singer-songwriters, but their unique ability to channel the sounds of Simon & Garfunkel is immediately apparent when you hear them perform these classic songs live.

The husband and wife duo’s own original music is described as very song-driven and vocal-forward – an Americana acoustic blend of both folk and country. 

Their latest offering, Build Myself Up From the Ground, evokes nostalgia for the folk and country music of a bygone era, while forging a path distinctly its own. The road to recording the album was fraught with challenges. Amidst the Covid-19 housing shortage and Jayne’s diagnosis of multiple chemical sensitivities due to mold exposure, the couple endured a nomadic lifestyle for almost a year. Their attempts to settle in various locations, including Tennessee, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, were met with disappointment as homes turned out to have dangerously high levels of mold, or too much fresh paint and carpet. Although recording was postponed, along with album release dates, the pair continued to tour the country while uprooted. Performing shows and connecting with people fueled them and offered stability in a year of instability. The house hunt finally resolved back in Tennessee, where they settled south of Nashville, took a breath, and set up their home studio. 

The profound loss of AJ’s father to Parkinson’s and dementia was right around the corner with a different kind of ungrounding. This marked the second time they confronted the effects of the disease, having previously lost Jayne’s father to it in 2018. What could have broken a couple served to strengthen AJ and Jayne’s commitment to each other and deepened their artistic drive. 

We’re looking forward to having AJ and Jayne back at The Acorn on July 19 as judges in our annual Singer-Songwriter Competition and then performing their original music and the iconic tunes of Simon & Garfunkel on Saturday, July 20

Q: Who and what are your biggest musical influences?

Jayne: When I write, I don't listen to a lot of music, and I usually write alone. AJ is my favorite person to write with, when I do co-write.

We are both inspired by the songwriters of the '60s and '70s. Music wasn't contrived and manufactured (for the most part). Now, more than ever, we'll be holding on to what's real - we all know AI has begun, and will be writing songs as a shortcut bypassing the real muse. I was also influenced by Fiona Apple, Alanis, and Radiohead.

Q:  You’re playing The Acorn again on Saturday, July 20th. What can fans expect from you for this show? It’s a combination of original music from Swearingen & Kelli and Simon & Garfunkel tunes as well?

Jayne: We'll be playing those great songs from Simon and Garfunkel's extensive catalog. It's such a rich body of work, and Paul Simon's writing is untouchable! We'll also be performing songs from some of our records and a few new ones that we're excited to share.

Q:  You’ll also be in town that weekend to be part of our judge’s panel for our 12th annual Singer-Songwriter Competition Finals on July 19th. Can you tell us what you’ll be most excited about in a Finalist? Any songwriting or performance advice for hopefuls who might be reading this?

AJ: For me, the most exciting thing to hear in a singer songwriter is really good lyrics and melody. I love to hear originality. That's hard to find these days. A lot of singers fall into the trap of trying to sound like everybody else. 

Jayne: I love an emotive, lyric driven performance. You certainly don't have to be the best singer. And on another note, everyone competing could remember to not take it too hard if they don't win. And this is why: What if Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and John Prine were competing? They are all masters in their own way and have an effect on people differently.

Q:  Who is your favorite musician to listen to when you’re not making music of your own?

AJ: I always find this an interesting question to answer. I absorbed so much music in my teenage years. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house that had a lot of music playing all the time. My mother was always playing records. The majority of the music that I listen to and was inspired by was all the classic stuff from the late '60s and '70s. Rock, folk and country. To this day, I find the majority of that music hard to top.

Q:  Did you always want to be a musician? 

AJ: I discovered the wonders of the guitar at the age of 12. I had a few guitar lessons to get me going and then played everything by ear. The thought of working a real job would interfere with hours of guitar playing, so the logical choice was to become a full-time musician at the age of 18. 

Jayne: I knew I wanted to be a singer and musician from the age of five. I started off serenading my stuffed animals and making my Barbies sing. At age 14 I took my dad's Martin guitar into my bedroom and never looked back.

Q:  What advice would you give to young artists?

Jayne: I would say that if you're called to do something, you need to listen to and honor that. Otherwise, you can spend your entire life denying your authentic self. Believe me, I did it for a few years when I went to college and took a job unrelated to music. And nothing against doing those things, but I was just not meant for that. Just take baby steps...even if you just record one single... or challenge yourself to write a handful of songs and play it for some people for the first time. Little action steps that you can build upon over time add up to big things.

Q:  What is your favorite memory from a live performance (of your own or someone else’s)?

Jayne: I'll tell you a recent one from our show up in Maine. AJ and I created a rendition of Tom Rush's beautiful "Toyboat" song on piano and guitar. He ended up coming out to that show, and we got to perform it for him live, right before having him come up to play a few songs. That was a magical moment for us.

Q:  Anything else you think our Acorn audience would like to know about?

AJ: As of this June, Jayne and I are celebrating 10 official years together, and 12 years as Swearingen & Kelli. It was music first, but she couldn't resist me. Ha.

The Acorn thanks AJ & Jayne for taking the time to be interviewed! We’re looking forward to having them at The Acorn on July 19 as judges in our annual Singer-Songwriter Competition and then performing their original music and the iconic tunes of Simon & Garfunkel on Saturday, July 20.




Staff Spotlight

Tom Raab

, Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024

If you have been to a show at The Acorn in the past 5 years, or even just stopped by the theater on some chance afternoon, you certainly have met Tom Raab, Director of Operations for The Acorn. 

Tom spent 10 years as a Treasury Note futures trader at the Chicago Board of Trade, specializing in 5-Year futures. After exiting the trading world, he purchased a custom metal fabrication shop in LaPorte, IN, where he spent 9 years building the customer base, service and reputation of this business. He sold the business in 2018 and joined The Acorn team in January 2019 as a volunteer. Soon after, he was hired to work part-time for the organization and became full-time by January 2020.

At that time, Tom had been going through some difficult times in his personal life and was looking to add some positive energy. He thought volunteering would be a great way to do that. He had been to a BoDeans concert at The Acorn, and says he was “blown away by the vibe of the space and was excited that we had a venue like this in our area.”  

Volunteering at The Acorn initially meant helping out at shows and, soon after, Tom joined the volunteer committee. He helped with some construction projects around the theater and found himself becoming even more involved as a volunteer (and eventual employee). 

In his current role as Director of Operations, Tom is responsible for overseeing most of the bookkeeping and financial oversight of the theater, the bar and the apartment rental. He’s incredibly versatile and dedicated; since joining The Acorn as a volunteer, Tom has done pretty much every job you can think of: from fixing plumbing and small maintenance and remodel projects, working box office and front of house, to booking artists and reviewing contracts.

Tom is excited about the ways that The Acorn has become more invested in our community over the past several years – he loves the Open Mic program, our Midwest Made series, the annual Singer-Songwriter Competition, and our educational and family initiatives such as Acorn Tree House, TADA summer camp and JazzReach, to name just a few.

In his time outside of work, Tom enjoys boating, camping, woodworking, going to the beach and spending time with his kids, partner, and family. He loves being outdoors, especially if he can find himself on a canoe, kayak or paddleboard on a peaceful body of water.

Q: What is your favorite memory from your time at The Acorn?

A: That’s a tough question. Every night at The Acorn is special in some way. The quality of talent that comes through these doors is outstanding. I love seeing the patrons really connect with a band on a magical night. I like the positive energy, smiling faces and feedback that you get as patrons leave after a really great performance.

Q: What would a typical Saturday morning look like for you? 

A: Most likely I would be doing some financial reports for The Acorn. If I have a Saturday morning off, I am currently doing a remodel on my house, so probably working on that, and then heading to the water!

Q: Are you a bookworm? Who is your favorite author and/or what is your favorite book?

A:  I do read quite a bit – 25-30 books a year. I like various genres — Historical Fiction (Steven Pressfield, Ken Follet), Spy Thrillers (Ken Follet, Nelson DeMille, Tom Clancy), Spirituality (Anthony DeMello, Thich Nhatt Hahn), Sci-Fi (Andy Weir, Orson Scott Card).

Q: What is a 'fun fact' about you or something people might be surprised to know about you?

A: I did a four month, unsupported, bicycle trip through Europe. We rode through England, Wales, Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands. We carried our own gear: tents, sleeping bags and pads, cooking stove, pans, food and clothes. It was a great lesson in minimalism and overcoming challenges. 

Q: How do you define success?

A: Getting up every morning and doing the right thing. Being a good father, partner, sibling, son, employee and community member. Going to bed at night with a sense of accomplishment, knowing that you have done everything possible that day to achieve the above.


Acorn  News

2nd Annual Acorn Music Festival Is Almost Here  
19+ Artists Over the Course of the 3-Day Event!

, Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024
The 2nd Annual Acorn Music Festival is almost here! New Festival elements this year include an outdoor stage and downtown Three Oaks performances!

Returning to Three Oaks, Michigan next month, it’s our 2nd Annual Acorn Music Festival! A full weekend of music will hit our stage – and stretch beyond the stage – June 14 through 16 with 19+ amazing artists!

Check out our Spotify playlist featuring the Acorn Music Festival Artists – get ready to find your new favorites!

NEW this year! Our second stage will be heading outside and we’re sending six additional artists into downtown Three Oaks for performances at some of your favorite local businesses!

Friday, June 14 featuring Red Wanting Blue
DAY ONE of The Acorn Music Festival features headliner Red Wanting Blue. Red Wanting Blue, formed in 1996 in Athens, Ohio, is comprised of Scott Terry on lead vocals, tenor guitar, and ukulele; Mark McCullough on bass, chapman stick, and vocals; Greg Rahm on guitar, keyboards, and vocals; Eric Hall on guitar, lap steel, and vocals; and Dean Anshutz on drums and percussion. Together the five musicians have forged a creative path that grows and expands with each successive recording.

Additional performances from Chicago Farmer & The Fieldnotes, Abbie Thomas & The Crazy Hearts, Christina Eltrevoog and Reilly Downes.

Saturday, June 15 featuring The Verve Pipe
DAY TWO of The Acorn Music Festival features headliner The Verve Pipe! The Verve Pipe has spent the better part of three decades in evolution, creating a sound that transcends genre and generation. It's a sound rooted in pop hooks, alt-rock guitars, and the sharp songwriting of front man Brian Vander Ark.

Additional performances from Lilly Hiatt, Joe Pug, Fox Crossing Stringband, Gerald Dowd, Eric O'Daly and Naomi Ashley & Jon Williams.

Sunday, June 16 featuring Heartless Bastards
DAY THREE features headliner Heartless Bastards. With a warm patchwork of rock ‘n’ roll, psychedelia, folk, alternative, and blues, Heartless Bastards unlock healing and catharsis within their music. Whether in the studio or on stage, the Austin-based band fronted by vocalist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Erika Wennerstrom calm as they captivate.

Additional performances from Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express, Bee Taylor, Bowmanville, Anne Harris, Nikki Morgan and Mike Struwin.


The Acorn Tree House Returns
Family Fun Series Features Music & Entertainment for All Ages!

, Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024

The Acorn Tree House – Family Fun Summer Series returns on the last Saturday each month starting May 25th. Fun for the entire family and kids of all ages (0-99+)!

May 25: Mr. Dave
Little rock stars are immersed in the magic of Mr. Dave's captivating musical performances featuring original and classic tunes, storytelling, and interactive activities! 

June 29: Birds of a Feather
Birds of a Feather is a new American indie family superduo consisting of two kids music luminaries – Suzi Shelton and Little Miss Ann!

July 27: Sean Masterson Magic
Sean Masterson’s Timeless Magic is a one-of-a-kind thrill featuring sleight-of-hand, audience participation, and highly deceptive but rarely seen 19th century magic effects that are sure to delight young and old.

August 31: Deep Fried Pickle Project
Armed with a frankenstonian array of homemade monster instruments, the Deep Fried Pickle Project's recipe is flavored with jug band, hokum and honkytonk spices.


Youth Summer Camp Returns July 8th
The Acorn Dramatic Arts Camp (TADA) Presents Alice In Wonderland

, Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024The Acorn Dramatic Arts (TADA) 2024 Summer Youth Camp presents Alice In Wonderland.

The Acorn Dramatic Arts program exists to introduce and grow a love of musical theater to children and teens in the community who have no experience, and flourish musical theater as a passion for children and teens in the community who have already begun their exploration of musical theater.

We believe that there is something for everybody to love about theater – whether that’s the stage, set building, stage managing, backstage tech, or any other little detail that goes into a production.

Our 2024 Summer Youth Camp will present Alice In Wonderland! Get all the information about camp here.  Registration will close Monday, July 1st. Camp runs Monday through Thursday, from 9:00am-12:00pm ET July 8th, 2024 through August 1st. The final day of camp will feature TWO performances of Alice in Wonderland for friends and family of the campers and the community!


Community Book Drive Brings Donations for River Valley Students & Families
Outreach to Continue with The Acorn’s Little Free Library

, Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024

In our first-ever Community Book Drive, we asked our patrons to donate new children’s books throughout the month of April for infants through teens. In the spirit of Dolly Parton (in celebration of her Imagination Library legacy and in connection with our Music of Dolly Parton tribute concert), our community showed up with books all month long! We were delighted to pass along the donations to River Valley Schools early in May. River Valley’s Director of Teaching and Learning, Lacy Payne, is excited to get the books into the hands of local students and families!

Up next  – The Acorn’s Little Free Library! We’ve all seen these in neighborhoods and communities near and far, and now The Acorn is happy to serve as host of a Little Free Library in front of the theater. Our team is filling up the Little Free Library with books for children and adults who visit our theater or happen to just be passing by. Take a book home from your next Acorn event, or bring one to share!


Program Recap


Check out some of these recent moments at The Acorn.

, Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024

The Acorn Dramatic Arts Team took the show on the road, so to speak, for a recent visit to River Valley Schools 5th through 8th graders. Senior Production Manager and Camp Director Michael Bond invited volunteers from the audience on stage to play a game. We introduced students to our TADA program and encouraged them to join us for our 2024 camp.

, Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024

Current Art at The Acorn Artist Nathan Margoni shares background about his artwork and answers audience questions guided by Janet Davies at an Artist Reception April 16, 2024 for his exhibition Golden Boy, currently on view at The Acorn through June.

, Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024

Alejandro Escovedo and his band created an intimate performance space right out in the audience during their recent performance at The Acorn on Sunday, April 21st. Moments like this one create that ‘One and Only Acorn’ experience, putting fans up close and personal. Photo courtesy of Susan Trestrail.

, Quarterly Newsletter – Spring 2024

We celebrated 30 years of Art Attack at our Launch Party on April 25 – Faces of Harbor Country – featuring live portrait creation of Harbor Country notables Allen & Lynn Turner, Suzanna Bierwirth, Zack Hackett, Laura Jolly and Bridget Verdun, live music by Patti Shaffner and Buddy Pearson and caricatures for event guests. Thank you to our models, musicians and Artists David Baker, Eric Bradford, Zech Ray, Jessica Hightower, Lea Bult, and Kenjii!


What's Next

Friday, May 24
Brooklyn Charmers – The Music of Steely Dan

Saturday, May 25
The Acorn Tree House Presents Mr. Dave

Saturday, May 25
Mr. Blotto

Friday, May 31

Saturday, June 1
Dixon's Violin

Monday, June 3
Pride Open Mic Night at The Acorn featuring Dylan Reed Leavitt

Friday, June 7
The Flat Five

Saturday, June 8
Club Rainbow

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – June 14th – 16th
Acorn Music Festival

Friday, June 21
Danielle Nicole

Sunday, June 23
Sankofa - Midwest Made

Friday, June 28
Metropolitan Jazz Octet - The Bowie Project

Saturday, June 29
The Acorn Tree House Presents Birds of a Feather

Saturday, June 29
Heartache Tonight - A Tribute to The Eagles

Sunday, June 30
The Backups - Midwest Made

Friday, July 5
The Jayhawks

Saturday, July 6
An American Prayer: The Doors Tribute

Sunday, July 7
Resurrection Blues Band - Midwest Made

Thursday, July 11
PettyBreakers: A Tribute to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Friday, July 12
10,000 Maniacs

Saturday, July 13
Acorn Anywhere at Fernwood featuring The Bergamot

Sunday, July 14
Help Hounds - Midwest Made

Thursday, July 18
The Brit Pack

Friday, July 19
2024 Acorn Singer-Songwriter Competition Finals

Saturday, July 20
Swearingen & Kelli w/ The Music of Simon & Garfunkel

Sunday, July 21
Kelly Hoppenjans - Midwest Made

Friday, July 26
Second Hand News – A Tribute To Fleetwood Mac

Saturday, July 27
The Acorn Tree House Presents Sean Masterson Magic

Saturday, July 27
Illegal Smiles: A Tribute To John Prine

Sunday, July 28
PlayHouse - Midwest Made

Saturday, August 3
The Chicago Experience

Sunday, August 4
Stone & Snow - Midwest Made

Thursday, August 8
Great Lake Swimmers

Sunday, August 11
Abbie Thomas & The Crazy Hearts - Midwest Made

Friday, August 16
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers - A CLUB ACORN Show

Saturday, August 17
Mavis Staples

Sunday, August 18
Romantic Journeys: Dunes Broadway Cabaret

Sunday, August 18
Tim Stop - Midwest Made

Friday, August 23
Lydia Loveless

Saturday, August 24
Steve Earle: Alone Again, Solo & Acoustic

Sunday, August 25
Lake Effect Jazz Big Band - Midwest Made

Friday, August 30
Rocks Off: A Tribute To The Rolling Stones

Saturday, August 31
The Acorn Tree House Presents Deep Fried Pickle Project

Saturday, August 31
Wild Earp & The OK Chorale Performing Marty Robbins’ “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs”

Saturday, November 9
Marrakesh Express – A Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young Experience



    • Fall show announcements
    • The return of The Acorn’s Boo Ball!