Off Square Music ... This Is Our Story

Off Square Music ... This Is Our Story

Off Square Music is the heart and soul of the Woodstock music scene and the center of musical energy in McHenry County, Illinois. From all of its year-round indoor live music venues to outdoor special events and the award winning Woodstock Farmers Market, musicians and non-musicians alike travel to Woodstock to learn, hear and play music of many genres. Read more about our history in "About."

Greg Brown

With roots in small town Iowa, Greg Brown’s rich folk style is heavily influenced by his origins. His mother played electric guitar, his grandfather was a banjo player and his father was a Holy Roller preacher.

Brown’s songwriting has been lauded by many, and his songs have been covered by Willie Nelson, Carlos Santana, Joan Baez, Mary Chapin Carpenter and more. At the personal request of Jeff Bridges, Brown also contributed songs for Bridges’ Oscar-Winning role in the film, Crazy Heart.

Ultimately, Brown is a storyteller who moves his audiences with his warmth, humor and deeply human musical vision.

Don Stiernberg

Don Stiernberg recently began his fifth decade as a working musician. Along the way he has been involved in many musical activities: performing, writing, recording, producing, and teaching, but is best known for his mandolin playing.

Born and still based in Chicago, the mandolin found Don as he grew up “out in the woods” in the nearly-rural suburb of Wauconda, IL. A desire to make music with his banjo and guitar playing brother led Don to appropriate a mandolin that had been given to him.

Things came into focus both mandolin and life-wise when his parents sent Don to study with Jethro Burns, famous comedian (Homer and Jethro) and the greatest mandolinist of his time. From the very first lesson, Burns was more than a teacher. He was role model, hero, mentor, and friend, and Stiernberg was hooked and hooked bad on the mandolin.

His earliest professional experience was in a bluegrass band with his brother (The Morgan Bros.)and a bit later in The Jethro Burns Quartet.

For more information, visit Don’s website:

Bo Ramsey


Sometimes the music chooses an artist. It can arrive in the form of a sound heard in the middle of silence, or maybe a certain guitar is ready to share its secrets. Either way, the spirit world is involved and there is no way to stop it. 

Bo Ramsey is used to an outside world invading his inner world with deep messages and mesmerizing songs. As it came time for Ramsey to record again, an idea that had been hanging around would not be denied: an instrumental album. Of course, it has to be a little more convoluted than that. “We have a big kitchen in our house, and I’m always playing guitar in there,” Ramsey says. “There always seems to be two or three amps in there too. One day last fall I was on the road and swung into a guitar store in the Twin Cities and on a stand sitting on top of an amplifier was an old Harmony electric guitar. Just yelling on me.”

That Harmony “yelling” was the birth of Bo Ramsey’s irresistible new album WILDWOOD CALLING. The musician, who was born and raised in Burlington, Iowa, and has lived in Iowa City the past few decades, has carved out a unique career for 40 years. And it shows not one sign of slowing down. He has been involved in enough high-profile and low-down endeavors to have become somewhat of a legend, but a legend who still hides from the spotlights and leans away from stardom. Maybe that’s because Ramsey has mystifyingly maintained a devotion to the music side of the music business, and lets everything else fall by the side. Naturally, an all-instrumental album was just a matter of time.

After buying the Harmony guitar, a series of inspirations began to land. First were some musical ideas that got recorded on Ramsey’s phone, and then a band of like-minded musicians began to converge, and get mixed and matched. Finally drummer JT Bates and bassist Marty Christensen found themselves together in Bo Ramsey’s kitchen with engineer Adam Krinsky. Of course, it had to be in the kitchen because that’s where the idea was born and that’s where it had to come to life. Still, the emotional side of the music had to emerge before “the keepers” started being recorded. That is exactly what happened in the two days the players were together in that Iowa kitchen. With Alex Ramsey chiming in on three tracks by way of Minnesota, adding lush living-room piano and perfectly hushed basement keyboards.

It only takes a few seconds of listening to realize something completely off the grid has been captured on WILDWOOD CALLING. Maybe that’s because there’s as much silence as there is sound. Musical guru Miles Davis once famously said that it is “what isn’t played” that is really at the heart of so much timeless music, and that is the secret to Ramsey’s new opus. It is a sound that could probably only hail from the vast heartland of America, a place that hasn’t been completely cluttered with buildings, cars and people. There is so much breathing room on these songs that it feels just like a new life has just been born. 

For those who might recognize Bo Ramsey by his association with artists like Lucinda Williams, Greg Brown, Kevin Gordon, Pieta Brown, Charlie Parr and others, his new music is the perfect introduction to someone who always listens and plays with his own sonic vision in full motion. So not surprisingly, the list of Ramsey’s accolades is long: including Grammy-Award Winning Guitar Player, 2 Time Grammy Nominated Producer, Iowa Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and Iowa Blues Hall of Famer. And if there were other Iowa halls of fame he would no doubt be in them too. But above all, Ramsey is a proud card-carrying member of his own hall of fame, which is the one where he chases the sounds in his head and his heart. He is always looking for a way to wrestle them into a recording so he can share that love of music with friends and strangers alike. WILDWOOD CALLING is an album for the ages, and the perfect calling card for anyone with an interest in hearing the past, the present and the future rolled into one. Long may Bo Ramsey run.

~ Bill Bentley. July 2016.

For more information, visit

Welcome to Off Square Music … this is our story

Woodstock is the center of musical energy in McHenry County, Illinois. From all of its year-round indoor live music venues to outdoor special events and the award winning Woodstock Farmers Market, musicians and non-musicians alike travel to Woodstock to learn, hear and play music of many genres.

Our story …

Off Square Music was started in 2003. The Mast House Concert Series could no longer hold formal concerts. The sing-a-long was okay, but we could not sell tickets and pay performers at a private house in Woodstock.

The Mast House Concert committee at that time was John Hoyt, David Ashby and Keith Johnson. We applied for a federal tax number and the journey began. Judy Matzen soon joined us and a few years later Roger Benson was onboard. Judy and Keith wrote the 501-C-3 application and we were incorporated in the state of Illinois. The journey began.

From this small beginning, Off Square Music became involved in other events. We now sponsor open mics, concerts, music at the farmers market and an annual event on the square called Harvest Fest. We help other events with their sound needs and do performances at retirement facilities.

We encourage teachers to use Off Square Music events as an opportunity for their students to perform or give recitals by sponsoring a performance fund that helps defray their expenses at the Stage Left Café.

The current Off Square Music board includes Andy Andrick, Gloria Burchfield, Kent Fishburn, John Hoyt, Don Humbertson, Keith Johnson, Laurel Palma, Joe Pesz and Rich Prezioso.

About Off Square Music

Off Square Music is a Woodstock nonprofit folk music organization.  We are dedicated to promoting live music. For more information about this or other Off Square Music events, please visit our website often as well as Off Square Music on Facebook and Twitter (@offsquaremusic1).

Off Square Music thanks you for your support.