UC Folk Festival

This weekend is one of my favorite activities in Chicago. It’s the University of Chicago’s Folk Festival in Hyde Park. It’s a celebration of American folk music (occasionally there will be non-American). If you like Irish, bluegrass, or Appalachian music, this is the place to go. It’s been going on for 54 years, which is amazing.

I’ve been going since I was a student and it is where I had many firsts. I saw my first performance of Irish music there. I had loved Irish music for many years but hadn’t really gone out to see it in the flesh. I saw Pat and Ann Marie Broderick playing Irish music, which was my first introduction as well to the bodhram, an Irish drum. I also discovered that I liked blue grass music and realized that there had to be a connection between it and Irish music. It’s where I heard Cajun music for the first time. I had grown up with one Cajun song “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” but I didn’t really know what it was until the Folk festival.  Recently, I’ve come to love Appalachian music and unaccompanied solos.

This year was wondrous as always. My favorite was a female duet, Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle, who played Old-time and Appalachian music. I can never resist an unaccompanied song. They were incredible storytellers (with a picture box to boot!) and I can’t wait to hear more of them.

There were two Irish bands this year, which is always lovely. It was a nice reminder how Irish bands can be so different from one another. The Yanks, a NY based Irish band, played fast paced reels and jigs. The trio of Paddy Homan, Dennis Cahill, and Teresa Shine played slower songs with beautiful vocals. They played a wonderful song called “Johnny Jump Up” about the evils of cider. Fabulous.

There are also workshops that take place on the Saturday and Sunday of the festival. This was the first year that I was able to dedicate some time to it. They take over an entire building on campus at Ida Noyes Hall. Every nook and cranny has a class or musicians just jamming (even in the coat closet). It’s wonderfully inspiring. I went to a little class on Medieval and Renaissance recorder music, which was my cup of tea. I used to play that music in Madison but haven’t been able to keep it up since I moved back to Chicago. I learned about an African-American blues musician from the 1930s and 1960s (he took some time off) from Ari Eisinger, who lead a technically precise and fascinating workshop. I ended with a workshop on banjo stylings. I learned today that I prefer old time banjo playing to blue grass. Who knew?

So if you have the opportunity, go to the performances tonight or tomorrow. There are more workshops tomorrow. It’s a great time and you should check it out if you like awesome music.

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