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U of C Folk Festival turns 50

The University of Chicago Folk Festival celebrates its 50th anniversary this weekend, and the Sun Times has a nice piece on what it means to younger fans and musicians (like Chicago’s star Irish fiddler Liz Carroll, who appears Saturday and Sunday nights).

The Gary Post Tribune gives a good sense of what to expect:  the range of styles at the evening shows at Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th (bluegrass to blues, Creole to bagpipes); the lovely ambience of the free daytime workshops that fill Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 E. 59th (“Wear your dancing shoes and join a room full of folks learning barn, Cajun, Irish or Scandinavian social dancing from experienced instructors, then dance to live music…join in sea shanty songs or hear programs like the story of the accordion through the ages”); not to mention that jam sessions that fill the nooks and crannies of the building all day.

A few weeks ago the Hyde Park Herald talked to a number of veterans of the festival’s early days.  The emphasis on traditional, noncommercial folk is what distinguished it from East Coast rivals in the heyday of the 1960s folk revival, noted Nina Helstein.  “It’s not Peter Paul and Mary,” she said. “It’s what people play on their back porch and learn from their uncle.”

And Bob Kass remembered a 1962 trip through the South with Larry Kart  to recruit rural performers, which earned them a solo performance from Mississippi Fred McDowell in his sharecropper’s cabin.

Fiddler Genevieve Koester, a native of Charleston, Illinois, and resident of Uptown, has gotten some hometown press (the Journal Gazette-Times Courier and the Times of Northwest Indiana) for her appearance Saturday and Sunday with the traditional string band New Mules (they also play a barn dance session Saturday afternoon).  According to the Times, Koester and company are renowned on “the barn-dance circuit that stretches from Valparaiso to Evanston,” performing “fast, fiddle-powered tunes steeped in the string-band tradition of rural Illinois.”

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Category: arts, history, Hyde Park


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