Though it’s probably the least hyped of any of Chicago’s major summer music fests, the Old Town School of Folk Music’s Folk & Roots Festival is one of the most inviting and musically rewarding, with a welcoming communal vibe born of the staff’s vital role as educators and eclectic booking that offers something for every taste.
The 11th annual fest takes place Saturday and Sunday at Welles Park in Lincoln Square (Lincoln Avenue between Montrose and Sunnyside), and the music kicks off on the main stage at 12:55 tomorrow afternoon with Special Music by Special People, an ensemble stemming from the Park District’s program for aspiring musicians with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome and director by Joe Yost and other volunteer musicians.
Read on for an overview of the rest of the offerings.
At 1:30, Chicago music scene mainstay Charles Kim (a veteran of Pinetop Seven and the Sinister Luck Ensemble, among many other groups) takes the stage with his current project the Astronomer, which mines the sonic turf pioneered by art-rock legend Brian Eno and Krautrock bands such as Can.
Guitar teacher Dan Fulkerson and his indie-pop group Unibrow perform at 2, followed by Grupo Miel at 2:45. Founded in Chicago in 1969 as Los Consules de Colombia (the Colombian Consuls), Grupo Miel is one of several Latin bands performing over the course of the weekend as part of the Nuestra Musica: Latino Chicago project.
There’s no such thing as a real Chicago music celebration without an appearance by Jon Langford, and the Mekons/Waco Brothers legend takes the stage at 3:45 with the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus for a typical Langford-ized take on traditional male harmony groups.
Day One wraps up with David Davis and the Warrior River Boys (5 p.m.), a renowned bluegrass group from Alabama; Slavic Soul Party! (6:30), a genre-defying blend of Gypsy brass, Balkan folk music and American funk, and the Mother Truckers (8:15), the Austin, TX-based American/roots rock quarter.
Sunday afternoon’s main stage lineup begins at 12:55 with the Midwest Invitational Fiddle Contest, which offers cash prizes to adult and junior fiddlers or bands who can prove they’ve got the hoe-down goods, followed at 2:15 by Martin Olivares y Los Vencedores, a trio that mixes traditional Mexican Nortena music with world rhythms from Columbia and Spain.
Certain to be one of the highlights of the fest, New Orleans’ Iguanas (3:30) have long been considered the Crescent City’s answer to Los Lobos, while Les Primitifs du Futur (5 p.m.) were famously founded by underground cartoonist R. Crumb (who does not tour with the group) and guitarist Dominique Cravic to explore “musette,” the 1930s groove mixing swing, Gypsy and polka rhythms with Django Reinhardt-style guitar.
At 6:30, African singer, dancer and percussionist Dobet Gnahore will highlight the high-energy rhythms and gorgeous vocal melodies of the Ivory Coast; at 7:45, Yaneida Rivera and Michael Reyes will provide a poetic interlude as part of another Nuestra Musica performance and the fest will close with a much-anticipated set starting at 8:15 by Kinky, the always energizing quintet from Monterrey, Mexico, that explores an utterly unique blend of traditional Latin sounds and cutting-edge electronic dance music.
In addition to the headlining shows, the festival offers a plethora of other activities, including the Kids Tent (with shows by the Wiggleworms teachers, rhythm circles, Tahitian dance lessons and a Live Band Karaoke for Kids hosted by Langford, among other offerings); the Dance Tent (with sessions exploring everything from Aztec dance to Zydeco dance, as well as the always enticing belly dancing); the Nuestra Musica Tent (highlighting Latin American poets and artisans); performances at the park’s Gazebo by Old Town classes devoted to playing the music of Warren Zevon, David Bowie, the Kinks, the Beatles and Wilco and an after-hours acoustic jam on both nights from 7 to 9:45 p.m.
For a full schedule of all performances and activities, visit www.chicagofolkandroots.org or call the Old Town School of Folk Music at (773) 728-6000. There is no set admission, but the suggested donations are $7 for adults, $3 for seniors and children.