The Chicago Folk & Roots Festival returns this weekend with another two-day schedule of scruffy folk bands, world music troupes, the now-requisite hypnotic drones from the Sahara Desert and intelligent kids events (including the Wiggleworms' 25th birthday party).
The Saturday headliner -- an intriguing choice -- is an all-instrumental group. They're called the Budos Band, a large ensemble (ranging from nine to 13 members, depending on availability) from Staten Island that plays the kind of music described with a lot of hyphens: neo-Afro-soul-psychedelic-world-jazz. Their new tunes add hard rock into the mix.
But, uh-oh: "All-instrumental" at a "folk and world music" festival translates as "noodling jams and solos that stretch each song to half an hour," right? Fortunately, the Budos Band is not that kind of band. They care more about your experience, not theirs.
"The one thing that differentiates us from other instrumental bands is that we don't like to jam out," said saxman Jared Tankel. "We don't turn songs into 15-minute meandering exercises in -- whatever. We keep the songs pretty tight. I don't know if any songs go past the five-minute mark. We keep things moving. Things are pretty upbeat and fast-paced. This is basically pop music, even if there are no vocals."
CHICAGO FOLK & ROOTS FESTIVAL
Noon-9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Welles Park, Lincoln and Montrose
$10 donation ($5 for seniors and kids)
(773) 728-6000; www.chicagofolkandroots.org
Colleen Miller, director of concerts and events for the Old Town School of Folk Music, which organizes the festival, booked the Budos Band and has no qualms about putting a voice-free band into a headlining slot (8:30 p.m. Saturday on the main stage). If you want to call it a headlining slot.
"We've kind of gotten away from the 'headline' mentality at this festival," Miller said last week. "The festival itself has turned out to be the draw, as long as we book crowd-pleasing stuff in each slot. ... I just love the old soul [of the Budos Band], the stuff they play that's like Earth, Wind & Fire or King Curtis or Curtis Mayfield. They'll be fun no matter where they show up on the schedule."
Tankel spoke with the Sun-Times from a tour stop in Winnipeg, Canada. Each summer, the band's touring takes them through a series of jazz festivals across that country.
"Which is funny because jazz is one thing we don't consider ourselves," he said. "We have some commonality with jazz -- all-instrumental, and we have a horn section -- and somehow we get booked at jazz festivals a lot. We started up as an Afro-beat band and changed into more soul music influence, maybe some Ethiopian jazz influence. On the third record ["Budos Band III," due Aug. 10], the soul's not there so much anymore; there's a lot more of an American rock sound."
But no singer, no assigned focal point. Tankel is as close to a front man as this group has.
"The only time we ever tried vocals was when we toured with the Dap-Kings, opening for them, and at a couple of spots Sharon Jones hopped onstage and sang over some of our songs. We hadn't prepared anything. I think she sang "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" over one of our songs. That happened, like, twice.
"It's just tough to fit a vocalist into this group, partly because we're so big. But also, we work really well together. It's rare for so large a group to be so in sync with each other, both musically as well as just getting along, and onstage it generates all the excitement you need -- and maybe something a little extra."
So don't start packing up early Saturday night.
Here's the main stage schedule for the fest, with a few of my don't miss picks:
12:55 p.m. -- Midwest Fiddle Championship
2:00 p.m. -- Hoyle Brothers
2:55 p.m. -- James King Band
4:05 p.m. -- Red Stick Ramblers
5:05 p.m. -- Gingarte Capoeira Chicago In The Park
5:30 p.m. -- Occidental Brothers featuring Samba Mapangala
7:00 p.m. -- Shemekia Copeland
8:30 p.m. -- The Budos Band
Noon -- Wiggleworms 25th Birthday Party
1:00 p.m. -- Wazo County Warblers & The Fly Boys
1:45 p.m. -- The Boils
2:30 p.m. -- Sanctified Grumblers: Ex-Devil in a Woodpile demon Rick "Cookin'" Sherry and Eric "Leadfoot" Noden pick, grin and even scratch out rags on a washing board. They's old-timey, son.
3:15 p.m. -- Andreas Kapsalis & Goran Ivanovic Guitar Duo: I'm not one to often recommend guitar wankers, but these two gents take me back to the days when I was first mystified by Leo Kottke's left hand. Both on acoustic guitars -- one steel-string, the other nylon -- they rip through songs impressive for their musicality and dexterity. It's a league of (two) crafty guitarists!
4:05 p.m. -- Leonard Jacome
5:30 p.m. -- Red Baraat: Do not let the following description scare you away. Red Baraat is a dhol 'n' brass band (a dhol is a wicked Persian-Punjabi drum), mixing up north Indian bhangra rhythms with a kind of funk music. It's basically a heady expansion of a New Orleans street band, and it's an absolute blast.
7:00 p.m. -- Les Saltimbanks
8:30 p.m. -- Etran Finatawa
In addition to the main stage, there is a dance tent, a kids tent, a staff stage (featuring folks from the Old Town School), sing-alongs at the Welles Park Gazebo and a variety of Latin music on the Nuestra Musica stage.