Tune up your banjos and tighten your bowstrings, break out your square-dancing shoes, and brush up on those polka steps your great-aunt taught you — the Champaign-Urbana Folk & Roots Festival returns for its fourth year this weekend to downtown Urbana. The Folk & Roots festival is this community’s musical labor of love: two days and three nights of great music, jams, instruction, storytelling, and folklore booked, organized, and run completely by volunteers in Champaign-Urbana. Getting out to this event should be a no-brainer for the same reasons that you shop local, cruise the Urbana Farmers’ Market, or enjoy the many, great, local restaurants in this community. The acts and participants this year are nearly all local or regional. They all play diverse music from a wide variety of traditions. Many take some time to teach you a bit of their craft, and a good portion of Friday and Saturday feature activities that the whole family can enjoy. Yes, please bring your children. They will sing or strum a ukelele for the first time. It will make you happy.
Below, you’ll find a quick roundup of acts that we’re most excited about — most defy any kind of clear and easy genre designation, all are amazing. See a full listing of events as well as a festival schedule at the Folk & Roots fest site. Also take a few minutes to reread our interview with Brenda Koenig, one of the founding organizers of the festival.
Red Tail Ring — Friday at 9:00 p.m., Iron Post: My favorite discovery from last year’s festival. The duo Red Tail Ring hails from Michigan and play a lovely modern take on old-time music in the vein and virtuosity of Gillian Welsh and David Rawlings.
Blind Boy Paxton with Brandon Bailey — Saturday at 7:15 p.m., Rose Bowl: I missed Blind Boy last year, and regretted it. This year he brings his banjo and blues back with acclaimed “harp-boxer,” Brandon Bailey.
Robbie Fulks — Friday at 10:45 p.m, Urbana IMC: Robbie infuses quick wit with fantastic guitar playing. One song, the below “Cigarette State,” and I was hooked.
The Freight Hoppers — Friday at 9:30 p.m., Urbana IMC: The festival bills them as “one of old-time’s most powerful and dynamic bands,” and it’s true. Old-time sometimes gets discussed in terms of its “authenticity” — this band’s got it in droves.
Devil in a Woodpile — Saturday at 10:30 p.m., Rose Bowl: Do you like some jug and kazoo in your turn-of-the-century blues? Me too.
New Old Cavalry — Friday at 7:45 p.m., Iron Post: Fun? Yes. “Authentic?” Eh, not really. But who cares?
The Cornstalker Cajun Band — Friday at 8:15 p.m., Urbana IMC: One of Tom and Matt Turino’s many musical projects. You should come to dance at this one.