Smile Politely

Go ahead, Get Rooted this weekend

If you have plans this weekend cancel them now. Go ahead, I’ll wait… That is unless you are already planning on attending the fifth annual Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots festival. Things kick off tonight at 5 p.m. and run through Sunday morning at 2 a.m. Performers and participants from all over the Midwest and beyond will converge on downtown Urbana for this two-day celebration of all things folk.

This year the festival’s theme is “Get Rooted”, calling us to dig into the soil and find ourselves there. It’s about community. The festival is entirely run by a group of dedicated volunteers that work quietly and passionately all year long to put on a good time. Unlike some traditional music festivals where the goal is to cram as many bands on a stage as possible in the shortest amount of time, this festival is big on participation. Almost half of the 91 scheduled festival events are participatory in nature; workshops on a wide range of topics (playing the bones, fingerstyle guitar playing, tin whistle, banjo, ukulele jugband), dances from around the world (swing, contradance, Irish, Scandanavian, Cajun), a ton of jams and sing-alongs, (sea shanties, a shape-note sing, old time, ukulele, drum circles, Cajun), instrument building, storytelling, all sorts for fun for all ages. Venues for the festival include the Iron Post, Independent Media Center, the Urbana Free Library, C4A, the Landmark Hotel, Heartland Gallery, Buvons, Common Ground Food Co-op, Lincoln Square Mall, and Strawberry Fields. The full festival schedule is available here.

Brenda Koenig, festival committee chair, was kind enough to take a moment out of her busy preparations to share what she was most excited about:

There are so many events to be excited about this year, workshops and performances alike! The “How to Play the Bones”, “How to Play the Washboard” and slack key guitar workshops should be super fun and different. The late night jams turned out to be really lively last year, and I expect the same crazy performer/local musicians/festival volunteers/attendee crowd to turn out and crank up the jam vibe. As for performers, it is difficult to choose. I’m planning on getting to the Del Ray sessions, and I’m also looking forward to Friday night at the Heartland Gallery (Kate Fritz, Kathleen Keane/Mike Kirkpatrick/Laura Cortese). We have a great family/all-ages schedule going, including a swing dance for all ages with the Central High School Jazz Ensemble at the Landmark Hotel. Finally, we have a great Mexican band from Chicago, Los Condenados Huastecos, that will be visiting the bilingual program at Leal Elementary and then doing a workshop at Spurlock before their IMC performance. Their fiddler is crazy good… can’t wait!

There are so many performers coming to festival, it would take a huge page to catalog them all. Do yourself a solid and follow that link, the festival page is fantastic. Here are a few highlights to pique your interest: 

Del Rey 

This Seattle native is a complex, pianistic guitarist, described as “a combination of Bo Carter and the Andrews Sisters” (Observant Fan). Her guitar playing is influenced by country blues, stride piano, classic jazz and hillbilly boogie-all filtered through the sensibility of an autodidact trailor-park aesthete. Del Rey is fascinated with the ukulele and plays the same kind of complicated rhythmic blues and ragtime on four strings as she does on six. She expects a lot out of the little instrument, and usually gets it. “The ukulele taken to a new level of musicianship”. (John Book) Come out and put some sounds with the picture that this description paints on Friday from 9:15-10:30 p.m. at the IMC, and Saturday from 9:30-10:45 p.m. at the Iron Post.

Resonator Ukelele? Why not!

Birds of Chicago

Birds of Chicago, is a collective based around JT Nero and Allison Russell. Whether touring as a duo or with the full family band, Nero and Russell have emerged as two of the most compelling new voices in North American Roots music. Nero’s fractured country-soul voice wrapped in Russell’s silver and gold tones, is a fine thing. Not too perfect, not at all saccharine, you’ll hear echoes of mountain gospel, street corner doo-wop, and classic soul. Accompanied by just a banjo and a guitar, it’s haunting. Fired by the band, it’s a full tilt revival. Check them out Friday from 7:45-8:45 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. at the IMC.

Clarinet, guitar, and feelings on a porch at SXSW this spring.

Los Condenados Huastecos

Los Condenados Husatecos are a Chicago-based trio that specializes in the son huasteco music of Mexico’s central gulf coast region. A variant of Mexican son-one of the country’s most emblematic traditional music-types-the huasteco style is distinguished by its virtuosic fiddle playing, canorous falsetto singing, and poetic improvisation. With parallel interests in bridging grassroots connections between the arts and local Latina/o communities, Los Condenados Huastecos have performed at cultural and educational events in the Chicago area, northern Indiana, and central Illinois. The group’s members include Alex Chávez (guitarra quinta huapanguera), Carlos García (jarana), and Juan Rivera (violin) of Latin Grammy Award-nominated Sones de México. See them Friday 3:30-4:30 p.m. at the Spurlock Museum for the Day of the Dead workshop and then in performance from 6-7:15 p.m. at the IMC.

This is fantastic. That fiddler. Whoa.

The Whipstitch Sallies

The Indianapolis Star reports that “The Whipstitch Sallies have been creating a buzz on the local bluegrass/folk music scene.” Their lively, energetic performances engage crowds in festival settings as well as intimate venues. All the band members sing lead and harmony vocals, and this versatility is a strength for the group’s rootsy Americana sound. Allie Burbrink brings driving rhythm and picking on acoustic guitar and banjo while Kat Erickson holds down the groove on upright bass. Meanwhile, Sam Roberts’ powerful mandolin style and Katie Burk’s spirited fiddle leads show their diverse influences—from punk to old-time. No wonder NUVO calls them “bluegrass rockers with panache.” Come hear these ladies tear down the Rosebowl on Saturday 8:45-10 p.m.

The Fights

Locals The Fights are getting in on the action, too. The Fights got together in October 2012 and the band has done their very best to keep elements of roots and early American music as threads tying them to modern alternative music. Much of The Fights’ inspiration comes from modern as well as the more “dated” artists who’ve put emphasis on songwriting/storytelling. After a year The Fights have released a self-titled E.P. and are patiently awaiting the release of their recently recorded debut full-length album. Come out and support these local folks on Friday from10:30-11:45 p.m. at the Rose Bowl.

Amusing video below. As a bonus—it wasn’t shot on a camera phone!

Bones, Jugs and Harmony

Another newer local group bringing some crazy energy to the scene, these guys are fantastic. From the band:

Bones, jug, xylophone, wind power (clarinet, trombone, udderbot, kazoos,) resonator guitar, banjo, double bass, drums, all sorts of noise makers. These are some of what will be played with at one of our shows. The group began with the dream of throwing a high-energy party with acoustic instruments. We learned some old piano rags (The Whistler, Log Cabin Blues, Chromatic Foxtrot) with xylophone leading the way. Now we have introduced a combination of originals and covers of both old and new songs, as old as Leroy Carr’s “Barrelhouse Women”, and the good old “Salty Dog Blues” and as new as Beastie Boys “Girls” and Abigail Washburn’s “Devine Bell.” We are highly influenced by jugbands and stringbands, both new and old. We want to party, we want, we want to party, with you, and your friends, and other people that neither of us know. We’re hoping we can all dance till we fall down, sing till our voices can not be found, and smile till our faces fall off. Bones.

See these guys do what they do on Saturday from 8:00-9:15 p.m. at the Iron Post.

Old-timey face-melting xylophone? So good.

The festival wristband is $30 and gets you into all events and venues. Think about what you’d be spending this weekend if you didn’t go to the festival. For the cost of a couple of pitchers you can have two jam-packed (pun intended) days of music, dance, and good times. You’re actually saving money by going to the festival. It’s a stellar deal, and because the festival is organized and run by volunteers the bulk of the price goes right to the performers. If that is too rich for your blood, much of the festival is free- including all the jams, workshops, and morning/afternoon events on Saturday. There is a $5 cover for each of the dances. All of the performances Friday and Saturday evening have a cover charge, cost varies by venue ($5-$15). Further clarification on pricing and more here.

Its pretty incredible that this festival is happening right here in C-U. The festival ethos is about supporting “evolving and unique forms of folk music and art, especially forms that break down barriers between audience and performers, while also providing the occasion to preserve local traditions and histories.” That’s something worth doing, something worth supporting. Grab your ukes, your mandolins, your bones, your jugs, your kids, your dancing shoes and come celebrate this local treasure. I’ll see you there. 

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