U of C Folk Festival Offers Chance to Get Intimate With Musicians

By Sam Cholke on February 8, 2013 12:58pm 

 Participants at the 2010 University of Chicago Folk Fest have an informal jam session in the afternoon before the evening's performances. This year's festival begins Friday.
Participants at the 2010 University of Chicago Folk Fest have an informal jam session in the afternoon before the evening's performances. This year's festival begins Friday.
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University of Chicago Folk Festival/Paul Watkins

HYDE PARK — For more than half a century, the University of Chicago Folk Festival has brought American roots music into Mandel Hall on campus — but also into the homes of neighborhood residents. 

At the annual festival, which runs Friday through Sunday, it’s a tradition for the performers to hang out for the afternoon with fans and acolytes at workshops, then play concerts in the evenings, and then stay in the home of a friendly Hyde Parker. Residents get to know the musicians, and the performers can get the benefit of a home-cooked meal, among other advantages.

“For the people who do it, it’s great,” organizer Ezra Deutsch-Feldman said of those who host the performers. “You get to spend time with these great bands from all over the world.”

Deutsch-Feldman helped organize the festival and find homes for musicians to stay in from 2007 to 2010. He moved to Washington, D.C., but still flies back every year to help coordinate the 53-year-old festival.

This year’s performers include Chicago blues guitarist Elmore James Jr., old-time fiddler Kirk Sutphin and concertina player Bertram Levy. Irish fiddler James Kelly and guitarist Dáithí Sproule will also play.

If you can’t catch the evening, ticketed performances in Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th St., the performers also participate in afternoon workshops and dances — which are all free.

Workshops include sessions Saturday on fiddle styles from West Virginia, Scandinavian dance and a concertina lesson. Sunday offers a barn dance, a harmonica workshop and a lesson on sea shanties.

The workshops often spill out into the crevices and corners of Mandel Hall for informal jam sessions.

“Bring your guitar, bring your harmonica and bring your accordion and hold up in a stairwell with people who like the same kind of music and just play,” said Kate Early, who organized the festival in 1983 and 1984 as a student and who has stayed on to help the student-run Folklore Society book the festival.

Early said the music has changed a little over time, but the Hyde Park tradition has remained true to its roots.

“Over time, we had to let in more revivalists, not the masters, but people who learned from the masters,” Early said.

For more information and a full list of performers and workshops, visit uofcfolk.org.

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