The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Aaron Bros Sidebar

Preview: The University Folk Fest Returns to Mandel Hall

What festival organizer Nick Rommel calls a “64-year-old jubilee of song and dance and stories that come out of the sometimes decaying, sometimes beautifully aged woodwork of this nation” returns February 9 and 10.
Credit%3A+University+of+Chicago+Folklore+Society.+Scenes+from+last+year%E2%80%99s+annual+folk+festival%2C+which+returns+to+Mandel+Hall+next+month.+
Credit: University of Chicago Folklore Society. Scenes from last year’s annual folk festival, which returns to Mandel Hall next month.

Do you have a hankering for harmonica? A fancy for the fiddle? A burning for some bluegrass?

Then make sure you join the University of Chicago Folklore Society for the 64th annual Folk Festival, February 9 and 10 at Mandel Hall, which brings together a fierce and varied crew of traditional musicians for a weekend of fiddle and banjo–scored celebration.

In the ecstatic words of Folklore Society Co-President Nick Rommel, the folk festival “is a 64-year-old jubilee of song and dance and stories that come out of the sometimes decaying, sometimes beautifully aged woodwork of this nation.”

This year’s star acts include The Price Sisters, a pair of harmony singing twins from the Midwest; Brian Conway, the preeminent fiddler in the little-known “Sligo style”; and Ruby John, a fiddler of the Odawa Nation of Michigan who blends traditional Native American fiddling with the bluegrass tradition of trans-Appalachian autoworkers. One of last year’s greatest hits—Jerron Paxton, dean of Black folk music, “a vessel for echoes of the past” in Rommel’s words—is back this year for a two-night engagement.

In its pursuit of artists, the festival’s most important goal is authenticity, Rommel said. In early years, the festival famously turned down Bob Dylan—he was hardly a folk singer, organizers argued, since he wrote his own music.

At the Folklore Society’s weekly meetings, members of the group survey a wide range of folk music, Rommel said. But the same key questions always wind up animating their discussions: what makes something traditional? What are the qualifications of authenticity?

“I think the Folk Fest is a platform for experimenting with different answers to those questions,” Rommel said.

And the exploration of authenticity doesn’t end with the Friday and Saturday night concerts. All day Saturday, Ida Noyes will come alive with free workshops, dances, and jam sessions, Rommel said.

“We’re gonna have a Scottish dance and a klezmer dance, a barn dance, a Scandinavian dance and a Balkan dance,” Rommel said, with fresh-faced enthusiasm. Other activities include “many concerts and lessons from our musicians” as well as crafting classes like quilting and crocheting.

As always, the Folk Festival is looking for volunteers to make sure that its concerts and events move swiftly. Volunteers receive free concert tickets and an invitation to the Folk Festival’s Saturday night closing party, which sees touring musicians and student volunteers two-step together into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

The festival concerts begin at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 9, and at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 10. Tickets are $5 for students, $20 for seniors, and $30 for the general public. The lineup can be found at www.uofcfolk.org or on the University of Chicago Folk Festival Facebook page. 

Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to email uofcfolk@gmail.com.

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About the Contributor
Noah Glasgow, Head Arts Editor
Noah Glasgow is a third-year student in the College studying history. As a senior reporter, he has covered student activists, followed the University’s research initiatives, and profiled David Axelrod. He now edits the Maroon's Arts section. He spent the summer of 2022 as a reporter for the Vineyard Gazette of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts and the summer of 2023 working freelance for Block Club Chicago. 
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