High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Brass Tacks and Grass Roots: The OTSFM 9th Annual Folk and Roots Festival

A little musical math first: I've been taking classes at Old Town since 2001. That means I've missed the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th annual Folk and Roots Festivals, which I should have known about. We'll write off the 4th to me still being an utter N00b. The 5th, I'm pretty sure, fell during an every-other-year, out-of-town hippy house party event. The 6th, I couldn't tell you. The 7th, I'll blame the same hippy house party, and the 8th I was definitely out of town. But the real reason that this is the first one I've made is because this is the first year that M had drunk the kool-aid. Great Bluedini, of course.

As is typical of us, we set out much later than we had intended. We paid for our slacking ways, though, I assure you, because on the red line, we shared a car with the five most obnoxious children in Chicago, who beat on the window behind M's head with drumsticks and made up songs about the stops that consisted entirely of the word "Fuck"; they then shrieked their compositions at ear-splitting volume. It was a good time, let me tell you. What was honestly worse than that, though, was the fact that we completely missed the mainstage set by Eric Noden and Joe Filisko, which I am truly heartsick about.

When we arrived, the Lost Bayou Ramblers were on the main stage. We grabbed ourselves some andouille sausages and settled down to listen for a bit. They were enjoyable, although M was mightily concerned about their authenticity until the accordion appeared. I say if you have a cowboy riding an accordion as your logo, you qualify for hardcore Cajun status.

Shortly before 4 PM, we wandered over to the ghettoized staff stage (physically outside the confines of the official festival) to hear Mark Dvorak and the Pickin' Bubs. We caught the tail end of a group called Signal Hill Road---I didn't recognize any of the performers, so I can't say who the staff member was, but I do wonder what the banjo player had against such a fine-looking crowd, because he spent the whole time facing the back of the tent. The Bubs were a lot of fun, although they were underamplified, which kept us from really getting into some of what looked like some damned fine fingerpicking. And in good Old Town tradition, the "bubs" consist of the people who pop by the Grafton Pub on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month to play.

From the staff tent, we went (eventually) in search of the gazebo where instructors were supposedly jamming throughout the day. It was at this late date that we finally got our hands on a program, only to learn that we'd just missed the acoustic blues jam with Chris Walz and Skip Landt, who organized the entire blues series at Oakton (and who was M's harmonica teacher). We were in time to watch the (Bobless, as the Amoreys had a gig---apparently a more important gig--- in Wisconsin) WIlco Ensemble setting up. And setting up some more. And setting up still more. (They were having some issues.)

But when they did get set up, they done Bob proud, particularly when they dedicated "I Must Be High" to him. Also, there were many cute puppies and some genuine Lincoln Square characters (a woman wearing, among other things, a Punchy straw hat some dangerous-looking metal around her waist, accompanied by a woman who was easily 774 years old), who I'd hoped were going to start a little something with the volunteer staff.

We decided to wander off and shop a bit just as, of course, the Wilco folks finally came around to "Casino Queen," which I'd been yearning to hear. As we wandered through the tents and M obtained some ground meat product that may or may not have been made by the sworn enemies of 25% of my people (Serbians), we got to hear a little of The James Hand Band. He sounded very old school country and cool, but I have to tell you that my beer was at that time advising me of what a poor decision it would be to sit in the sun at that moment in time. I got a cute tie-dyish hippie shirt that is all gathers (M seems to be a fan), a pair of small chalcedony earrings, and a Nasca monkey pendant.

By then it was well past time for me to not be shopping anymore. (Hello? Completely broke, here!) Fortunately, the siren song of Read My Hips was calling to us from the park. They were awesome to watch. Probably 7 or 8 of them were there in full costume, up to and including finger cymbals (except for one woman who seems to have missed a memo on the cymbal note). They were accompanied by an amplified sitar and a single guy on three (I think) of the drums (I cannot remember the name of them, although we used on for Mother Courage and Her Children), a set of bells on one leg, a tambourine he worked with a foot pedal, and a set of regular cymbals on stands.

They started with a group number and then a couple women peeled off to the background as individuals rotated to the front for small featured bits. Then one of the women who'd stepped off for a time came out and did very dangerous-looking things with a sword, including balancing it on her head for a good long time. Two others then did a mirroring dance that was fabulous, and then there was more group stuff. Really gorgeous.

That led us back to the main stage for the Robbie Fulks Secret Country set. Robbie and his band started off with a few songs and then welcomed Joy Lynn White to the stage and stayed on as her band. She started out with Keep this Love, which left me a bit in doubt as to the truth of Robbie's statement that her voice is all sweet spot---not a bad song, but that one just didn't grab me.

But not to worry, because Girls with Apartments in Nashville definitely did, as did Just Some Girl, Good Rockin' Mama, Tonight The Heartache's on Me, and well, everything else I can think of that she did. Incidentally, I'm glad to have gotten to see her in person, because I don't think the recordings (at least through my laptop speakers) do her voice justice, and they certainly don't convey what a warm, funny performer she is.

Somewhere in the middle of the Secret Country set, a 14-year-old version of Jay (of Jay & Silent Bob fame) appeared with a friend. He was . . . very enthusiastically dancing his way stageward. I thought I might finally have my incident, especially when he pulled out a fifth of Jack Daniels that was about 2/3 full and began exhorting the dad guy next to him to have a swig. Tragically, a Welles Park security person took care of the situation. (Sort of, she made him put it away, which seems a bit weak, really.)

After forcing Joy Lynn into one more number than she'd intended to do, Robbie and the band did another while waiting for Al Anderson to come on. Now, if you've listened to music in almost any genre since---oh---Rose Kennedy had a large number of living relatives, you've almost certainly heard a song written by Big Al. (Seriously, check it out.) So he walks on the stage, and it's kind of like somone's Uncle Theobald has gotten into the cooking sherry again and found an electric guitar (which, in violation of Guitar Hero rules, he wears above his belt). And he starts playing the FUCK out of that guitar. It had all the delicious filth of a steel guitar, and then he did things to it that I'd fear to do in the privacy of my own home. I totally needed a cigarette.

I was also kind of dazed, so I'm trying to remember what he sang---definitely finished up with a fantastic version of "Get Rhythm," casually name dropped Etta James before launching into "Changes Is Gonna Do You Good," got a holy crap out of M and I both when he started up "All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down," and we are wailing and gnashing our teeth over a new original song that we THINK might be called "White Flag," which kicked ass. It seems possible that we might have missed the ultimate riot when the main stage wrangler came out and denied Al an encore, but by then we had to be on the road.

I'm heading back tomorrow to do a stint volunteering at the entrance, so I hope I can keep myself from wandering off and frolicking with the hippy babies in Ramones shirts. Which reminds me: Why don't ALL babies have Ramones shirts? Riddle me that.

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