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 15, 2007

Punk-Ass Apron Strings: The Knitters at the OTSFM 10th Annual Folk and Roots Festival

This weekend was, for a long time, a quantum weekend. There are many places that I was potentially going to be, right up until the point that I was going to be . . . well, home. Hey, it happens. And it happens to have left me free to carry giant steel garbage cans.

So this weekend is the 10th annual Folk and Roots Festival at the Old Town School of Folk Music, this year is the 50th anniversary of the school, and yesterday happens to have been the first full 24-hour period that the new executive director has lived in Chicago. So clearly the festival runs the risk of being crushed under the weight of its own history. The crushing may be yet to come, but it's more than halfway there at this point.

Once I knew that I wasn't going to have to jet off anywhere at a moment's notice, I told the volunteer coordinator that I had no special requests, other than wanting to be free to see The Knitters, and she should feel free to put me to work. She took me at my word and I did four hours of load in on Friday, which included the aforementioned garbage cans. My forearms may never forgive me, but honestly it's the first volunteer gig I've had where I didn't feel like I was running some kind of scam on the school by getting credits toward classes or concerts for . . . having fun and not doing a whole lot.

So heavy lifting is a great counterbalance to the scam I've been running recently, which is volunteering in the resource center. This involves being surrounded by walls of books, drawers full of CDs, DVDs, and Videos, and occasionally burning a CD, shelving things, or doing a little data entry. Oh, and I am supposed to watch and/or listen to whatever I want to bring people in. Did you catch that? I am earning credits for classes for weeping over Steve Goodman tributes while I knit. My forearms will get over it.

Saturday, I was on macaroni art duty at the kids' art tent, which basically involved standing where I could see and hear the main stage, answering maybe 5 questions all day, and occasionally telling people they could just squeeze in wherever they could find seats at a beading or paper-bag-puppet-making table. I did witness 9-year-old guitarists performing "Stayin' Alive," which I'm pretty sure is in violation of all laws of god and man, but that was the worst of it. Oh, and some extremely nice man gave me my soothing green wrap skirt for half price because I was still wearing my volunteer shirt.

M joined me around 6:30 and we availed ourselves of festival food. (Hippy festivals have superior food in this regard: We had great, superspicy andouille. Later, I had a malt, and the ZK a corn dog and a shake. Oh, also lemonade with crack in it. The parting funnel cake, sadly, was only so so.) Then we sat in the grass, enjoying the just-about-perfect weather, for a while waiting for The Knitters to take the stage.

John Doe and Dave Alvin (the former looking unremarkable in a t-shirt, the latter sporting a jaunty cravat) came out first and warmed up the crowd with Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" and The Knitters' own "I'm Crying but my Tears Are Far Away." When the rest of the band took the stage, people started standing up and blocking our view, so we made our way to the stage-left fringe of the foot-tapping pit (the gentle hippy equivalent of the mosh pit, of course). The ZK was unduly traumatized by Exene's apron. For my part, it was the sparkly applique on the demure cardigan that blew my mind.

We were making our way up front during "Give Me Flowers While I'm Living," and I think "Walkin' Cane" was up next. John Doe, who is a terrible liar, had promised that "Silver Wings" and "Cryin'" would be the only two sad songs they sang that night. So naturally, I called shenanigans on "Why Don't We Even Try Anymore."

M: What, no one's shot in the breast. No one's dead. This isn't sad.
Me: It's a sad song about marriage.
M: Aren't they all?

He's a funny guy. I might even miss him when I go walking with him down by the river and listen to my knife, which is inexplicably whispering to me to kill him, and I end by shooting him in the breast. Of course, The Knitters provided the soundtrack of my revenge by doing "I'll Go Down Swinging," a cautionary tale for cheating men and a marvelous tribute to the death of dignity for women who've been cheated on. Wait a minute . . . !

We got most of the greats, including "Long Chain On," "Skin Deep Town" (which I'd heard and hadn't really cared for; but now I'm in love after having seen it live), "Dry River," of course "The New Call of the Wreckin' Ball" (I defy you not to stomp along with this song), "Poor Little Critter on the Road," "Baby Out of Jail" (one of the death songs required by contract of all performers at Folk Festivals), and "Poor Old Heartsick Me."

They tried to end with the fabulously erratic, multi-generic "Born to Be Wild," (or was it "Poor Old Heartsick Me"?) but the crowd called them back for two encores. For the first, they did "Rock Island Line." I'm pretty sure this was the one they gave the Merri Mac treatment in homage to the punk rocker in Exene. Earlier, I'd commented to the ZK that it must be hard on DJ Bonebreak when everyone else decides to rock out, given that he's just got a snare and a teeny crash cymbal. I could not stop laughing, therefore, when one of his brushes completely exploded. He soldiered on with just one and calmly pulled a stick out of his back pocket to finish up. That's jazz-drummer cool right there.

By the second encore, he had a second brush again. Sure, he probably has redundancy in the system because it's a good idea, but I like to think that he's been exploding brushes across the country for 2.5 decades. John nixed any ideas of a third encore by declaring that they'd played all they knew, but the crowd was unconvinced enough that many of them stayed through some of the new ED's thanks and commentary (and that's saying something).

We made our way back to the bizarro-world brown line (basically, they'd switched the side of the tracks you stand on, so that the signage is telling you terrific lies about the direction in which the train will travel), and then to the Rock Island. What should have been a nice, quiet ride home was spoiled by 9 fucking Cubs fans who were sloppy, ugly, loud drunk. Fuck all you all for harshing my Punk Country buzz.

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