February 13, 2019

by Caleigh Stephens
February 13, 2019

In its 59th iteration, the UChicago Folk Festival returns to campus this weekend, replete with rollicking rhythms, dynamic melodies, and a deep love for the musical style.

The event will feature concerts at 8pm on Friday, Feb 15th and 7:30pm on Saturday, Feb 16, with free workshops in Ida Noyes Hall during the day on Saturday. The festival is student-run by the UChicago Folklore Society and includes disparate genres of folk music, including bluegrass, old-time, Cajun, and Irish music. The event features performers from the community in Chicago, but also draws musicians from around the Midwest and the country.

“We have a great blues and Irish scene in Chicago, so we don't necessarily need to go that far to get really great artists in those genres,” said Mahathi Ayyagari, co-president of the Folklore Society. “But things like Cajun, we're looking for people who are well-versed in that tradition...people in Louisiana or other places in the South, similarly with bluegrass and Old-time.”

Ayyagari explains that the festival, born out of the countercultural movement of the 1960s, is an event that was created with the mission of celebrating folk music as the music of communities and of the people. Today, the festival is still rooted in the tradition of the music, and focuses on showcasing the best in different genres of folk music.

Ayyagari spoke to the importance of the “storied” community, remarking on the fact that people come year after year, some having come longer than she’s been alive. 

“It’s a very specific kind of community—people are very into it—and I think that opens up doors for us to have conversations about that during the day, during the workshops, [and] during the concert,” Ayyagari said, “Our performers are super open, and love to answer questions and interact with people about their music.”

For first timers, she recommends attending the workshops on Saturday and seeing the concert after. To make the most of a full weekend of music, UChicago Arts has compiled a guide to some of the bands and workshops featured during the festival.

Friday and Saturday Night Mainstage

Price Sisters
Twenty-something twin sisters Leanna and Lauren Price form the center of the Price Sisters with their fiddle, mandolin, and intertwined vocals. With characteristic twang, the Ohioan bluegrass outfit holds tight to traditional bluegrass roots, while bringing a fresh perspective. The complexity of the music is heightened by the striking and dynamic harmonies. Full of infectious energy, the Price Sisters are an act sure to make a lasting mark on the festival.

​This trio fuses present day Cajun music with influences of early country and old French and Creole ballads, culminating in unique and vivacious music. Accordion takes center stage in the lively music, and is supplemented by guitar and fiddle. Though the trio is small, their music is expansive and eccentric. With music that practically moves your feet, T’Monde will stand out both nights they perform.

Friday Night Mainstage 

Chicago Klezmer Ensemble 
The Chicago Klezmer Ensemble performs Jewish instrumental folk music originating from Eastern Europe. The expressive and unique style comes through melodies dominated by a forceful lead clarinet, and supplemented by strings and tsimbls. The group’s music is deeply steeped in tradition, and pays homage to folk music of the past. The music is highly sophisticated, and the skill of all the performers is abundantly clear, making the group sure to be a highlight.

Saturday Night Mainstage

Fat Babies
Flashing back to the tunes of the 20’s and 30’s, the Fat Babies are a seven-piece vintage jazz band. The group is based in Chicago and approach the oft-forgotten style of early-period jazz with love and care, adding a healthy dose of exuberance to their music. Their smooth sound is matched with well-executed quirk and nostalgia. The Fat Babies are, simply put, a fun band, and their performance at the festival will likely be no different.

Featured Saturday Workshops

Cajun Dance 
12:00-2:30 pm  
Cloister Club, Ida Noyes Hall
This workshop begins with 30 minutes of teaching the basics of Cajun dancing, followed by dancing and accompaniment by T’Monde.

Sea Shanties
Library, Ida Noyes Hall
Led by Chicago folk duo Spitzer and Mareva, this workshop focuses on maritime work songs, and teaches the harmonies involved in singing them. 

Beginning Harmonica Workshop
Library, Ida Noyes Hall
Dig out a diatonic harmonica (in the key of C) for this workshop, and learn how to play the instrument with harmonica expert Joe Filisko. 

See all Saturday workshops here.

Tickets on Friday night are Regular $25, Senior $20, and Student $10; on Saturday night, they are Regular $30, Senior $25, and Student $10. Tickets can be purchased in person or over the phone at either Mandel Hall or the Logan Box Office, or online at https://ticketsweb.uchicago.edu/