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CU Folk and Roots Festival 2010: Music for (and on) the bones

Folk music. Everyone struggles to define it. But for the purposes of the CU Folk and Roots Festival, which takes place on September 23-25 in and around downtown Urbana, folk music is participatory and, most importantly, accessible to all. With a distinctive community vibe (last year, over 70 volunteers showed up to help run the festival), the not-for-profit festival will offer dozens of hands-on workshops, jams and activities in addition to three days of performances in clubs, on front porches, restaurants and in the streets.

This year, the festival has placed a special emphasis on free all-ages activities, with a “up-and-coming” younger folk musician showcase (check out those high school chops!), family performers, workshops for kids (harmonica, ukulele), performances in local schools, and a Friday night campfire song session on the Iron Post patio, among other things. The six-person volunteer steering committee has worked all year planning and booking the festival, with special care to bring together local organizations (such as the Storytelling Guild) and businesses as well as shine the spotlight on local artists/performers/musicians who are often overlooked, but who enrich people’s everyday lives with their artistic talents.

In addition, the festival is bringing in some top national performers such as the Austin-based western swing/jazz trio Hot Club of Cowtown, Irish fiddling virtuoso Liz Knowles and the amazingly talented AKGI guitar duo. In keeping with its community focus, the festival is also partnering with Pygmalion Music Festival and the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts to present the Tennessee-based country-rock band Those Darlins (with The Duke of Uke and The Mean Lids opening) at the Independent Media Center on Thursday night, September 23. A wristband from either festival (or both!) will get you in, but you can also pay cover at the door. More details on this show can be found at either festival’s website.

The CU Folk and Roots Festival, now in its second year, plans to stick around, too. “We’re in it for the long-haul,” says steering committee member Rob Krumm. The committee began planning for the festivals in 2008 and decided at that time to always hold the event on the last weekend of September, despite conflicts that may occur (football games, religious observances, and, um, other festivals). “This keeps it straight in people’s minds and helps us volunteers ease the planning work-load. People know what to expect,” he says. For committee member Christine Breen, watching and playing with her mentors makes the whole effort worthwhile. “I’m really excited about seeing Banjo Billy (Matthews) play with Colin (Blair). Both Colin and I were mentored by Billy. It will be a treat to seem them perform together again. And I’m also excited that Scott (Miller) the bones player is coming. He is so fun to watch — so animated. He can keep time with many kinds of music on the bones, which is hard to do!”

What is a bones player? And for that matter, what is Morris dancing? What would happen if you learned to play guitar? Why doesn’t it mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing? Come find out at the CU Folk and Roots Festival on Sept. 23-25. Wristbands for the entire event cost only 15 bucks, and many events are free (especially workshops, jams and family activities).

In addition to writing for SP, Brenda Koenig is one of the organizers of the CU Folk and Roots Festival.

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