Smile Politely

Folk and Roots Festival paves way for night of highbrow folk and bluegrass

ethosThe excitement pent up from the 2009 Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival spills over into the Canopy Club Thursday night when a plethora of local folk and Americana acts, including My Dear Alan Andrews, the Ben Miller Band, Jaik Willis and the Corn Desert Ramblers, host a night of tranquil yet upbeat autumn tunes.

Headliner My Dear Alan Andrews contributes to the vein of folk that has all the emphasis and drama of solo artists like Tom Waits but without the pretense, grit or tension. The result: a hypnotic allure that is probably better experienced live than on the tracks available online.

Their debut album, the aptly-titled 50-minute Ethos, took three years to complete, but many more years planning. So what is exactly is the ethos of My Dear Alan Andrews? It seems to ebb and flow almost intentionally. Often expressed in literary terms, but often expressed in terms of what can and cannot be, their primary philosophy takes hints from what can be made from nothing, what is born from chaos and what cannot be said. Confused yet? Don’t worry, they kind of expect that. You might want to check them out online beforehand to see what you’re missing if you can’t make it in person.

Chicago’s Jaik Willis, adds an additionally striking tone for the night with a vocal range as wide as his energy is bottomless. A highly educated and well-traveled musician, Willis has somehow managed to keep his sense of humor in tact as is evident in his covers of the Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Surprisingly, both fit strangely well into his larger oeuvre.

Missouri’s Ben Miller Band and Urbana’s Corn Desert Ramblers round out the bill with flairs of Midwest-meets-deep-south bluegrass. The Ben Miller Band should prove especially interesting with the band’s figurehead, Ben Miller, earning his bluegrass street cred on the streets of northern Europe. Moreover, the band’s drummer, Doug “Cap’t Washboard” Dicharry, also paved his way to bluegrass playing in punk, ska and progressive noise bands over the years.

The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $7 in advance.

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