I was sad to learn that the Old Town School of Folk Music decided to abandon its annual Folk & Roots Festival after 14 years. A Chicago website quotes Old Town’s marketing manager saying that the summer concert may return at some point, but a local chamber-sponsored street festival will take its place this year. The website says disagreements with the city over costs of permitting led to the decision.
Old Town reportedly will be involved in booking music for the street fest but those acts will be local. Welles Park will not be part of the festival. Shows by Steve Earle, the Mekons and Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett are among my best memories of the fest, which over the years featured world music as well as insurgent and traditional country. There’s no way another Chicago street fest is going to have the same feel.
My hope is that there will be enough outrage in the community that the Old Town fest returns in 2013. Let’s make that happen.
In its 13th year, the Chicago Folk and Roots Festival looks a lot different than the fest I discovered more than a decade ago. In the past few years the festival has taken on a decidedly more world music theme, which is interesting but becoming tiresome. Closing Sunday night is Etran Finatawa, a band from Niger.
In 1999, in the fest’s second season, I saw Steve Earle and a set from Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett. Robbie Fulks headlined the first festival. Jon Langford performed with the Mekons in the third year. I saw Richard Thompson open for Patti Smith that same year. And while Smith’s appearance raised eyebrows about her folk and roots credentials, the world music lineups overwhelmed the Americana acts in recent years. That’s too bad given Chicago’s strong foundation of roots and insurgent country.
Here are some tracks from that Tweedy/Bennett show, a pair of Wilco songs and two covers, including Daniel Johnston’s True Love Will Find You in the End.