Do-it-yourself folk

Although the 44th Annual University of Chicago Folk Festival offered its usual trio of evening concerts this weekend, the hands-on fans turned out Saturday and Sunday for workshops that filled Ida Noyes with dueling banjos, fiddles, tin whistles, and guitars.

Sunday afternoon festival-goers crowded the lobby, fingering through folk CDs and manuals (Beginning Fiddle, How to Play the Pocket Harmonica, Instant 5-String Banjo). Irish fiddlers strummed on the first-floor landing; a bluegrass group jammed in the cloakroom. In the Cloisters couples—wearing jeans or shorts, or dancing slippers and gored skirts designed for twirling—waltzed, two-stepped, and jitterbugged to Cajun tunes. Across the way participants in a harmonica workshop learned the tricks of instrument care, including a caveat on reed replacement: “They’re little, tiny things. If you lose one in a shag carpet, it’s gone.”

Next up were fiddler Liz Carroll, a South Side native who won the Senior All-Ireland Championship at 18, and guitarist John Doyle. The duo, who also performed at Saturday and Sunday’s concerts, alternated reels with insights into Irish music (“It’s like sweet and sour sauce—happy, but with undercurrents of melancholy”). They ended with an impromptu ceilidh, as the instrumentalists in the audience joined in for a set of reels—but no waltzes. “For the Irish,” Carroll said, “a waltz means the evening’s over.”


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Photos (from left to right): Fiddler Liz Carroll and guitarist John Doyle (center) lead 16 musicians through St. Anne’s Reel. Cajun dancing in the Cloisters. A gentle reminder to musicians: curb your enthusiasm.

February 9, 2004