Folk jam

“This is a jam session—come on and sit down,” fiddler and accordionist Wilson Savoy called to a woman clutching her fiddle as she crept into the Ida Noyes library this past Saturday afternoon. The room was already packed: seven fiddlers, five guitarists, two accordionists, a pair of women strumming ukeleles, and another keeping time on a t’fer (triangle) joined the Louisiana band Pine Leaf Boys—Savoy is its lead accordionist—for a two-hour Cajun jam session. More than 60 others listened from the audience, most tapping their feet and a few leaping up, periodically, to dance. Shedding her apprehension, the fiddle-clutching woman made her way to an empty chair toward the front of the room and began to play. At the end of the song, a raucous Mardi Gras tune, Savoy looked up. “Any other requests?” he asked, after the applause died down.

Stretching past its scheduled 5 p.m. closing, the Cajun jam was part of the U of C’s 47th annual folk fest, a weekend-long event celebrating traditional American and international music. During two days of free workshops, visitors learned flatfooting and clogging, English or Scottish country dancing, Brazilian capoeira, Punjabi bhangra, and waltzing. Children flocked to a storytelling workshop, where Chicago artist and performer Judith Heineman enlisted their help recounting a tale about the origin of turtles’ cracked shells. Nearly 70 people crowded into a Saturday afternoon workshop to hear fiddler Heather Mullen and guitarist Jeff Lindblade play and discuss Irish music. Other workshops introduced visitors to bluegrass, klezmer, and blues music, sea shanties, shape-note singing, and Russian choir singing. Many people brought their own instruments, striking up impromptu jam sessions in the hallways, stairwells, and siderooms. Meanwhile, Saturday and Sunday evening concerts gathered musicians from Chicago, the Midwest, the Gulf Coast, Appalachia, New York, and Eastern Europe.

On Sunday the Pine Leaf Boys reprised their jam-session performance, leading some 100 people during two hours of Cajun dancing.

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Photos (left to right): Dancers revel in Cajun tunes; Wilson Savoy plays his accordion; both young and old enjoy the music.

Photos by Dan Dry.

February 5, 2007