Down home music

folkfest09.jpgEach February I come away from the University’s Folk Festival with ringing ears, stomping feet, and a handful of new tunes to try on my mandolin. I also come away with a spinning head: this year’s weekend marathon included music from the Irish headlands, the Scottish highlands, Siberian plains, the Louisiana bayou, the Appalachian mountains, and the Chicago's South Side. Dozens of artists converged on Ida Noyes Hall to teach French Canadian quadrilles, Arabic maksoum, electric blues, and sacred harp singing. Organized by the student-run U of C Folklore Society the 49th annual festival wound to a close Sunday night with a sprawling, four-hour concert featuring five bands and five different styles of North American roots music.

I'm still just a beginner on the mandolin—my musical education comes in fits and starts—but this year I’m determined to conquer “Fall on My Knees,” a galloping old-time tune that Rhythm Rats fiddler Kenny Jackson, an Ohioan-turned-North-Carolinian, described during Sunday’s concert as the second official song of Surry County, North Carolina, my home state. (The ubiquitous “Sally Ann,” he said, takes first place.) I left Mandel Hall humming the melody and was still humming it when I got home. I should have gone to bed—it was after 11 p.m.—but instead I pulled my mandolin out of its case and started picking out notes, feeling for chords.

Lydialyle Gibson

To the old-time cadences of the Rhythm Rats, festival-goers (above) do-si-do their way through a Sunday afternoon barn dance in Ida Noyes's Cloister Club.

Cajun players (from left) Missy Roser, Heather Cole-Mullen '09, Charlie Terr, and Gene Losey met up in Hutch Commons Sunday evening for an informal pre-concert performance.

The Chicago Sacred Harp Singers drew a large crowd to Ida Noyes's second floor, where singers took turns standing at the center of a "hollow square" and calling out hymn numbers to summon a room full of voices.

Chicago guitarist and mandolin player Billy Flynn (right) led a blues workshop in the Ida Noyes library Sunday afternoon.

February 9, 2009