The University of Chicago Folk Fest was this weekend, and that's pretty much where the Fool and I spent our time. We were responsible for coordinating artist transportation - getting drivers to pick people up and take them to the airport, and doing a bit of that ourselves.
We did a few other things, too. I baked cookies for the artist green room - a couple batches a night. Geraldine Gay, a great gospel pianist, complimented me on the oatmeal ones.
(Shameless plug: "The All-American Cookie Book" by Nancy Baggett, is brilliant. Any success I achieve in cookie baking is due entirely to this book. I haven't had a recipe flop yet. All the Folk Fest cookies came out of this book.)
The Fool played in an Irish session on Saturday.
I tried Cajun dancing to the Lafayette Rhythm Devils. I'm not good enough at it yet to know how to dance efficiently, so I get worn out after about one song and I'm too busy thinking about the steps and the rhythm to be much of an interesting dance partner. But it sure is fun as long as I can stand it. I was watching one of the other contra dancers, an older guy, who does a lot of Cajun dancing too, and it amazed me how easily he was just motoring around the floor with no visible sign of effort.
Must lean on the Fool to take up Cajun dancing. He feels the same way I do - it's hard to sustain - but that is clearly just a matter of practice.
I also tried rib tips again, from a Hyde Park practitioner of the barbecuing arts. I'd had these once before and found them gristly and bizarre. Whatever. I was so wrong. If you like gnawing on things like chicken wings, which I do, rib tips are fabulous.
Saturday night, the festival had its big party after the concert. The Fool and I, along with Ed, fell into an Irish session and didn't stand up again until 2:30 a.m., when we discovered the square dancing in the living room. We were so tired, though, and had a long drive home, so I danced a quick polka with my friend Spider and we left. The session was great. We'd given Declan, an accordion player, a heads-up about the party, so he came by with a singer and bodhran player, and the Irish musicians from the show, Patrick Ourceau and Pat Egan, played, too. We were all crowded into a long narrow space between the dining table with pots of gumbo and the window, with people lined up on the window bench and the rest of us in chairs, sitting knee to knee, trying not to poke eyes out with instruments. The next day, the Fool and I heard that Ed's chair collapsed underneath him and he fell onto the floor in a pile of wood, still clutching his fiddle. Luckily, by then, he was very relaxed and was unhurt.
The Fool and I also tried some Scandinavian folk dancing. For one dance, the instructor made him wear a felt Viking hat. "Hmmf," the Fool said. "I think this is not traditional."
On Sunday, I went to a shape note singing workshop, which was really cool. I'd heard about it, but never had the chance to try it. Some contra dance weekends have shape note singing, but it's usually at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and that doesn't work so well if you've stayed up until 4 a.m. playing tunes. It's four-part unaccompanied singing done from a book of hymns - loud and powerful stuff. If you saw "Cold Mountain," there's some shape note singing in that. I sang alto, or did the best I could. When I sat outside the group with some friends, it was easier to hear the whole ensemble, and, wow.
The concerts were terrific. We watched most of them from backstage with the rest of the Folklore Society folks and the artists. Lots of dancing going on behind the curtains, and in some cases, onstage, especially when the Cajun band played. I know some audience members have found it distracting when students come waltzing out from the wings with no provocation, but I like it. I think it helps illustrate that folk music is supposed to be a participatory tradition, and also shows how so much of the music and dance is related. When the New Bad Habits played, Dot, their clogger, (who called the dance for New Year's Eve in Lansing), came backstage and tried to shoo other cloggers out onto stage, but we talked her into calling a square instead, which was a lot of fun - although, no pressure - dancing a square you've never walked through on stage in front of an audience.
I also learned something Sunday night as the Fool and Matt, Spider's boyfriend, tried to tap the leftover keg from the party so the artists could have a beer or two.
Apparently, there's a mishap that occurs when beer shoots out the top of the keg, called a "beer fountain." There were three. Matt was, lamentably, on top of two of them. Then an enterprising old-time guitarist found some plastic in the garbage and put that over the top of the keg before the fourth - successful - attempt. (Matt found it hilarious that all these college undergrads came looking for him to get help in tapping a keg. "It's OK," he said. "I went to a state school.")
In this photo, Matt is explaining keg fittings to the Fool, who is no expert on kegs.
All in all, an excellent festival. Lots of good music and dance and everyone I talked to had a good time. You should all come next year.