This year the Old Town School's Folk & Roots Festival, which happens Saturday and Sunday in Welles Park, lost its primary sponsor, LaSalle Bank--and the effect on the lineup is crystal clear. On Sunday night the main-stage headliner is New York's Karsh Kale, a prominent talent in the Asian Underground scene who unfortunately makes terribly boring music. On Saturday night it's Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears (pictured) from Austin, Texas, who aren't even as well-known as Kale.
Earlier this year the band released its debut album, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is! (Lost Highway). It's crisply produced by Jim Eno of Spoon, but the music is rather undistinguished--an amalgam of James Brown, the Bar-Kays (including horn parts on "Gunpowder" that sound an awful lot like the charts from "Soulfinger"), and generic blues, stripped down to give it indie cred. It's not terrible or anything, but you can hear this kind of stuff played better at any of a number of blues clubs in town every weekend. I guess those bands don't have any records produced by Jim Eno, though.
Lewis and company are the kind of act that might really shine in a festival setting, and Folk & Roots could certainly be a good proving ground. But the band isn't likely to be much of a draw. And there aren't any big names on the rest of the bill either, though the lineup does contain the usual variety--there's country, Cajun, world music, acoustic folk, and more, spread out across several stages and tents.
Plus the festival almost always offers an especially laid-back vibe, with very few of the drunk assholes who sully most Chicago street fairs--you know, the guys who carry around their growing stacks of empty beer cups as if they were something to be proud of. I'm certain that the lack of star power won't keep the Old Town faithful at home, but I sure hope a sponsor signs on next year and returns the music bookings to their former glory.
A Filial, $1,99 (Verge)
Alvin Queen, Jammin' Uptown (Just a Memory)
Ravi Coltrane, Blending Times (Savoy Jazz)
Kirk Knuffke, Federico Ughi, Chris Welcome, Garden of Gifts (577)
Bon Iver, Blood Bank (Jagjaguwar)