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CU Folk & Roots Festival returns with a focus on expanding the genre

A large group of people sit in folding chairs on a concrete patio, playing a mixture of banjos, fiddles and guitars.
Participants gather outside the Common Ground Coop to play during a previous installment of the CU Folks & Roots Festival.

URBANA — The 15th edition of the CU Folk & Roots Festival will begin next week on Oct. 12-14.

This year’s festival kicks off with a performance by Champaign-Urbana-based group Meadowhawk at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts, with other performances over the next two days at venues including the Channing-Murray Foundation, the Rose Bowl Tavern, and the Urbana Free Library.

Though many performances are in bars, Scott Dossett of the festival’s steering committee said there will still be specific performances and activities geared toward kids. 

“We want to try to be real inclusive, and get families involved and really try to create music makers as well as listeners,” Dossett said.  “So, storytellers, we might have a juggler, we might have a band trying to form and march around the street or the block or whatever, just fun things for children of all ages.”

With the festival fast approaching, the organizers are still looking for volunteers to make sure the weekend runs smoothly.

“We’re in the process of trying to get people to [our website] to sign up for volunteer slots to make sure that we can keep the greenroom going for performers that we can make people comfortable in venues, that we can make sure we can do the things that we’re obligated to do for those places that have opened themselves up to us, which is important part of having the festival,” Dossett said.

Dossett also spoke with IPM reporter Owen Henderson about what to expect from next week’s line-up.

The CU Folk and Roots Festival is an underwriter of Illinois Public Media News.

OWEN HENDERSON: So, who are some of the groups that are going to be in this year’s lineup? What are you particularly excited for?

SCOTT DOSSETT: Well, one of the things I’m excited about is, of course, to see Dom Flemons again, he’s going to do a workshop for us kind of a talk workshop in the Lewis Auditorium in the Urbana Free Library and then another live performance at the Rose Bowl.

Dom’s a Grammy Award winner and multiple nominee and is constantly pushing the boundaries of African American History and folk music. 

DOSSETT: So, what we try to do is mix these regional or national acts in with a lot of local performers. And so The Tumbleweeds are going to be with us again, that’s a local group. The Merry Travelers Duo, The Hooten Hollers are going to play, a really cool group that I like, from Urbana, a bunch of young folks I know, it’s called The Hot Club of Urbana. So, something a little bit for everybody.

HENDERSON: You mentioned a little earlier that you guys are looking for folks who are pushing the boundaries, can you put a little bit of a finer point on that for me?

DOSSETT: So, there’s the musical side to that, but there’s also kind of what I think of as the real-world side to that. We’ve got Adeem the Artist, who very much puts out what I would call a non-binary perspective.

DOSSETT: If folk music and roots music is to live, it has to evolve and reflect the era that we’re in and the concerns that people have. If music stays the same, it can kind of die. Our efforts at sustaining the festival is all about getting more people involved from all different kinds of perspectives.

So, for example, we ran a table that Pride Fest this last weekend, and we’re real happy to be able to cooperate with those people.

[We] have worked really hard to try to get high quality African American folks to come in. You know, a lot of people think of folk and roots music has been kind of a white environment. And we certainly want to break through that paradigm. So having Kyshana Armstrong here a couple of years in a row, having Tee Dee Young this year, just to try to try to mix it up and get all the different perspectives we have.

We know from what we’re hearing and what our cohorts are saying that there are people that are always pushing the boundaries of what we think of as traditional folk and roots music, and we want to we want to try to be there on the edge of that and have been pretty successful through time of getting people here who then we subsequently could never afford to have again, because they go on to bigger lives.

Alison Russell, who won a Grammy for “Songs of Our Native Daughters” came through about three years ago, like eight and a half months pregnant. Such a joy to see her and so she’s going on on to much bigger and better things.

So, if we’re wise and we have good threading through the network, which our festival manager this year, Cody Jensen, really gives us then, you know, we can get people that are up and coming and new and different and mix that in with you know, some good old banjo licks.

Picture of Owen Henderson

Owen Henderson

Owen Henderson covers arts and culture, as well as LGBTQ issues for Illinois Public Media News. He studied journalism, Spanish and theater at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has worked with Illinois Public Media in various capacities since 2021.

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