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updated: 8/31/2011 4:50 PM

Folk Fest fun for everyone returns to Fox Valley

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  • Mike Potter of Mount Prospect, playing a violin that is more than 250 years old; Bill Morris of Glen Ellyn, playing a rare chord harmonica; and Ron Novit, of Lincolnshire, playing a banjo, have an impromptu jam session shortly after meeting each other at last year's Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival in Geneva. This year's festival is set for Sunday and Monday.

       Mike Potter of Mount Prospect, playing a violin that is more than 250 years old; Bill Morris of Glen Ellyn, playing a rare chord harmonica; and Ron Novit, of Lincolnshire, playing a banjo, have an impromptu jam session shortly after meeting each other at last year's Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival in Geneva. This year's festival is set for Sunday and Monday.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2010

  • Storyteller Linda Gorham entertains a relaxed crowd at last year's Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival in Island Park in Geneva.

       Storyteller Linda Gorham entertains a relaxed crowd at last year's Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival in Island Park in Geneva.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2010

  • Sterling Wilson plays with the Bill Robinson and Friends band at the 32nd annual Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival at Island Park in Geneva. This weekend marks the festival's 35th year.

       Sterling Wilson plays with the Bill Robinson and Friends band at the 32nd annual Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival at Island Park in Geneva. This weekend marks the festival's 35th year.
    GEORGE LECLAIRE | Staff Photographer, 2008

 
By Rachel Baruch Yackley
Daily Herald correspondent

Considering a staycation for Labor Day weekend? Then check out the 35th annual Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Sept. 4-5, at Island Park in Geneva.

Bring a blanket or folding chairs, and pack a picnic basket or purchase food from vendors in the park. Sit on the grass or under the big tent near the beautiful Fox River, and spend either or both days soaking in the sounds of traditional and roots folk music on eight concert and workshop stages, with more than 36 top folk music and storytelling acts from the Midwest and around the country.

Traditional and roots folk music "is basically the purest form of the old ballads, from 300 to 500 years ago," said Juel Ulven, the organizer of this annual event. "They're songs that were preserved by people who couldn't read and write, so they were passed on from neighbor to neighbor, or in families."

Each stage offers something different, from the likes of the captivating Chicago Sacred Harp Singers, to the Dulcimer Society of Illinois, and more. Hands-on teaching will be offered (so bring your instruments), as well as dancing and topical workshops, which explore music and story themes.

On Sunday evening, join in a barn dance at 6 p.m., and take the kids along to hear spooky ghost stories, starting at 7:30 p.m.

For the first time in its history, the Folk Festival will kick off with a local live 98.7 WFMT radio show from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3. Previous years' festival preview shows have taken place in the radio station's studio in Chicago, while this one will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, located at Second and James streets in Geneva.

Eight festival artists, who will also perform onstage during the festival, will perform live at the radio show: Cathy Barton and Dave Para, Andrew Calhoun, Andy Cohen, Tracy Grammer, Anne Hills, David Massengill, and Sanctified Grumblers.

This festival preshow is open to the public and tickets are still available in advance: $15 for adults and $10 for seniors, teens and college students, with ticket prices an additional $5 at the door. For advance tickets, call 630-897-3655.

"With the city (of Geneva) behind us, they identified three places we could do this," said Ulven. "It's a unique opportunity. Normally, live shows are only for (WFMT) Arts Circle members, who pay an initial $250 membership and an additional $250 each year."

Local support for this festival has grown by leaps and bounds, over the years.

The city of Geneva "does so much for us," Ulven said. "They're co-sponsoring the radio show to the tune of $500, and they gave us another $500 for advertising. They've really stepped up to the plate. The Geneva Park District (of which Island Park is a part) is always a good friend to us, every year."

Festival goers are charged a reasonable requested donation for each day.

"All donations go to pay the performers and directly related artist costs. Performers from all over the world work the festival for a fraction of what they usually command, because of the incredible Chicago area and Midwest exposure. And the extensive CD and media sales nicely supplement the festival pay," Ulven said.

About 120 people, some who come from other states for the weekend, voluntarily work the festival. No one is paid, including Ulven, who works hard all year long to make this event happen.

Although one of several annual folk music festivals in Illinois, this one, presented by the Fox Valley Folklore Society and the Geneva Park District, is considered to be the biggest in the state.

Admission to the Folk Festival is a suggested donation of $15 per day for adults, and $10 per day for teens and seniors. Children ages 12 and younger get in for free.

For more information and a complete schedule, visit foxvalleyfolk.com or call (630) 897-3655.

Island Park is located just south of Route 38 between Route 25 and the Fox River. Plenty of free parking is available behind the Kane County Government Center, 719 S. Batavia Ave., at the south end of Third Street. Another option is to come by train, as the park is only three blocks from Geneva's Metra station.

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