The U. of C. Folklore Society and the Chicago Sacred Harp Singers sponsor the second annual midwest Sacred Harp Convention, 7-9 this evening, 9:30-3:30 tomorrow and Sunday at Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 E. 59th. The emphasis is on shape note, or "fasola," singing: participants face each other in a hollow square and sing four-part harmony without accompaniment. Tunes date from the 18th century. Bring a potluck dish for lunch on Saturday and Sunday; singers and listeners are invited. More at 486-7400 or 486-2887.
More harp activity, 20th-century Chicago style: Wise Fools Pub presents James Cotton in Concert at 9:30 tonight, 2270 N. Lincoln. There's a $10 cover charge, with information at 929-1510.
Jays Foods, whose factory on 99th Street produces more than 67 tons of potato chips daily, teams up with the Mayor's Office of Special Events for Jays Chip off the Old Block Party, scheduled for noon to 6 today in Lincoln Park at Stockton and LaSalle. There will be two music stages, many kiddie activities, and lots of treats to eat (ribs, pizza, chili, Thai and Mexican food, ice cream, cheesecake, and, of course, potato chips). Admission is free; details at 744-3315.
A book party that will feature authors Lawrence McCaffrey and Ellen Skerrett autographing their book The Irish in Chicago will be held from 2 to 5 today at the Chicago Historical Bookworks, 831 Main in Evanston. Chicago city directories from the 1840s to the 1920s will be on display and for use by visitors seeking to trace their (Irish or non-Irish) relatives. Refreshments and song are also promised. Free; more at 869-6410.
The Fiery Clock Face Bookshop marks the "real" Memorial Day, which is today, with a reading by Larry Heinemann from 3 to 5, 5311 N. Clark. Heinemann is the author of Close Quarters and Paco's Story, the first two parts of a Vietnam trilogy. Free; information at 728-4227.
The New Opera Company performs the world premieres of three one-act operas, Robert Lombardo's Tango on the Moon and The Dodo and Darius Lapinskas's Rex Amos, at 8 tonight and 3 tomorrow afternoon at the State of Illinois Center Auditorium, 100 W. Randolph. Both Lombardo pieces have librettos by Kathleen Lombardo; the first is about post-World War III astronauts on the moon, while the second is about the extinction of animals. Lapinskas's opera is also called a "sporting event" and has a libretto by Claude Turner; it's (loosely) about prison life. In other words, don't expect the fat lady to sing. Admission is $10-$20; 786-9157.
As many as a thousand Vietnamese, Laotians, Filipinos, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Haitians, and Ethiopians are expected to join in the May Procession that was started by Vietnamese Catholics in Chicago as a celebration of favors and blessings from God: it starts from Saint Thomas of Canterbury Church, 4827 N. Kenmore, at 2 PM. Free: information at 878-2114.
Paul MacCready, president and CEO of AeroVironment Inc., and developer of the first successful human-powered flying machine, speaks on natural and artificial flight at 2 this afternoon in the Museum of Science and Industry Auditorium, 57th and Lake Shore Drive. Free; 684-1414.
Mystery writer Sara Paretsky will give a talk titled The Images of Women in Mysteries at 2 PM at the Downers Grove Public Library, 1050 Curtiss in Downers Grove. Paretsky will also autograph her own books after the talk. Free; details at 960-1200.
The 14th annual Jeff Citations Wing Presentations, which recognize achievements in non-Equity theater, will be held at 6:30 at the State of Illinois Center, 100 W. Randolph. Supper will be served on the Concourse Level, and there will be a cash bar; the Second City E.T.C. Company will emcee the awards, which will include scenes from plays mounted this past season. Reservations are $12.50; info at 948-8095.
The Oriental Institute museum will display Site Drawings by Martyl: The Precinct of Mut at Luxor, a show commissioned by the Brooklyn Museum and mounted there last year, today through July 26 at 1155 E. 58th. The artist recorded the work of Brooklyn Museum archaeologists on the 20-acre site. The Oriental Institute is open from 10 to 4 Tuesday-Saturday, 12-4 Sunday; free, with details at 702-9520.
The Old Town Chamber of Commerce presents A Night With Edgar Miller, 5:30 at O'Brien's Sirloin Inn, 1528 N. Wells. The 87-year-old artist, whose handiwork (windows, murals, tiles) went into refurbishing old houses in the 1920s and 30s in the then-decayed German-American neighborhood around North and Wells, is credited with being a founder of the artists' community that became known as Old Town. A few years ago Old Town resident Jannine Aldinger tracked Miller down in San Francisco and, apparently, persuaded him to return to Chicago. Tix to tonight's event are $5, with reservations at 787-3131.
Barbara's Bookstore presents An Evening With Sue Miller, 6:30-8:30 at 2907 N. Broadway. Miller, who is the author of last year's best-selling The Good Mother, will read from her newly published collection of short stories, Inventing the Abbotts and Other Stories. Free, with information at 477-0411.
The American Civil Liberties Union presents Clandestine Wars and Secret Deals: Are They Constitutional?, a discussion of a timely topic that starts with a cash bar at 7 at the Ambassador West, 1300 N. State. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page will moderate, with analysis by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, of the New York Times, and Morton Halperin, a former senior staff member of the National Security Council under Henry Kissinger. $5 admission; reserve at 427-7330.
Before 1951, movies were produced on a flammable nitrate-base film stock that is extremely susceptible to decay; these movies will eventually disintegrate unless they're transferred to acetate safety film. It's a costly process, but thanks to a grant from Hiram Walker Inc., the American Film Institute has finished preserving 12 old films. The Film Center, Columbus at Jackson, will screen six of them in the coming week, starting with A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) at 6 this evening, to be followed by a presentation on film preservation by archivist Audrey Kupferberg; Portrait of Jennie (1948) will be shown at 9. Admission is $4.50, $2.50 for members, with details on upcoming programs at 443-3733.
The Off Campus Writers' Workshop has organized a panel discussion to address the question, What Are Editors Looking For?, 9:30-12:30 in the Winnetka Community House, 620 Lincoln Ave. in Winnetka. Panelists include editors from the Reader, the Children's Press, the Chicago Times, the Pioneer Press, the Chicago Tribune's Sunday magazine, and Academy Chicago. The workshop meets weekly; all sessions are open to the public. Admission is $5 for today's event: 256-2053 or 259-8346 for details.