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The Old Town School of Folk Music takes its eclectic programming outdoors this weekend for the ninth annual Chicago Folk & Roots Festival, which features two days of music in Welles Park, 2333 W. Sunnyside. As usual, just about everything outside of rock, jazz, and classical music is represented: international touring musicians dominate the main stage, while locals command the other spots. One stage is dedicated to the school's massive crew of instructors, another to dancing, and a third to kids; attendees are invited to take part in the jam sessions at the gazebo stage. Most of the artists at the fest have played Chicago in the past year or two--many of them at the Old Town School itself--but a few promising acts are making their local debuts, most notably the Refugee All Stars of Sierra Leone and Texas honky-tonk singer James Hand. A $5 donation is requested. --Peter Margasak

By Monica Kendrick (MK), Peter Margasak(PM), and David Whiteis (DW)

SATURDAY 8

Gazebo

Noon Spontaneous folk music

1:30 Women's acoustic jam

3:00 Acoustic blues jam

4:30 Wilco tunes

Staff Stage

Noon Karen & the Caulfields

12:30 Eastlake

1:00 Polly Jeans

1:30 Tom Stevens

2:00 Julia & the Storkes

2:30 Chris Farrell

3:00 Graham Jorgenson

3:30 Signal Hill Road

4:00 Mark Dvorak & the Pickin' Bubs

4:30 Third Wheel

5:00 Cathy Norden

5:30 Occidental Brothers Dance Band International

6:00 Chicago Afrobeat Project

6:30 Hot Stuff

7:00 Skapone

7:30 BLT

Kids Tent

Noon Wiggleworms

12:50 Kangaroos

1:40 Hip-hop dancing

2:30 Chuck & Karen

3:20 Hula for kids

4:20 Wee Hairy Beasties featuring Jon Langford & Sally Timms

5:15 Kids rhythm circle

Dance Stage

Noon Nago Yoga

1:15 Urban beledi

2:30 West African dance

4:00 Greek dancing

5:00 Samba lessons

5:30 Chicago Samba

Main Stage

1:00 Special Music by Special People

1:40 Barrowsmith

2:15 Joe Filisko & Eric Noden

3:00 Lost Bayou Ramblers

4:45 James Hand Band

The Truth Will Set You Free (Rounder) is James "Slim" Hand's first nationally distributed record, but he's no rookie: the fiftysomething Texan has been playing raw honky-tonk music for more than three decades. By day he's trained horses and driven trucks, and his earlier releases were modest, locally released affairs. But he attracted some big names for the new disc, produced by Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson and multi-instrumentalist Lloyd Maines (who also contributed pedal steel and dobro) and featuring onetime Merle Haggard sideman Redd Volkaert on lead guitar. The assembled talent gives Hand's originals a vintage sound: his voice has the brittle nasal quality of Hank Sr., enhanced by a heavy vibrato, and the music swings with the clarity of old records by fellow Texans Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb. It never sounds like a carefully engineered nostalgia trip, though--this is the way Hand has been playing all his life. PM

6:00 Read My Hips belly dance troupe

6:30 Robbie Fulks's Secret Country with Joy Lynn White and Al Anderson

Purely sexy and angrily eloquent, singer-songwriter Joy Lynn White was poised to give mainstream country a good name in the early 90s, but she ended up watching younger artists borrow her attitude and run up the charts. (The Dixie Chicks recorded two of her songs early in their career.) She retreated a bit in the late 90s--for a while she played Maybelle Carter in a long-running stage show. But her latest album, last year's One More Time, shows it's clear there's not much "give up" in her--the fire's there whether she's rocking out with Amy Rigby or honoring "Girls With Apartments in Nashville." Singer-songwriter-guitarist Al Anderson could probably teach her a few things about endurance--he's enjoyed a diverse 40-year career (22 of them with NRBQ) that he's distilled into a handful of soulful solo discs. MK

:15 Irma Thomas & the Professionals

It's hard to believe that most of the songs on After the Rain (Rounder), the first CD of new material in six years from New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas, were chosen before Katrina devastated her adopted home. The songs are characterized by loss and defiance: she croons Doc Pomus's "I Count the Tears," rasps gospel-rock imprecations on David Egan's "Stone Survivor," a roof-raising ode to perseverance, and pours grief and hope into Stevie Wonder's "Shelter in the Rain," which was added to the album post-Katrina. Thomas's ability to use her voice's timbre, intonation, and texture to heighten the sensuality and emotional immediacy of a song both belies her age (65) and speaks to the depth of her experience. DW

SUNDAY 9

Gazebo

Noon West African drumming

1:30 Grateful Dead jam

3:00 Old-time string band jam

4:30 Soul singing

Staff Stage

Noon Kerry & Friends

12:30 Hummingbirds

1:00 Rhythm of the Street

1:30 Yo's Blues Band

2:00 Typhanie Monique & Neal Alger

2:30 Wabolabr

3:00 Scott Besaw & Friends

3:30 Jason McDermott & Jeff Wickman

4:00 Eric Lugosch

4:30 WAZO County Warblers with the Flyboys

5:00 Hypnic Jerks

5:30 Women's Rock Ensemble

6:00 Lightning Rod Power Trio

6:30 Drumming Around the Globe

7:00 Aerin & Andrea

7:30 Lavender

Kids Tent

Noon Wiggleworms in the Park en Espanol

12:50 Jitterbugs

1:40 Mr. Singer

2:30 Coro de las Americas

3:25 Bed Bugs

4:25 Taiko drumming for kids

5:15 Broadway dance

Dance Stage

Noon Go-go dancing

1:15 Bollywood dance workshop

2:30 Mambo and salsa lessons

3:00 Bio Ritmo

5:00 Cajun dance lesson

5:30 Pine Leaf Boys

Main Stage

1:00 Midwest Invitational Fiddle Contest finals

2:15 Tangleweed

2:55 Emily Hurd

3:35 Steve Dawson

Local vets Dolly Varden are finishing up their first record since 2002's Forgiven Now; it's slated to come out later this year. (The band's MySpace page has a sneak preview.) In the meantime, front man Steve Dawson is keeping busy playing a few solo gigs. Last year's Sweet Is the Anchor (Undertow), his first solo album, is a lovely, occasionally wrenching work of downcast country soul. MK

4:30 Kekele

On their third album, Kinavana (Stern's Africa), these France-based Congolese all-stars pay homage to Cuba, whose music was an essential ingredient in the creation of Congolese rumba in the 50s. (The album's title is a mash-up of Kinshasa and Havana.) Unlike legends such as Franco, Tabu Ley, and Dr. Nico, who have an electric, hard-driving sound, Kekele plays a more gentle, largely acoustic strain of the music--in fact their sound might be too placid for the folks back in Kinshasa, a situation that makes the group a kind of cousin to Buena Vista Social Club, another project orchestrated by foreigners that initially had little resonance in its homeland. But there's no denying the beauty of the songs, where clave-driven polyrhythms and zesty acoustic guitar licks support a quartet of stunning vocalists--among them Wuta Mayi and Nyboma, who've performed with some of the nation's most important groups. Much of the new album was recorded in New York with members of the city's dynamic salsa scene, but as lovely as the grooves are, Kekele's vocals--soothing, soulful, and dynamic--are the main attraction. Kekele also performs at the Spirit of Music Garden on Thursday; see the Treatment for more info. PM

5:45 Kaiju Daiko taiko drummers

6:15 Refugee All Stars of Sierra Leone

As the name suggests, the members of this sextet escaped Sierra Leone during the fiercest fighting of the civil war there in the late 90s, coming together in a refugee camp in neighboring Guinea. Their songs address their experiences in exile as well as the violence that shattered their homeland, but given the subject matter the music has a surprisingly easygoing charm. Sung mostly in English, the tunes are mostly acoustic, mixing simple reggae rhythms, a dash of rapping, and the rolling, Caribbean-flavored melodies of Sierra Leone's palm-wine music. Their story was captured in a documentary by Zach Niles and Banker White, The Refugee All Stars, which is currently making the festival rounds. PM

:00 Angel Melendez & the 911 Mambo Orchestra

Trombonist and bandleader Angel Melendez fronts Chicago's best Afro-Caribbean band. The group's arrangements are all about old-school razzle-dazzle and nostalgic rhythms, but the lineup is chockablock with fine jazz musicians who can bring a contemporary fire to their solos and keep a dance floor moving. PM

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