By Tatum Bartlett | Thursday, July 8, 2010

Folk & Roots Festival. Photo by Flickr user Matt Stratton. Licensed under Creative Commons.

This weekend, draw the shades, slather on the sunscreen, and head out the door. The area will be bustling with excitement and a whole lot to do.

The Old Town School of Folk Music takes over Lincoln Square with the Chicago Folk and Roots Festival, while BenFest 2010 (sponsored by the St. Benedict community) covers the St. Ben’s and Northcenter areas. Both family-friendly summer celebrations are chock-full of not-to-be missed performances and good times for all.

On Saturday, July 10, and Sunday, July 11, the Chicago Folk and Roots Festival is expected to draw a whopping 30,000 people to Welles Park (4400 N. Lincoln Ave., between Montrose and Sunnyside). Gates open at noon each day, and nonstop melodies will emanate from the park until 9:30 p.m. each night.

The Folk and Roots Fest features six stages/tents, each offering something different. The Main Stage, as the name connotes, is the festival’s mother ship, offering a unique lineup of diverse sounds, while the Dance Tent caters to those looking to bust a move, offering lessons and workshops on everything from West African Dance to Hip-Hop. Not to be overlooked are the Nuestra Musica Tent (in its third year), the Staff Stage, Welles Park Gazebo, and the Kids’ Tent (with accompanying Kids’ Art Tent).

On Saturday, the festival kicks off with the Eighth Annual Midwest Invitational Fiddle Contest at the Main Stage, in which six bands, each led by one or more fiddlers, compete for $1,200 in prize money. On Sunday evening, there’s a performance by Etran Finatawa—one that Nick Marci, Concert and Marketing Manager at Old Town School of Folk Music, says is not to be missed. He assures that this group of nomadic tribespeople from the Saharan desert will “blow your mind”. He also recommends the Kids’ Tent for nonstop kiddie-bopping programming.

“You would be surprised how many families head over to the Kids’ Tent and park it there for the entire afternoon,” Marci said.

Additionally, the school’s Wiggleworm program will celebrate its 25th birthday with a hand-clapping, diaper-shaking, bubble-blowing performance on Sunday morning. The set will bring together 25 of the school’s teachers, along with a few add-in instructors from the adult programs and another few on guitar. Erin Flynn, Early Childhood Music Program Manager at the Old Town School, guarantees that the performance will even include a few original Wiggleworm numbers from 1985. Flynn also said to be sure to stop by the Instrument Petting Zoo where your tots have the opportunity to handle a variety of melody makers.

Suggested donation for entrance is $10 for adults and $5 for kids and seniors 65 and over. And be sure to leave your four-legged pals, coolers, glass bottles, and cans at home—none are permitted at the festival. Rest assured, however, venders galore will be lining Lincoln Avenue.

For those heading over to BenFest 2010 (can you handle it?!), be prepared for more music, food, arts and crafts, rides, and the mega-raffle (where the top prize is $10,000!). BenFest runs from Friday, July 9, through Saturday, July 10. Doors open daily at 4 p.m., and admission is $5 before 8 p.m.; $10 after. Kids Block wristbands (for those Tilt-A-Whirl-aholics) are $10 for unlimited rides or $1 per ride.

Ben Fest will feature the Jesse White Tumblers and band How Far to Austin on Friday evening, while Eric Howell’s Greatest Hitch and Open to Suggestion will take over the stage on Saturday. Kids Block will also feature a pie-eating contest, a hula hoop contest, the Mad Science Fire & Ice Show, and performances by the likes of Mary Macaroni (children’s variety entertainer) and the CircEsteem (youth circus).

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