Old Town School Pulls Plug on Folk and Roots Festival

By Patty Wetli | Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The scene at Folk & Roots Festival in 2011, now confirmed canceled, replaced by Square Roots. Credit: Jason Kreke

Today’s announcement that the Old Town School of Folk Music and Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce were teaming up to produce a new summer event, Square Roots, left many wondering about the fate of Old Town’s annual Folk & Roots Festival. Center Square Journal has confirmed that Old Town School is indeed pulling the plug on Folk & Roots this year, in what would have been the festival’s fifteenth season.

“We’re not doing Folk & Roots this year,” said Nick Macri, Old Town’s marketing manager for concerts and events. “We haven’t scrapped it entirely, we might be doing it next year,” but for 2012, Square Roots is “where we’re putting all of our energy.”

The contract between Old Town School and the Chamber was inked just last Friday: The Chamber finally gains the summer festival it’s been aiming to mount for the past several years and Old Town now has a partner to help navigate the city’s moving target of permits and fees.

“The city is trying to increase revenue but they’re not being completely forthright with the people creating these events,” said Jason Kraus, vice president of the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce. He pointed to significant hikes in the costs for permits and rental of Welles Park, a key Folk & Roots venue. Also swirling: rumors that the city is planning to reverse its practice of allowing festival vendors to tap into the city’s electric grid, forcing them instead to fall back on generator power.

“There’s a lot of gray area from the city,” Kraus said. Just in trying to determine the cost of reimbursing LAZ for lost parking meter revenue due to street closures during the festival, “We talked to them three times and got three different answers.”

While Old Town School will still take the lead in programming music and entertainment for Square Roots, in many ways the new festival will look and feel much different from Folk & Roots. Welles Park is off the table, largely because Little League baseball had its schedule in place before Square Roots settled on a date, and “the idea is to have more local music represented,” according to Macri.

In fact, “local” is the buzzword for Square Roots. Local music, local food and local beer is the underlying theme, said Kraus. “Our hope is that 80 to 90 or 100 percent of the food vendors are from the neighborhood, Northcenter, Ravenswood or nearby.”

The craft beer component represents another departure from Folk & Roots and will resemble an outdoor version of the Chamber’s highly successful Winter Brew event. “We’ll make some new friends from other breweries,” said Kraus, suggesting the definition of “local” might be expanded to include breweries from as far away as Ohio.

Whether Folk & Roots will return in 2013 remains unclear. “Our plans are to continue with this festival,” said Krause.

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  • http://twitter.com/TheeErin E!

    Locals already enjoy the trifecta of local music, local food and local beer.  What a cheap, horrible decision for the 47th Ward. 

  • lincolnsquareguy

    This is terrible news. The Folks and Roots festival was perhaps my favorite event all summer: sitting in the park listening to great music. Now we just have another street festival? Aren’t we already full of these all summer? The Folk and Roots fest provided a nice alternative to all the other similar street fests. So instead of different acts and vendors, I get basically the same stuff I get all year round just more expensive and outdoors? Without the park, will this still be as family friendly, or will it be just drunkards crammed on to one street? With all of the chains moving in and now this, the neighborhood is losing the character I originally moved here to be a part of. It looks like it’s quickly turning into a Lincoln Park north. Terrible decision by Old Town and the LSCC. Simply terrible.

  • CaptainBlah

    As a 15 year resident of Lincoln Square I feel sick to my stomach from this news. As a father of two young children I’m saddened to know that our favorite music event of the summer isn’t going to happen this year. We love it so much we usually plan our summer around it. The Folks and Roots festival helped to make Lincoln Square great, and also unique. There isn’t another summer festival like it anywhere in our city. Folk and Roots went beyond “local” entertainment (which can be great, but is also found in abundance everywhere throughout the year). The Folk and Roots fest brought us wonderful music from around the globe! Imagine! Musicians from all over the world traveling here to play exciting music for us in our beautiful park. Did they go to Grant Park or Bucktown or Lincoln Park? Nope. Lincoln Square. It’s such a shame that we’re losing this festival that set our neighborhood apart as the best in the city. I guess I’ll just take the kids and go get sloshed in another beer tent. Ugh…

    Pete Schmidt

  • LeadFooty

    I plan my summer around the Folk & Roots Festival.  Square Roots fest sounds like hell. 
    What’s the selling point in keeping this thing entirely local?   I can see it now – bumper to bumper strollers and yuppies yelling at each other over the grind of the electrical generators to ask if the vendor food is “foreign good” or “foreign bad.”  
    Maybe our newest neighborhood resident Rahm Emanuel can help the Chamber of Commerce with the city’s moving target of permits and fees. If this genericized trend keeps up I will have to find another place to live.

  • MagicS

    Thanks Mr. Kraus, but I am not flying my family out this year if it means all of us standing on the street in the sun to drink “craft” brew (get over yourselves – it’s beer) and endure local bands. 

    • ijoy

      I think you might be missing the point, or did not read carefully? . Mr. Kraus was just the person interviewed for this segment, as president of the Chamber of Coucil. Old Town School decided long ago to not hold the Folk and Roots festival for various resons. Again- read closely.  But of course, if you have to fly in  for the event, you are probably not up on local happenings. Old Town WILL be providing the music for this new event ( check back for listings when they make them available). As for the beer and food, well I would tell you all about the localness of the vendors, but you just don;t seem interested in anything other than being negetive.

  • jamesseidler

    That’s really unfortunate. Add me to the chorus who looks forward to Folk and Roots every year. I hope Square Roots will prove fun, but I doubt it can rival lounging on the grass and listening to great music–especially when you have kids.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/AALY4CYRKINH6H4ASZAORUCOZI Showsand Events

    This is a bad move. The Old Town School sold out its real roots in favor of drinking over priced beer in a parking lot while listening to a Dave Matthews cover band. If the Chamber really wants to live in Lakeview they only need to move a few blocks to the southeast.

  • http://twitter.com/mgm444 Mel

    As a long-time resident and volunteer at the Fest, as well as someone that supports the school and takes classes there, I’m really very disappointed.  It was the one summer festival that was not just a bunch of bad cover bands and that brought in really big names from all over the world – bands that wouldn’t be at a Lolla or other concert fest like that.  I actually always renew my Old Town membership every year right at the Fest and I really don’t think I’ll be renewing at all come July…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000469757706 Monica Nikel

    I just started a online petition to bring back F&R. Please sign and share. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/bring-back-the-old-town-folk-and-roots-festival/

  • http://twitter.com/joshuawentz Joshua Wentz

    I don’t get the knee jerk reaction going on down here.  This article clearly states the issues that LSCC and Old Town School are struggling with. The issue with the park seems cut and dry (kids playing, can’t take over the park) and I am extremely happy to see more support for local music. What’s not to like?

    If you want to sit in the park and listen to music, people play there and Winnemac, all the time, for free… local musician getting together to enjoy the outdoors and play music together. Every time I walk through the park in the summer someone is playing music.

    Seems like a lot of complaining over what will likely be another nice festival in our neighborhood. It’s still Old Town School, folks!

  • hgillers

    The Tribune is looking for folks willing to be quoted with their opinions on this change. Please email Heather at hgillers@tribune.com or call 312 222 3292. Thanks.

    • vouchey

      I never, ever thought I’d see the day when the Tribune trolled CSJ’s comments for sources. Today is a pretty good day.

  • Mimihaha

    I see no difference between the Folk and Roots Festival and the Square Roots.

    • LeadFooty

      The differences between Folk & Roots and the proposed Square Roots are numerous. Please refer to the article.

  • Pingback: Chicago Folk and Roots Festival R.I.P. « All the Young Punks

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