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Peggy Seeger turning out for Fox Valley Folk Fest

September 4th, 2009

by Lilli Kuzma; reprinted with permission from Pioneer Press

33rd Annual Fox Valley Folk Music & Storytelling Festival Sunday and Monday, Sept. 6 and 7, at Island Park in Geneva. Concert and workshop stages run both days from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Barn dance and ghost stories Sunday night. Suggested donation: $15 day adults, $10 teens and seniors, under 12 free. Visit www.foxvalleyfolk.com or call (630) 897-3655. From 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, Peggy Seeger's "Songmaking" workshop Geneva Park District Offices, 710 Western Ave., Geneva. $35 registration fee, $25 for Fox Valley Folklore Society members and festival volunteers. To register, contact Juel Ulven by e-mail at juelu@aol.com or at (630) 897-3655.

For folk aficionados in northern Illinois and beyond, there is one event that sets the bar for all others — The Fox Valley Folk Music & Storytelling Festival.

In its 33rd year, with a solid reputation for bringing in the biggest names in traditional folk, the fest also offers multiple stages featuring other folk genres and related styles, as well as workshops, showcases and jams.

The Fox Valley Folk Music & Storytelling Festival will be Sept. 6 and 7 in Geneva's Island Park, with related events on Sept. 5.

"We've pretty much maintained sticking to as much tradition as possible," said Juel Ulven, the event founder and coordinator. "We always have a few new artists every year, 15 to 20 percent are new. This year: Jack Hardy, Andy Cohen, Jeni & Billy, The Cajun Strangers, Li'l Rev, and Peggy Seeger (are among the new). We're especially pleased to present Peggy, as (in prior years) her tours didn't jive with our dates. And this will be one of the last of her American tours before she retires to England." Seeger will be a mainstage performer as well as a workshop presenter. Returning favorites include Barton & Para, Lee Murdock, Andrew Calhoun, Small Potatoes, Michael Smith, Jack Williams and The Teflons.

Peggy Seeger is the half-sister of the iconic Pete Seeger, and sister to the late Mike Seeger, who passed away in August. An accomplished multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, activist, and folk icon in her own right, Peggy is also famous as the subject of the song, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," penned by her late husband and music collaborator, Ewan MacColl.

Speaking by phone from Vermont, Seeger, 74, explained the nature of her Songmaking workshop:

"I will use folk songs as a model or jumping off place to songmaking, I will run through a whole lot of folk forms, forms that are tried and true. We absolutely adore rhyming couplets, verse-chorus-verse-chorus. I'll do riddle songs, children's forms, question and answer songs," she said.

"The fact is that we have a huge tradition of song. If the songs lasted all this time, there must be a reason."

Asked about her times in Chicago, Seeger said: "I love Chicago. Over the past 45 years, I played there with Ewan, with Mike and Pete, names like Big Bill Broonzy. Chicago can get bloody cold! I lived there for three months, from April to June in 1957, when the night shows would start at 10 p.m. and go on to 4 in the morning."

Among the returning artists is Margaret Nelson, of Evanston, who, along with Phil Cooper, will perform as Cooper & Nelson, a well-known traditional act that has been involved at Fox Valley since 1982.

"We will performs lots of traditional material, but some new ones, an original called 'In the Circle of the Dream,' best described as a professional hymn for the ecology movement," said Nelson, "but our repertoire can be described with this tagline: Songs about love, sex, greed, betrayal, death, revenge, and home repair."

Nelson had this to say about the Fox Valley event:

"Juel has always been so creative in setting up the workshops, everything from murder ballads to gospel. Fox Valley lets you bump up with performers who are the best traditional performers in the world, so we get to play and meet (these artists), and it helps us know what we're reaching toward. It's a pleasure and a privilege to perform with the very best.

Nelson added: "What's not to like about Fox Valley? Big trees, shade, bike paths, a playground for the kids. It's a tremendous festival in a lovely site."