If you haven’t made plans for Labor Day weekend yet, Fox Valley Folklore Society President Juel Ulven has an idea for you.
Also the founder of the popular Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival, he currently is gearing up for the event’s 43rd year. And Ulven hopes to see you there.
“If you don’t already know why you should go, you should just go to find out,” he said.
Besides hours of music in a variety of folk styles, the two-day festival offers eight stages with more than 30 featured performances, hands-on workshops, topical song and story workshops, dance, vocal and instrument classes, children’s activities and more.
“You’re going to have eight chances every hour to see something different,” Ulven said. “And if there isn’t anything on stage you want to watch, there will be probably 30 jam sessions going on at any given time under a tree somewhere with anywhere from two to 20 people playing music and you can listen to what’s going on there.”
This year’s event is set for Sunday, Sept. 1 and Monday, Sept. 2, in Geneva’s Island Park. The eight stages with performances will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both days. On Sunday, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., there will also be an old-time community barn dance and from 7:30 to 10 p.m., there will be "ghost stories" in the main music stage tent.
Admission is $25 per day for adults and $15 for teens and elders. Those 12 and under are free. There is a $5 discount for both days and family rate of $55 for a mother, father and their children. Free parking is available at the Kane County Government Center, 719 S. Batavia Ave. in Geneva.
Just some of the organizations set to showcase their talents during the event include the Fox Valley Storytelling Guild, Chicago Sacred Harp Singers, Dulcimer Society of Northern Illinois, Academy of Irish Music-Chicago and the Plank Road Folk Music Society.
Island Park, located on the Fox River and walkable from downtown, has been the backdrop for the Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival since 1979.
Fox Valley Folklore Society members launched the inaugural event in 1977 in Aurora.
“And it went very well but we just about killed ourselves doing it,” Ulven said. “We booked two days of concerts and workshops running from 10 in the morning to about 9 at night. It was more work than we thought it was going to be.”
The group opted to host a scaled-down version the following year in Wheaton’s Cantigny Park.
“It was pretty low-key...more like a picnic with scheduled entertainment,” Ulven said.
One of the Society members, an avid Fox Valley trail walker and cyclist, then suggested making Geneva the venue.
“He had been doing a lot of trekking on the trail and said, ‘There’s this great island right south of 38. It looks like it would be a really great place to do a festival.’ We went up and looked at the island and said, ‘Wow,’” Ulven said.
In its early years, festivities were limited to one day, with one mainstage and a smaller stage for workshops.
“It gradually grew and we kept adding stages and then a second day and worked up to where we’re at now and where we’ve been for 20-plus years,” Ulven said.
The largest folk festival in Illinois, the weekend event brings thousands of people to Geneva each year. Ulven enjoys the annual gathering.
“It’s almost like a family reunion. Everybody gets together to spend time with friends, play with them and commiserate on things,” he said.
He calls the folk culture “an intentional community.”
“It’s not people that live close to each other but people that have the same interests that are close to each other,” Ulven said.
The music itself has been passed down from one generation to the next, he said.
“It’s music that came down to us that was composed and honed by people that couldn’t write. It existed just in the ether for several hundred years. It isn’t somebody who bought the sheet music and learned it or bought the album and learned it. A lot of the music people have learned from other people. It’s hearing a song and saying, ‘That’s a song I need to know.’ It’s pretty impressive when you see it in action,” Ulven said.
For more information about this year’s Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival, visit www.FoxValleyFolk.com or call (630) 897-3655.