This weekend, get back in touch with our region's musical heritage. The St. Louis Folk & Roots Festival takes over Grand Center, with old-school fiddles, contemporary songwriting, and workshops for those who enjoy making music and listening to it.
For musician and educator Ryan Spearman and KDHX’s Kelly Wells, chief engagement officer and director of the Folk School, the city is ripe for the celebration. In 2012, the pair began with a simple one-day festival with just a few bands, with the intent to connect great folk musicians with great St. Louis audiences. “The first event experienced great success and gave us the push to continue,” notes Wells.
The festival has grown into a multiple-day affair, with the Folk School and KDHX building out the festival. It features concerts at the Sheldon Concert Hall and The Stage at KDHX, as well as a happy hour tonight at Urban Chestnut, featuring the Bottoms Up Blues Gang.
Later today, head to the Sheldon Concert Hall to catch festival headliner Sarah Jarosz, the 22-year-old singer/songwriter phenom from Austin, Texas. Kansas City-based musician Betse Ellis, who moved from her classical training in the violin into Ozark hillbilly fiddling, shares the bill. Then, enjoy the Colorado bluegrass stylings of the Blue Canyon Boys. Afterward, visit The Stage at KDHX, where the Caleb Klauder Country Band performs until midnight.
On Saturday, the Folk School takes the spotlight. From 10 a.m. to noon, Charlie Walden will teach a workshop on Missouri-style fiddling methods. From noon to 2 p.m., catch workshops from two members of the Blue Canyon Boys, either Jason Hicks’ guitar workshop or Gary Dark’s on the mandolin. From 1 to 3 p.m., North Carolina’s Riley Baugus illuminates the finer points of claw-hammer banjo, focusing on techniques specific to the Blue Ridge Mountains. That night, Kentucky rockers J.D. Wilkes and the Dirt Daubers (featuring J.D. Wilkes of the Legendary Shack Shakers) perform on The Stage at KDHX.
“Folk music has always been an important part of St. Louis and Missouri history,” Wells says. “Blues, jazz, folk, mountain music, alt-country—they’ve all not only found homes here, but St. Louis has allowed for innovation and evolution in each era.”
On Sunday afternoon, from noon to 4 p.m., fiddle players vie for $1,000 in prizes during the 4th Annual Folk School Fiddle Contest. Each contestant plays a hoedown, waltz and tune of their choice, with judging on style and uniqueness, tone and intonation, rhythm and timing and feel and drive.
“Folk music tells our stories,” Wells says. “It’s also a community music—it encourages a partnership between listener, musicians, and supporters.”