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Treasures In Uptown Butte: The Fifth Annual Montana Folk Festival

It seems fitting that every year, the second weekend of July transforms the "Richest Hill on Earth" into a collection of gems - not precious metals or glittering stones, but vibrant music, art, dance, and craftwork.

2015 marks the fifth annual Montana Folk Festival, a free, eclectic outdoor confluence of traditional arts and culture born from the three-year stint of the 70th - 72nd National Folk Festivals in Butte, 2008-2010.

Exactly who and what will converge in Uptown Butte on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 10, 11 and 12, 2015?

The son jarocho music of Mexico's Gulf Coast, cycled through Richie Valens and the musical centrifuge of East Los Angeles.

Musical "good medicine" blown through Native American cedar and pine flutes.

Pedal and lap steel guitars, wailing and testifying in a modern form of Holiness-Pentecostal ecstasy.

Smyrneika and rebetika songs from Greece, Go-go funk from Washington, D.C. and Chinese zheng from Shanghai.

Afro-Brazilian martial arts that conceal the urgency of self-defense in the form of breathtaking acrobatic dance.

Serendipity is the hallmark of a big, free outdoor arts festival. You might arrive with an agenda - to hear a particular artist, to hit the dance tent for a particular style of music - but if you keep your ears open as you wander the stages, a musician you've never heard before is sure to stop you in your tracks.

The mesmerizing interplay of fiddle and guitar, amplifying both the delicacy and the drive of Irish fiddle tunes.

Soulful singing and guitar chords from the reigning "King of Beale Street."

Elegant and stylized classical Cambodian dancing that even genocide couldn't extinguish. 

Searing bluegrass vocals from Appalachia's coal fields.

Big band syncopation married to Hawaiian language lyrics and ukulele, evoking the 1920s era of the Royal Hawaiian Band.

Outdoor Cajun house dances plunked onstage straight from a backyard kitchen in Eunice, Louisiana.

Serendipity is the hallmark of a big, free outdoor arts festival. You might arrive with an agenda - to hear a particular artist, to hit the dance tent for a particular style of music -  but if you keep your ears open as you wander the stages, a musician you've never heard before is sure to stop you in your tracks.

From the more than two dozen music and dance groups performing at this year's festival, here's a small handful:

Los Cambalache's son jarocho music originates in Veracruz, Mexico, and before that, in indigenous Mexican and African culture. Here's their take on "El Aguanieve:"
 

New York City's Capoeira Luanda teaches and performs the Afro-Brazilian art form of capoeira, a blend of dance, acrobatics, rhythm, and martial arts. Capoeira is a dialog between players, a conversation through movement which can take on many shades of meaning. The details of capoeira's origins and early history are still a matter of debate, but it is clear that African slaves played a crucial role in the development of the art form. It's believed that slaves used capoeira's dance-like appearance as a way to hide their training of combat and self defense.

Julia Olin, Executive Director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts (curators and presenters of the National Folk Festival), says this of the Irish fiddle and guitar duo, Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill:

Martin Hayes, the fiddler, is from County Clare. His dad, P.J., was a member of the Tulla Ceili Band, a famous band that has existed for five decades. Dennis Cahill is an exquisite Chicago Irish guitarist. The two of them together play traditional music, and yet they take Irish music in some new directions. They weave together these tunes almost like chamber music. One piece can last quite a long time and it will develop as it goes on, just as a concerto would. But by the end, it's like you're on a racehorse, headed for the finish line. It's very intimate, and can be fragile, like lace, but then also tremendously exciting. I just think they're amazing.

Kahulanui ("The Big Dance") represents three generations of Hawaiian big band swing music: band leader, arranger and composer, grandfather Robert Kahulanui Naipo; dad, Rodgers L.L. Naipo, Sr.; and grandson and Kahulanui band leader, Lolena Naipo, Jr. In the words of Wall Street Journal writer Will Friedwald: "Nine-piece Hawaiian Swing band Kahulanui will make you want to dance a hula and do the jitterbug at the same time."

 

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