The good news: All events at the 14th annual World Music Festival will be free.
The bad: The event is smaller than last year's, with 49 shows, compared to last year's 63.
"Obviously, in a transition year, you're not working under ideal circumstances," says Carlos Tortolero, who programmed the event with his colleague at the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Shoshona Currier, plus Chicago impresario David Chavez.
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The transition Tortolero refers to was the tumultuous reorganization of personnel and resources as the Department of Cultural Affairs merged with the Department of Special Events and as mayoral administrations changed. Along the way, many staffers were shuffled from one cultural office to another, some were brought in from the outside (such as Currier), some moved on to bigger things (the much-missed Michael Orlove, who was snapped up by no less than the National Endowment for the Arts).
"We were getting the team together, so we had a later start (in planning the festival) than we wanted," says Currier. "Booking really happened from May to July."
As for the reduced size of the event, "We had to focus our energies where we could," adds Currier, who sees this year's event as a potential turning point.
"We're regrouping, and we hope to build the festival back up each year."
What a pity, though, that the event even has to be rebuilt, considering what a magnificent structure Orlove and his team had created in the first place.
Even so, Currier takes pride in this year's unprecedented move to make all performances free – not just those at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
"I think that removes any notion of exclusivity and makes the festival as accessible as possible to everybody," says Currier. "A ticketed event shapes and divides audiences. With no-charge admission, we eradicate that idea about the arts being exclusive."
Then again, the free admission events by definition put this city-sponsored festival in direct competition with all the other clubs that must sell tickets to survive.
Several new venues have been added to the mix this year: Gage Park, on West 55th Street; Austin Town Hall, on West Lake Street; and Little Black Pearl, on East 47th Street.
In addition, the festival will offer marathon sessions featuring multiple bands at Austin Town Hall on Saturday afternoon; Navy Pier on Saturday and Sunday afternoons; and, as always, a "One World Under One Roof" session to close the fest at the Chicago Cultural Center on Thursday.
Following are highlights for this year's event. For further information, phone 312-744-3316 or visit worldmusicfestivalchicago.org.
Matuto with Swing Brasileiro: The joyous, ebullient music of Matuto merges the forro folkloric music of Brazil with the sounds of all-American bluegrass. Violin, accordion and a range of Brazilian percussion give this band, founded by South Carolina native Clay Ross, a seductively cross-cultural appeal. Chicago samba band Swing Brasileiro shares the bill. 7 p.m. Friday at Reggie's Rock Club, 2109 S. State St. Matuto also appears 5 p.m. Saturday at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St.
De Temps Antan: Even if you don't understand French, the music of this folk trio from Quebec conveys its message boldly. The combination of fiddle, accordion and guitar – plus vocals and foot stomping – certainly suggests the work of a larger ensemble. 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Old Town School of Folk Music's Szold Music & Dance Hall, 4545 N. Lincoln Ave. Also 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St.
Balkano: reedist Bryan Pardo leads this Chicago band in its investigation of klezmer music, as it intersects with Bulgarian and Turkish repertory. The mix is delivered in a lean, contemporary fashion, minus the schmaltz. 2 p.m. Saturday at Austin Town Hall, 5610 W. Lake St.
Slavic Soul Party: They may be based in Brooklyn, but the musicians of Slavic Soul Party dig deeply into the Balkan brass tradition, albeit retooled with jazz riffs, gypsy melody, New Orleans parade beats and what-not. Very difficult not to dance to. 7 p.m. Saturday at Navy Pier Beer Garden, 600 E. Grand Ave. Also 8:30 p.m. Sunday on a bill with Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird at Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln Ave.