Melissa Merli: Love was in the air at C-U Folk & Roots Festival

The fourth annual Champaign-Urbana Folk & Roots Festival ended on a blissful note last weekend.

As one of the organizers headed to the closing late-night jam at The Iron Post, he noticed a young woman wearing a floor-length, white wedding dress standing outside, talking on her cell phone.

He thought it was a costume. Once inside, though, he discovered that Karie Tess, along with husband, Scott Tess, and friends and relatives, had just come from their wedding reception at Lake of the Woods in Mahomet.

"We just wanted to enjoy some local music," Scott Tess told me a few days later. "Our wedding reception ended at 10. We still had time to enjoy with our friends and family. We thought it was a good idea."

The jam was the only festival event the couple was able to attend. They stayed until the end, about 2 a.m.

"When we first walked in, there was nobody there — it was between performances," Scott said. "Then musicians kind of trickled in with their instruments in hand, sat down and started jamming. It was great."

The Tesses enjoy all kinds of music but "definitely" like folk and roots. They even hired two local roots bands, The Young and the Fretless and Big Bluestem, to perform at their reception.

They actually were married three months earlier in Florida. Soon thereafter, they moved here to take new jobs. Scott, 30, is the environmental sustainability manager for the city of Urbana. Karie, 33, (maiden name Brown) teaches sixth-grade math at Urbana Middle School.

Nowadays, when celebrities spend millions and regular folk spend thousands on weddings, it's refreshing to hear about a couple who didn't.

"We don't have millions to spend, that's for sure," Scott said with a laugh. "We bought good food and good music and made lots of our own decorations. We invested money where it's really valuable and saved money where we could make our own."

He guesses that approach fits with the idea of sustainability.

"We didn't generate an excessive amount of garbage," he said.

Ditto for the Folk & Roots Festival, at least musicwise.

A couple who visited from the East, who attend five or six folk festivals a year, were impressed, telling their hosts the two-day C-U festival was one of the best, with consistently excellent acts.

One was Blind Boy Paxton, a young multi-instrumentalist who knows a lot of old-time jazz and other songs. He's likable, extremely talented, warm, unpretentious and entertaining.

Festival chairwoman Brenda Koenig believes Paxton exemplifies the spirit of the festival.

"He loves to play music," she said. "He will play with everybody. He could make so much money if he had a CD, but he has nothing to sell you. He comes to the festival because he enjoys making music with people. He buys his own tickets to come out here."

I enjoyed Paxton twice this year, first at the Rose Bowl Tavern and then at the Iron Post. One of the larger venues in town, the Rose Bowl was packed for Paxton and his friend Brandon Bailey, a harmonica player from Memphis.

I didn't take in as many acts this year as I wanted, having to go home and walk my dog, Skye. But what I did see uplifted me and gave me the sense that the 2012 Folk & Roots Festival was really of the people, for the people and by the people. Koenig noticed that, too.

"We were pleased with the kind of community spirit that manifested, that was present in almost everything," she said. "It was a beautiful thing. There was something really magical about this year. I think part of it had to do with we had some headliners back from previous years. It was beautiful when Blind Boy walked in — he had connected with people before."

Koenig and the other festival organizers — all are volunteers — will have a festival recap meeting soon. From all the feedback, Koenig believes this festival was the best so far.

"We made quite a bit more money than last year, and attendance was up," she said. "I went to almost everything. This year there were only a couple events I would classify as poorly attended."

Koenig said the festival, to keep going, needs more sponsors and more volunteers. The grass-roots event that features national, regional and local acts, along with free workshops, takes a lot of planning and effort year-round. She said many amazing people stepped up to help. But as with most major things like a festival, more are needed.

In Indianapolis

Earlier this month, I drove to the Indianapolis Museum of Art for the media preview for "Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture." I'll give readers a preview of that excellent exhibition in this Thursday's e3.

While I was there, I met interesting people, among them Iris Love, an archaeologist who with a friend had driven 12 hours from Sandy-ravaged New York to Indy for the exhibition.

I also chatted with Martin Krause, curator of prints, drawings and photographs — "All things flat," he quipped. A native of Chicagoland, he has a master's degree in art history from the University of Illinois and has worked at the Indianapolis museum since graduating in 1977.

He's now at work on a retrospective, to open May 24, 2013, of 53 Robert Indiana prints. It will be the first retrospective of the artist's prints since 1969. Krause has traveled to Indiana's home-studio in an old Oddfellows' lodge on an island off Maine three times so far.

An Indiana native, Indiana (born Clark) is frequently associated with the pop art movement but prefers to call himself a "sign painter." He is perhaps best known for his iconic steel sculpture that spells out, in capital letters, the word LOVE. He is 84 now and "sharp as a tack," Krause said.

Besides Indiana's work, the Indianapolis museum will present, starting April 5, 2013, the first major survey in North America of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's work.

This is a major show; the internationally known Chinese artist is an outspoken critic of the communist government in China. It detained him last year for "economic crimes" and later released him.

The Indianapolis museum folks don't know if he'll be able to travel here for the show; as part of his bail, he is not to leave Beijing.

"Ai Weiwei: According to What?" was organized by the Mori Art Museum and premiered at that museum in Tokyo in 2009. The exhibition was revised for its North American tour to include more recent works; it's on view through Feb. 24, 2013, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., before traveling to Indy.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or mmerli@news-gazette.com. Her blog is at http://www.news-gazette.com/blogs/art-and-about.

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