Magic of words and music inspires Woodstock Folk Festival honoree

Andrew Calhoun sees the Woodstock Folk Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award as sort of a promissory note for future projects.

At age 56, he said the award feels a bit premature, but he’ll definitely take it.

“I’m touched,” said Calhoun, who spent much of his childhood in Naperville before pursuing folk music both on stage and off, founding Waterbug Records in Glen Ellyn, where he now lives. “It’s kind of an under-the-radar life, so it’s nice. ... I guess it means I’ve been doing this awhile, stubborn persistence.”

Calhoun will receive the honor and perform July 20 as part of the 29th annual Woodstock Folk Festival on the Woodstock Square. The festival – scheduled from 12:30 to 6 p.m. – features a diverse musical lineup of the best in folk music along with an open mic stage and children’s entertainment.

Calhoun has gone in the past to watch other performers and support a style of music that doesn’t necessarily receive the promotion it deserves.

“As far as traditional folk music, it exists outside of the economic system, sort of like heirloom vegetables, things that just exist because people love them and want to keep them and don’t need to be promoted and are just there because they have value to their soul,” he said.

“There’s a lot of history in folk songs, the emotional truth of history that you can’t get out of a texbook.”

Calhoun moved to Naperville at about age 10, when he got his first guitar. By age 12, he was writing songs. He played throughout the Chicago area before touring the United States and Europe. Through the years, he’s written books of poems and humor, recorded several CDs and taught songwriting.

Taking care of his ailing father, he now performs both solo and with his daughter, Casey, at clubs, restaurants, shops, farmers markets, “whatever gigs I can.” At the Woodstock Folk Festival, he said, he plans to play a few originals as well as “Hard Travelin’” by Woody Guthrie.

It’s a song not many do because of its numerous words, he said, a song about hard rock mining, vagrancy and going to jail in the jail you’ve helped build.

“Then you realize the whole song is really a prayer, such a unique brilliant piece of writing,” he said.

Folk music continues to be Calhoun’s inspiration.

“When I was younger, there were always songwriters in Chicago who secretly wanted to be rock stars. I always liked original, hard-core traditional folk,” he said.

“I like the poetry, storytelling and the magic of the way the words and music fit together.”

Bands, such as the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an old-time string band from North Carolina, are bringing more deserved attention to folk music, he said. The band won a Grammy in 2010.

And social media and the Internet have made it easier to find sources of traditional folk music, he said.

“If people just look at the mainstream, we’re sort of invisible, but in fact, we’re here,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

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