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University Of Chicago Folk Festival Works To Adapt Again Amid COVID-19 Surge

CHICAGO (CBS) -- How do you keep a 62-year-old folk music festival alive in the middle of a pandemic?

To quote a Bob Dylan line everyone knows, the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. CBS 2's Tim McNicholas went to Hyde Park find out more.

Tradition, history, and creativity are the main ingredients in folk music.

And University of Chicago college senior Eli Haber blends them all as he plans the university's 62nd Annual Folk Festival - even in an Omicron surge.

"It would be pretty silly to try and skip a year at this point," Haber said. "We have a pretty good streak."

That streak includes performances over the years from the "Father of Bluegrass" Bill Monroe and Chicago blues icon Muddy Waters.

Last year, the fest went 100 percent virtual, with performers dialing in from all over the country. This year, Haber planned to welcome finally fans back in person - and then the Omicron variant changed the tune.

"It was really disappointing and frustrating for sure," he said. "We put a lot of effort into finding all these amazing bands to come to Chicago and perform."

But some of those bands, like Lone Piñon from New Mexico, will still travel to Chicago. The group will bring their unique sound to Mandel Hall for a show that will be livestreamed.

"So excited," said Karina Wilson of Lone Piñon. "We haven't been able to get out on the road for a couple years now, so this is like a huge relief."

But this year, the fest might not be all virtual. Haber hopes to welcome a crowd of about 100 people - much smaller than past years.

"We might do some kind of lottery system," Haber said. "We're hoping we can make it work, but there's a lot of university regulations - things that could change, but are still up in the air."

So paraphrasing Dylan again, when the times are a-changing, the folk festival must change too.

Haber is even waiting to see if the university will approve special masks with a slit for harmonicas.

For more information on the U of C Folk Fest, go to the event's website or Facebook page.

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