The Chicago Humanities Festival, which runs from October 28 to November 12, has announced its program for this year’s installment. The theme is “Peace and War: Facing Human Conflict.” (A PDF file with the entire schedule is here.)

As usual, a fascinating array of writers will give talks, and this year the main focus is on conflict in the Middle East. There are always a few musical events included in the programming, but with the exception of experimental San Francisco vocalist Pamela Z, none this year are very interesting or unique. Good old Joan Baez is representing the protest tradition, but come on–it’s 2006! If the event was really bold–and still wanted to stick with its theme–it would bring in the Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj, an improviser I mentioned in one of my first posts. He used his talents as a visual artist to chronicle his experience living in Beirut during the recent Israeli assault on his country in July, and he also recorded a fascinating piece–featured everywhere from the New York Times to NPR–in which he duetted with falling bombs from Israeli warplanes.

If it wasn’t for the dedicated work of small-time presenters, many of them fellow musicians, Chicago would be a wasteland when it comes to vanguard music concerts. Institutional presenters remain stuck in the last decade.