Words by AQ
Photos by AQ & Jake Keeler

Saturday nights are always a big deal at festivals.  Saturday night provides the last chance for people to really let loose and escape their Monday thru Friday selves.  You can rage as hard or as little as you like.  Stay up late and not worry about what time you wake on Sunday.  Surely, these thoughts were running through the massive crowd occupying the hill in front of the Philadelphia Folk Fest’s main stage last Saturday night.

With no dinner break this year, the evening’s music carried right over form the afternoon’s showcases.  After a wet and thunderous Friday night, the folkers needed no break.  The crowd was stationed and ready to rock right at 4pm with The Holmes Brothers, Lucinda Williams and the rest of the folkers through the night and into the next morning.

By the time Steve Earle hit the stage around 6pm, everyone was fired up.  Earle kept the fire roaring, fittingly enough given Earle’s introduction from Gene Shay as someone “who has made a career of pissing people off.”  Of course, he didn’t piss off this crowd of folkers, but rather channeled that energy into a fun and fast-paced set full of political quips and jibes.  From dedicating a song to “W and his fuckin’ horse” to telling the story of his ‘Bazooki,’ which segued into “City of Immigrants.” This was my first time seeing Earle and I’ll put him on my list to see again, even if just to see what political statements he has to make about GW…

After a rare slip by Gene Shay (he announced Little Feat instead of Hiatt) John Hiatt took the stage.  Taking Shay’s mistake in stride, Hiatt came out,  hugged Gene and got right to it.  You could tell Hiatt was up on stage just having a good time.  Maybe that’s his general demeanor or maybe it was just the energy floating around that night. Obviously bemused by the folkers donning glow-stick apparel, Hiatt at one-point offered a blank-check for a glow hula-hoop.

Being at festivals with such solid line-ups, it is hard to image how things could get even better after each act.  Mad props to the Folksong Society for this years line-up.  Because after Hiatt’s set I wasn’t sure how things could get much better.  But they did.  Little Feat, although more on the jam and groove spectrum of music, kept the energy going.  At their set’s end, it almost seemed a rare Folk Fest encore performance was in store.  Alas, Gene Shay was forced to shut the crowd down for the sake of time and to get us ready for Mike Cross.

With everyone riding super high, Mike Cross was a mellow way to end Saturday’s line-up.  Cross’s fast-talking, anecdote filled set, served as a great mellowing before what was to come in the camp grounds that evening.  Cross took about an hour to play maybe 6 songs, but noone knew any different.  Each song Cross plays is preluded by a story, and they are all quite entertaining and comical.

For many, the night ended with Cross.  For many others, the Folk Fest party continued well into the unusually cool Pennsylvanian August night.  This folker found himself in a crowd of 20 string musicians singing along to folk classics at 3am with a mix of people, young and old.  Other folkers, undoubtedly shared very similar experiences. 

The campground scene is why the folk fest is so great, and why it has continued to be great for over half a century. Throughout Saturday I kept finding myself wanting to venture the tent city in search of music. And that is a search which does not take long to fulfill. From our neighbor Danny J Y2K to the random dude walking around with bass who stopped and jammed while we song along to the more established acts like the Azzholes and the Philadelphia Jug Band. This festival is about sharing music with other people who love music. The stage doesn’t matter so much as just being together and enjoying the tunes. Until next year, keep on folking.