Words by AQ | Photos by Jake Keeler & AQ
Ahhh the Philadelphia Folk Fest. America’s longest continously running festival. For 51 straight years, fellow folkers’ have been gathering in the farm fields of Scwhenksville Pennsylvania to gather and enjoy each others’ company and, of course, to enjoy the folk tunes.
Arriving Friday afternoon, the campground was already full and people were well into the swing of things. Pre-festers arrive on Monday and set up their elaborate camp sites. The tent city develops an intricate yet efficient path of roads and alley-ways for festers to navigate. The field takes on the feel of a city: road signs direct you , large tents are named just as buildings would be and all the public services are appropriately scattered throughout the grounds. After 51 years of Folkin’ you could expect nothing less.
For all these fine people camping and those traveling in daily, plenty of musical greatness was available Thursday and Friday. The afternoon shows included acts throughout the day, highlighting a eclectic swath of musicianship. As the sun set behind ominous clouds, campers made their way down through the dulcimer grove to settle in for Friday’s main events.
Brother Sun and Debo Band started Friday’s evening off on the main stage. Pokey LaFarge’s upbeat demeanor and Mississippi music complimented by South City Three’s musical drawl, brough the Folk Fest into the dusk of a Pennsylvanian August evening. Pokey and his band mates traveled from Portland, Oregon to play this set. Despite the vigorous travel schedule, they put an energetic, authentic set.
As Gene Shay introduced the Celtic-dance band, Comas, lightning flashed far off in the distance. For a time, the storm lingered out there in the night, contemplating whether or not to open up over the fest. Comas played on, blending forms of traditional Gaelic and Flemish tunes for the crowd. Mid-way through their set, the skies opened up. Many folkers took cover, others braved on and the show went on.
After some time, the rain let up and Mary Chapin Carpenter took the stage. With a lull in the rain, the sets filled up for her unique style of country music. She has an incredible ability to create scenery with her lyrics and command your attention while she’s on stage. Everyone listened intently as she slowed things down a bit and really showed off her poetic abilities. Her set was relaxing compared with what was in store next, The Voices of the Wetlands Allstars.
These Louisiana boys took the stage proclaiming that it isn’t appropriate for them to play unless it’s humid and wet. Well, it sure was humid and wet (this is Pennsylvania in August). Getting right into it, they started off by folkin’ ROCKIN. Guitarist Tab Benoit played the hell out of his weathered Fender. Taking the crowd out of the somber mood from Carpenter’s set right back to 11 (if you know what I mean). Their set’s energy never let up as each member of the band had a chance to showcase their abilities from Waylon Thibodeaux’s fiddle to Johnny Sanone’ harmonica to the Big Chief Monk Bordeaux’s tambourine. Everyone will now remember that ‘There ain’t no funk, like Louisiana FUNK!’ Even though the heavy rain eventually returned and continued on throughout the night, the electricity of Voices of the Wetlands Allstars set the tempo for what was surely a Folkin’ awesome weekend.