You may have seen the headlines about the 45th Anniversary of Woodstock (Fri, Aug 15th – Sun Aug 17th, 1969) but did you know that the Philadelphia Folk Festival is a pioneer of happy, hippy festivals? It’s true. So much so that Bob Spitz, a celebrated biographer and journalist, acknowledges the wisdom of early Philadelphia Folk Festival organizers—from stage design to lighting and sound—in his new book “Barefoot in Babylon: The Creation of the Woodstock Music Festival“. Another not-so-obvious but critical component of Philly Folk Fest is the volunteers—this year I heard there were approximately 2,500 volunteers who worked to make this festival happen. They are the people that build the roads and fest infrastructure, work shifts at the gates and tent stations, and tend to all the other operational necessities. For those not familiar with some of the festival traditions and diehard spirit of the many people behind the scenes, I recommend watching At Fest—a documentary by James and Jennifer Wallace. James and Jennifer are also members of Who Hill—one of the many camping communities “At Fest”.
Hanging at The Fest
If you come to Folk Fest at Old Pool Farm for the day, you have access to music on the Main Stage, the Lobby Stage, the Cultural Tent, the Craft Stage, the Tank Stage, the Dulcimer Stage, and the Camp Stage. I even attended a Ukelele Workshop with Rev. TJ McGlinchey on Friday afternoon and learned how to play a few folk tunes, including “Home on the Range” which TJ and Dani Mari of Lovers League led us through while the ukelele students played along. There is always something going on at one or more stages, though it is staggered enough to catch multiple acts within a set time block if you’ve got some pep in your step. The Yards beer tent will satisfy your need for brew and there are plenty of food vendors to choose from—the fish tacos, french fries, and fruit smoothies kept my cravings happy. There is a large area for crafts and folky merchandise at the top of the hill near the Main Stage and then a shady area called Dulcimer Grove where you can hang a hammock and enjoy kids activities and circus performers.
Sturgill Simpson and Parsonsfield performed on the Camp Stage just outside the camping area to get everyone in a dancing mood. Sturgill Simpson’s country sound put me in the mood for beef jerky and warm beer—his voice will stick in your ear like a stubborn ball of wax.
Old Crow Medicine Show I’ll be so bold as to proclaim Old Crow the best performance my eyes, ears, body, mind, soul, and spirit have seen all year. These boys really know how to turn a festival out—it’s no wonder they were inducted into The Grand Ol’ Opry. Whether I was supposed to be backstage or not, I was there long enough to see and hear them warming up in the dark. They are just as nice looking from the back as they are in front. And, yes, they played “Wagon Wheel” because you love every bit of it no many how many times you’ve heard it. You’re singing it right now. Thanks to “high friends in places” I also have most of the setlist to share. Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer Alabama High Test Caroline Take ‘Em Away Bootleggers 8 Dogs 8 Banjos Sweet Amarillo Mary’s Kitchen Humdinger Firewater Palisade Park CC Rider Hear Them All Carry Me Back Fall on My Knees Wagon Wheel American Girl
Tempest I really had no idea what to expect when a kilted, double-fretted guitar wielding Lief Sorbye and his band took the stage. Then, Kathy Buys and her electric blue violin started shooting fairy dust all over the stage and Celtic rock exploded into the night.
Shemekia Copeland It took me over 10 years to finally see this dynamo perform live and she rocked the stage in stiletto heels, shaking a tambourine, with a voice that didn’t really need a microphone (she proved it when she sang without it).
A Fistful of Sugar A perfect example of a band that is homegrown from the Philly Folk Fest, this 11-piece performed full-throttle with songs from their recent release Perspicacity such as “Miss Impossible to See”, “Call Me”, “Virtuous Woman”, “Now That You’re Gone” and “Brother, Brother”.
The Wallace Brothers I remember first catching these guys at Jammin for the Animals and then this past May at Snipes Farm for River Roots. Colby and Zach Wallace (the twins with the cutest eyes might I add) spread some country butter all over the Main Stage.
Kalob Griffin Band I must confess to failing at my fangirling and reporting duties as I missed my photo opp for this band at the Lobby Stage. But I must redeem myself by posting their setlist and by urging you to check out their album June Found A Gun (see album review here).
Bad Bad Leroy Brown
Whiskey My Love
Black Horse Motel I have to take a moment and express my heart to another homegrown band, of which one of the members is a staple in the Fest community. Ryann Lynch of the band Hogmaw, also featured in the At Fest documentary, returned to Fest this year with Black Horse Motel.
Red Summer Spirit
Run Rabbit Run
Follow Me Down
Till the day
Rebirth Brass Band “Because I used to love her but it’s all over now.” Those lyrics, written by Bobby and Shirley Womack are burned into my ears because of The Grateful Dead but I got to hear them sung by Rebirth Brass Band in the late hours on top of a hill at Old Pool Farm.
Tommy Emmanuel I’ve never seen or heard the likes of what this man can do with his hands and fingers to a guitar. If you look closely at this picture, you can see that his axe looks like it’s been sandblasted.
Natalie MacMaster I know I proclaimed Old Crow the best act of Fest but Natalie MacMaster danced and fiddled her striking self in a blaze of white light.
El Caribefunk I remember being given a burned CD of this group by Ryan Tennis at this year’s TSI Awards and it popped and fizzled in my itunes player. I was lucky to catch them jamming out at The Roost camp but I missed their performance on the Camp Stage. But they were so FIRE that I couldn’t help but overhear numerous ravings of their set. One particular fest goer said, “I’ve never seen the Camp Stage like that in all my years at Fest.” The pictures below offer a taste.
Honey Child Oh, the HARMONIES!!! I caught Hezekiah Jones and Daniel Bower performing with some lovely ladies.
Loudon Wainwright III I made a point to make my way over to see this man perform and along the way a friend, singer/songwriter Sarah Napolitan, mentioned how she loved a song by Loudon Wainwright about swimming—well, don’t you know he opened the set with “Swimming Song”?
Sarah Jarosz First time seeing her play and sing—she even covered a Bela Fleck tune. Her fingerwork is exquisite.
DakhaBrakha I missed a photo opp but I was listening to this band while I was sitting at the Merchandise Tent with my band. “WOW” is the first word that comes to mind—their tribal wailing and guttural forces made me rethink everything about music and how it’s created.
Camping with The Folk
If you also camped at the Philly Folk Fest, then you were privy to both fest and camping worlds—A Tale of Two Cities if you will—the camping area being a place that you could easily spend all your time without ever setting foot outside. Not only are there open jams at any point in time, whether while you’re walking on a path or at a campsite, there is also the Front Porch Stage where I happened to catch one of the winners of the Philadelphia Songwriters Project, Andrea Nardello. The Front Porch was also powered by the Folk Cycle.
Remembering Pete Seeger
On January 27, 2014, the folk community lost one of its ringleaders—the inspirational rabblerouser Pete Seeger, whose banjo surrounded hate and forced it to surrender. On Saturday, Janis Ian, Roger Dietz, John Francis, Michael Braunfeld, Josh White, Jr., Dave Fry, and SONia sang Pete Seeger songs on the Craft Stage in remembrance.
Remembering Dante Bucci
In addition to Pete Seeger and the many people lost over the years, we lost an outstanding local musician in the dark hours before Folk Fest. Fellow TSI Contributor and Swollen Fox writer/photographer Elizabeth Thorpe has written a tribute to Dante Bucci here. John Vettese of WXPN’s The Key has paid tribute to Dante as well. I recently met Dante in May at a Melodies Cafe show when he played percussion with Andrea Nardello and I remember how captivated I was the first time I heard him play at the Xtreme Song Shuffle last October. Rest In Peace, Dante, may the four winds blow you safely home. This video was played at Folk Fest on the main stage screen as a tribute.
On a Personal Note…
My band Kicking Down Doors played our first Folk Fest on the Dulcimer and Front Porch Stages. I feel weird mentioning it my own article but you can see a couple photos in the slideshow and go here for a short mention.
Photo Folkery by Elizabeth Thorpe Photography