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This article by Richard Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

August 26, 1998. All rights reserved.

Philadelphia’s Folk Smorgasbord

Back in the 1980s, taking a leisurely, Monday morning

drive back from the Philadelphia Folk Festival, which I’ve attended

every August since 1984, I stopped in to see my friend Peter Price,

co-owner of John and Peter’s in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He said then

that for some people around New Hope, the annual musical gathering

at the Old Pool Farm in Schwenksville was "like the second coming

of Christ."

While there’s a bit of hyperbole there, it’s widely known that the

annual gathering at the natural, hillside amphitheater consistently

attracts upwards of 30,000 patrons. It also attracts an international

field of musicians and groups, as well as managers, artist agents,

festival booking agents, journalists, and radio DJs from the region,

the nation, and as far away as Europe.

For thousands of festival volunteers and diehard fans, the weeks

leading

up to the event are almost as important as the event itself. Beginning

in early August, the anticipation for the event begins to build for

many patrons who attend year after year. Then, once it is underway,

the attraction of a range of music on four separate stages, transforms

the quiet farm hillside into a sea of humanity for three straight

days. And it always seems to end too quickly.

The Philadelphia Folk Festival was where I first got the chance to

meet and hang out with great blues and folk musicians, some of them

gone now: Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, John Hammond, Dave Van Ronk, Elizabeth

Cotten, Albert Collins, Junior Wells, David Amram, Katie Webster,

Dave Peabody from London, and quite literally, dozens of others. As

a listener, writer, and radio blues show host, the Philadelphia Folk

Festival has proved invaluable as a place to network and set up

interviews.

This year’s Philadelphia Folk Festival lineup is once again a superb

smorgasbord of musicians and groups to suit every taste — be it

bluegrass, blues, contemporary, or traditional folk. The great

storyteller

and singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie returns to the stage this year,

along with Chicago blues belter Koko Taylor and her Blues Machine.

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, a guitar player and violinist

from southwest Louisiana, will perform his unique blend of swamp blues

and Cajun music, and singer and songwriter Josh White Jr. is also

featured.

As a reflection of the burgeoning folk scene, there

will be plenty of cutting edge, up-and-coming, singer-songwriters

and groups. These include Slaid Cleaves from Austin, Texas, the Nields

from Northampton, Massachusetts, Eddie From Ohio (the quartet from

Virginia), Annie Wenz, Louise Taylor, and many more. Established

festival

crowd pleasers — including Arlo Guthrie, Christine Lavin, and

Tom Paxton — will perform both on the main stage and on the

festival’s

informal workshop stages.

This year, appearing at the festival for the first time in about 30

years, is musicologist, historian, and musician "Philadelphia"

Jerry Ricks. Featured at the second Philadelphia Folk Festival of

1963, Ricks was part of the festival’s early years. A major influence

on the acoustic blues guitarist, singer-songwriter, and storyteller

Guy Davis, Ricks’ set is certain to be loaded with as many great

stories

and anecdotes as it is with great songs.

The festival runs Friday, August 28, from 2:30 p.m. to midnight; and

Saturday and Sunday, August 29 and 30, from 11 a.m. to midnight. Extra

attractions include a children’s stage for young listeners, food

concessions,

and a music sales booth that offers hard-to-find music by an array

of folk and blues performers.

The Philadelphia Folk Festival is a unique event, and thankfully,

one that’s been going strong for 37 years. Probably it will go on

for another 137 years. The festival’s history and legacy is rich and

varied, and pre-dates most of today’s patrons, who range in age from

toddlers to nonagenarians. True, the older fans may have trouble

distinguishing

one festival from another, since, after four or five years of annual

attendance, the years and sounds tend to blend together. And although

the younger ones may not know it yet, they’re part of our living,

breathing folk music tradition.

No, it may not be the second coming of Christ, but the Philly Folk

Fest is a time and place where new friendships are made, old

friendships

are renewed, and new and old songs are sung. And all these things

are part of the rich texture of the folk music continuum.

— Richard Skelly

The 37th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival, Philadelphia

Folksong Society, Old Pool Farm, Upper Salford (near Schwenksville),

Pennsylvania, 800-556-FOLK. $23 to $49. Friday, Saturday, and

Sunday,

August 28 to 30.


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