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This column by Richard J. Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on August 25, 1999. All rights reserved.

Richard J. Skelly on the Philadelphia Folk Festival

One hot August afternoon at the Philadelphia Folk


I don’t know how many summers ago, a folksinger friend of mine, Rod

MacDonald, compared the festival to a golf tournament. As we sat


our cold water in the 90 degree plus sunshine, we could hear —

from yonder arise — an audience applauding and cheering wildly

at one of the other stages. A few minutes later, the stage immediately

behind us erupted into cheers as a workshop on humorous songs wrapped

up. Not unlike being at a golf tournament, argued MacDonald, a former

Newsweek magazine staffer-turned-folksinger and author of "The

Aliens Wore Business Suits," and other little known classics.

Such is the typical experience at the Philadelphia Folk Festival,

where, at times, there are good shows going on at two or three stages.

So you just catch 15 or 20 minutes of one stage before walking over

to the other stage to catch that other act you saw in the program


Always well-attended, always painstakingly well-organized, the


Folk Festival, presented by the Philadelphia Folksong Society, remains

one of the best concert dollar values in the area, offering the chance

to see and hear dozens of performers in the course of a three-day


This year’s festival, the 38th, is no exception. Headliners, depending

on your orientation — i.e., singer-songwriters, country-folk,

blues or Celtic — include John Prine, Suzy Bogguss, Dar Williams,

Moxy Fruvous, Doc Watson, and Balfa Toujours. Also featured: Janis

Ian, Lucy Kaplansky, Deb Pasternak, Broadside Electric, Cry, Cry,

Cry, Stacey Earle, Chris Smither, David Olney — the list goes


Among the Garden State natives performing this year will be Rik


born and raised in East Brunswick and now based in Vermont. Palieri

is one of three or four Polish bagpipe players in the U.S., but he

is also a fine interpreter of the blues music of Leadbelly, Skip


Mississippi John Hurt, and Elizabeth Cotten, among others who have

long since left this realm. Aside from performing his own songs and

the songs of others on banjo and guitar, Palieri regularly astounds

his audiences with his mastery of the Polish bagpipes, the trumpeta,

(an eight-foot long wooden horn, also of Polish origin), and an


of other instruments.

The scope of the other performers and bands this year is again


Alvin "Youngblood" Hart and Chris Smither, two talented


blues players who write their own material while paying homage to

the masters; David Olney, John Prine, and Ray Wylie Hubbard, all


singer-songwriters who stretch the boundaries between folk and country

music; Loudon Wainwright III, who’s in a class by himself as a topical

singer-songwriter and comedian; Elizabeth Jones, who performs songs

from Appalachia; Steve Forbert, who some might argue is a has-been

but has been proving himself in recent years by staying out on the

road and continuing to write fresh new songs; Tempest, a Celtic rock

band and the more Irish traditional Eileen Ivers Band; Bio Ritmo,

an Afro-Cuban salsa band; and Brave Old World, a klezmer band.

That’s only part of the list, but if you keep an open mind and a


a curious heart, you’re bound to find something to latch on to at

this year’s "Philly Folk Festival," as the natives call it.

With music on four stages all day, music on the main stage in late

afternoon and at night, refreshments in food booths at the top of

the hill, crafts vendors, and plenty of shady places to take a respite

from it all, the festival is a great way for hardy, music-loving souls

to spend that next-to-last weekend of summer. I say hardy because

the festival does go on — rain or shine.

Philadelphia Folk Festival, Old Pool Farm, Upper Salford,

Pennsylvania, 1-800-556-FOLK or 215-242-0150. Tickets and information

online at All-festival admission is $69 at

the gate; individual days and evenings $24 to $43. Friday,


and Sunday, August 27, 28, and 29.

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