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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the August 21, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Stellar Lineup for Philly’s Folk Endurance Test
As the days get shorter, signaling the end of summer,
people begin to wonder: what happened to summer? It seems to have
escaped so quickly. Fortunately, for fans of outdoor music festivals,
there is one last hurrah, in the form of three days and nights of
music on the Old Pool Farm in Upper Salford, Pennsylvania.
This year’s 41st Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival boasts a great
lineup: the Texas super group the Flatlanders — Jimmie Dale Gilmore,
Butch Hancock and Joe Ely — as well as other great names in contemporary
folk and blues: Susan Werner, Richard Thompson, Shemekia Copeland,
Roger McGuinn, Bruce Cockburn, the Greenbriar Boys, DaVinci’s Notebook,
the Philadelphia Jug Band, and literally dozens of others, for a total
of 60 individual artists and groups.
This annual gathering brings together musicians, fans, record company
executives, DJs, and journalists like few other events. Many patrons
of this festival come back year after year, and they mark the end
of the summer — even though summer doesn’t technically end until
September 21 — through their attendance at this grand gathering
on a farm in eastern Pennsylvania. Each year, without fail, the Philadelphia
Folk Festival is slated for the weekend before Labor Day Weekend.
If you’re a music fanatic and you’re hardy enough to enjoy the at-times
sweltering heat and humidity of late August, you’ll have a great time.
Like many patrons who make it a point to attend from year to year,
I clearly recall the great experiences I had at my first Philadelphia
Folk Festival, in 1984, but as we get into the 1980s and ’90s, with
continuous annual attendance, "the festivals start to blur into
one another," as WXPN-FM DJ Gene Shay once noted.
Watching Albert Collins and the Icebreakers perform on the main stage
on Saturday night was a highlight for me in 1984, but also performing
that year were Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. The chance to hear
both performers in a variety of workshops and on the main stage at
night was a thrill. Shortly after their 1985 performance at Philly
Folk Fest, harmonica master Sonny Terry died. Arlo Guthrie also performed
that year, and seeing the way he traveled and lived, as well as having
a chance to talk to him, made an indelible impression on a young kid
fresh out of college.
While one could rely on the Philadelphia Folk Festival
in the past to present a variety of blues and zydeco performers, in
the latter half of the 1990s, the festival began to change its bookings
to include more ethnic music performers as the popularity of world
music continued to grow. This year’s festival lineup is no exception,
and it tries to touch all bases: blues, Australian performers, Celtic
bands, and musicians from South Africa, including the Mahotella Queens.
Fans of ethnic and world music will also take an interest in Blue
House, an a cappella women’s music group from Australia; Finest Kind,
a traditional band from Canada; French Toast, a group that plays traditional
French folk ballads, Sharon Katz and the Peace Train and the Mahotella
Queens from South Africa, Providence, a traditional Irish band and
Zima, an international family dance band.
The Philadelphia Jug Band, guitarists David Jacobs-Strain from Washington
state, and Tommy Emmanuel from Australia, Shemekia Copeland and her
blues band, the Flatlanders, and Donna the Buffalo will ensure that
fans of blues and roots music will get their share.
If contemporary singer-songwriters are more your bag, you’ll have
plenty to enjoy: Susan Werner from Philadelphia, one of the nation’s
best, whose latest album "New Non-Fiction" bears repeated
listening; Roger McGuinn, formerly of the Byrds; Bruce Cockburn from
Canada, Alice Peacock, Diane Ponzio, and Full Frontal Folk, a group
of four women who sing new and old songs.
Combine this music on five workshop stages during the day with music
on the main stage at night with great food and a family atmosphere,
and you’ve got all the makings for a great time. Of course, this is
provided you’re the type that doesn’t mind changes in the weather.
The festival is held rain or shine. Since 1962, it has seen blistering
late August heat and humidity, summer thunderstorms, and even heat-driven
hurricanes. You could call it an endurance contest of sorts for roots
music junkies who want to be there all three days and nights. There
are also other ticket packages for those who just want to attend the
headliners’ evening concerts.
The festival has a long and storied past, and the organizing group,
the Philadelphia Folksong Society, remains an asset to the city of
Philadelphia, as it puts on concerts throughout the year. Many performers
owe a more widespread following to their repeated performances at
the Philadelphia Folk Festival: Bonnie Raitt, David Bromberg, Tom
Chapin, Tom Rush, Judy Collins, and dozens of other touring acts cite
the Philadelphia Folk Festival as a "first big break."
Another summer festival season has almost come and gone; get out and
hear some good music, feel better, and you may find yourself marking
your calendar to return next year.
— Richard J. Skelly
Upper Salford Township, Pennsylvania, 800-556-FOLK or 215-242-0150.
Performers also include Jim Albertson, Blue House, Jay Ansill, Donna
the Buffalo, Full Frontal Folk, David Jacobs-Stain, Bruce Cockburn,
and Mahotella Queens. Single day admissions $35 to $53. Weekend package
$87; www.folkfest.org. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, August 23,
24, and 25, 11 a.m. to midnight.
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