The Philadelphia Folk Festival grooves to a subtle yet distinct Main Line tune.
Photo by Jared Castaldi
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It would appear that the Philadelphia Folk Festival has changed little since singer/songwriter icon Pete Seeger headlined the first event in 1962. Veteran and newbie campers still construct a tent city on the hillside. They come whether the festival brings dust and wind, rain and chill, or searing sun and heat. On T-shirts and flags throughout the festival grounds, you’ll still see tie-dyed spirals or the Philadelphia Folksong Society’s familiar smiling banjo logo.
Yet, beneath the surface, the PFF is always bringing something new to the mix in subtle ways, revitalizing connections with the past while tracing influences to the present and beyond. And every now and again, the event takes a turn for the surreal—like the year when dust devils lifted a handful of tents into the afternoon sky like giant box kites.
Then there’s the perpetual give-and-take between traditional acts and more contemporary performers. This year, Thompson, who first played the festival in 1970 as part of the trailblazing British folk band Fairport Convention, will share the top billing with Tweedy, lead singer for the sonically adventurous Chicago-based rock band Wilco, which rose to prominence during the past 15 years.
“Traditionally, folk is the music of the people, and this event is based on the audience,” says Jesse Lundy, of Narberth-based festival sponsor Point Entertainment. “We’re taking a temperature reading every year, seeing what people think.”
A successful local concert promoter, Point Entertainment has provided artistic direction for the folk festival over the past three years. “Now it’s getting to the point where the people who founded the festival have kids and grandkids who have created their own campsites,” says Lundy. “They’re our future audience.”
This year marks the musical homecoming of Jah Levi, son of Kenneth S. Goldstein, world-renowned folklorist and one of the festival’s founders. Raised in Philadelphia, Levi spent his formative years mingling with folk musicians when the event drew just a few hundred people. “I was brought up all around the festival,” says Levi. “Some of the most special memories were just being there backstage.”
Musical and cultural discovery lies at the heart of the Philadelphia Folk Festival. “It’s not as pure as some of the other folk festivals,” Lundy admits. “This year, we’re having Gandalf Murphy & the Slambovian Circus of Dreams. They’re a rock band. But that’s the thing about this event—it draws such an open-minded audience.”
To learn more, visit pfs.org.
For a recap of this year's Folk Festival, including photos, click here.
Hey, Aspiring Songwriters ...
Want a shot at playing your tunes at the Philadelphia Folk Festival? Or how about summer gigs at places like the Kimmel Center, the Bethlehem Music Festival or Sellersville Theater?
Such is the good fortune that has befallen winners of the Philadelphia Songwriters Project’s latest songwriting contest. This year’s finals showcase was held in May at Brownie’s 23 East in Ardmore, netting four winners: Tania Alexandra (pictured), Johnny Miles, Ryan Tennis and the Fleeting Ends.
Formed in 2002 by Ardmore’s Dena Marchiony and Stu Shames, the nonprofit organization provides resources and opportunities for a broad cross-section of talent in our area. Last year was the project’s first songwriting contest, and already its winners are scoring high-profile gigs, including an Aug. 20 performance at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. “This will give artists the opportunity to see how a concert is done at big venues,” says Marchiony.
To learn more about the contest, visit phillysongwriters.com.