A Guide to Summer Music Events
Plus, an inside look at the Philadelphia Folk Festival.
A crowd at last year’s Philadelphia Folk Festival//photo by Lisa Schaffer Photography
Lingering days and cool(er) nights can signal only one thing: Festival season is upon us. In the case of two of the region’s most venerable examples, it means the sounds of distinctly American music, combined perfectly with the tastes and smells of classically American dishes. The Kutztown and Philadelphia folk festivals have been annual traditions for more than a half-century. Among the oldest events of their kind in the country, they routinely draw thousands of music fans. Many bring their kids, furthering the generational cycle that’s been so crucial to the long-term survival of each event.
Beyond the richness provided by the musicians and craftspeople, both events offer windows into distinct cultures and periods of history. In the case of the Kutztown Folk Festival, it’s the Pennsylvania Dutch. At the Philadelphia Folk Festival, the true soundtrack of
Appalachia shares the spotlight with Tuvan throat singing, Celtic step dancing, Australian didgeridoos, and other more global strains. PFF regulars look forward to perennial favorites like Arlo Guthrie, who will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alice’s Restaurant this year.
Here’s what else you can expect.
From left: tom paxton; shakey graves//photo by giles clement
Philadelphia Folk Festival
Lineup: Heading up this year’s extensive list of performers is Grammy-winner Lyle Lovett. Over a 35-year career, the iconic Texas singer/songwriter’s work has bridged gospel, swing, jazz, folk and country. Lovett will be joined by His Large Band, with whom he first recorded in 1989.
Folk institution Tom Paxton returns, featuring the sort of impassioned, topical tunes that have inspired generations of singer/songwriters. He evokes the tradition pioneered by Woody Guthrie and passed down from musician to musician.
Perhaps most importantly, the Philadelphia Folk Festival showcases the next generation of artists—many with the goods to push the genre in new directions, even as they celebrate those who came before. Shakey Graves represents another chapter in this evolving narrative. The Austin, Texas, phenom blends blues, country and rock, arriving at a place that is both unfamiliar and exciting in the best sense.
Drive time: About 35 minutes.
Where to stay: Many would argue that the Philadelphia Folk Festival is best experienced as a camping event. There are, however, many hotels in the area, many of which are already sold out. At press time, the closest available lodgings were in Lansdale and Limerick.
Food: PFF curates the food vendors in the campground and the concert area to ensure high quality and variety. You’ll find exotic fare like Mexican, Greek and fusion, alongside pizza, spiral-cut fries and ice cream. Many of the local fire companies also sell food at the festival. And there are plenty of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options.
One of Philly’s finest breweries will be on hand. The Yards Brewing Company Beer Garden taps a cross section of its most popular beers. Best of all, adults can enjoy a beverage well within grooving distance of the main stage.
Cost: About $170; early-bird discounts and reduced prices for daily tickets.
Tips: Founded in 1962, PFF is a feast for the senses, with music and conversation around every corner. With more than 40 hours of live music and entertainment, there’s simply too much for any one person to experience. Available at the information booth, the festival program is your best ally in planning a day of walking between the seven stages. Some acts play two or three shows, which helps if two must-see musicians are booked at the same time.
For the tent-and-RV set, access to Thursday’s campers-only concert is well worth the price of admission. The campsites can be quite elaborate, some adorned with bamboo, colorful tapestries and electric lights. In the evening, be sure to walk the main paths, where music can be heard until nearly dawn.
Kids ages 6-18 can join the Great Groove Band for practice each day. Upon learning the songs, they’ll play the main stage on the last afternoon of the event.
Fun aside, make sure you prepare for a true camping experience. The temperature often soars above 90 during the day and can drop below 50 at night. Winds have been known to sweep unsecured tents into the air and send them gliding into the woods below. Families unaccustomed to music and revelry past midnight should seek out the “quieter” camping section.
Shade in the concert areas is at a premium, and even sun worshippers should pack a big bottle of sunblock, along with a blanket to sit on.
Dulcimer Grove provides ample shade, hammocks, potable water, a small stage. The Give & Take Jugglers—a family favorite—perform all weekend there.
The festival hosts more than 60 vendors, offering everything from pottery to jewelry to clothing. They even create work while on-site, so be sure to ask. They’ll often negotiate special deals.
Info: Visit pfs.org/folk-festival.
Kutztown Folk Festival
Kutztown Fairgrounds, 225 N. Whiteoak St., Kutztown
June 27-July 5
Lineup: Expect annual favorites like the strolling Sauerkraut Band and the Lester Miller Family Dancers (now on its sixth generation). For the second straight year, the Mountain Folk Opry showcases different styles of traditional American folk music and dance.
New this year, Runaway Home, an Americana band from Nashville, performs June 28. With its smooth melodies and soaring harmonies, the outfit combines traditional country, bluegrass and folk for a sound that’s familiar yet fresh.
Drive time: About an hour.
Where to stay: There are numerous national hotel chains in and around the Allentown area.
Family-style eats at the Kutztown Folk Festival
Food: For those who’ve never tried authentic Pennsylvania Dutch delicacies, the choices abound—most of them sinfully rich by design. Festival standbys include sausage, potpies, corn fritters, funnel cake, shoofly pie and apple dumplings. You’ll also find homemade soups and sandwiches.
It wouldn’t be the Kutztown Folk Festival without ox meat and fresh bread. Steeped in herbs and spices, a 1,200-pound beast is slow-roasted over hot coals, then sliced and served—all in the manner of a harvest feast before fall planting. Using a brick hearth—a classic example of early-1800s architecture—an oven-tender shows how the Pennsylvania Dutch make their signature high-top round bread.
Cost: $14 for adults (single day), $13 for seniors, $5 for students (ages 13-17); kids under 12 free; $24 for an all-festival pass.
Tips: For more than 65 years, the Kutztown Folk Festival has drawn thousands of visitors from all around the world. On the busiest days, expect about 20,000, but you can avoid the crowds at this nine-day event by going during the week or off-peak hours (midmorning on weekends). And there are extended evening hours June 27-28 and July 3-4.
Besides being the oldest continuously operated folklife festival in the United States, Kutztown is also the site of the largest quilt sale in the country. Plus, the Taste of Kutztown wine festival has been added, featuring as many as five local wineries.
Beyond textiles, visitors will discover 200 of the region’s finest craft vendors. Generations of families have made this event an annual tradition. In fact, 75 percent of the people at the festival are return customers.
Info: Visit www.kutztownfestival.com.