News / Arts & Entertainment

Diversity Keeps Fans Returning to Philadelphia Folk Festivals

The 2013 Philadelphia Folk Festival at the Old Poole Farm in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. (K. Cole/VOA)
The 2013 Philadelphia Folk Festival at the Old Poole Farm in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. (K. Cole/VOA)
Katherine Cole
When The Stray Birds kicked off their first song at the 52nd annual Philadelphia Folk Festival in mid-August, they were unknown to many of those sitting in the sun at the Old Poole Farm in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania.  But by the time the group finished their last performance at the festival, the young, bluegrass-picking, classically-trained trio from Lancaster, Pennsylvania had a long line of fans waiting to buy CDs and get them signed.

That’s what’s so special about a festival like this one near Philadelphia: you come in to see headliners such as The Mavericks, or the legendary Todd Rundgren and leave loving The Stray Birds.

Diverse Program Keeps Fans Returning to Philadelphia Folk Festivals
Diverse Program Keeps Fans Returning to Philadelphia Folk Festivalsi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

The very first Philadelphia Folk Festival was held in 1962 and is now the oldest continuously operating folk festival in the United States. Put on then, as it is now, by the Philadelphia Folk Song Society and a staff of 30 volunteers, the first event ran two days with a lineup that included Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, The Greenbrier Boys and Pete Seeger.
 
Today, more than 2,000 volunteers are needed to make sure the four-day festival runs smoothly.
   
Philly is also quite a large music festival -- before the gates opened this year, organizers were expecting about 30,000 attendees. Since the festival is spread out over 36 hectares of farmland, it never seemed crowded.

Lisabeth Weber, a musician herself, has been to 30 of the 52 Philadelphia Folk Festivals. She's performed there twice, and attended the other times simply as a music fan. Weber says the diverse programming on all the stages - eight of them this year - keeps her coming back.

“What’s nice is, a lot of times the workshops are artists who know each other, but they don’t always get to see each other through the year because they’re constantly touring," she said. "But at a festival, they get to catch up. And sometimes, they know each other’s songs. So, at a festival, they’ll jump on harmony or they’ll play along or sit in on leads. It’s kind of one of those things where the spontaneity of it is part of the beauty of it. Because you never know what’s going to happen.”
    
Festival fan Tim, a onetime professional cook, has a full kitchen at his campsite. (VOA/K. Cole)Festival fan Tim, a onetime professional cook, has a full kitchen at his campsite. (VOA/K. Cole)
x
Festival fan Tim, a onetime professional cook, has a full kitchen at his campsite. (VOA/K. Cole)
Festival fan Tim, a onetime professional cook, has a full kitchen at his campsite. (VOA/K. Cole)
Part of the fun of attending the festival is hanging out in the campground. Organizers estimate that 7,000 campers set up temporary home on the hillside for the weekend. Tim from Philadelphia, a onetime professional cook who shares a campsite with another former chef, had a full kitchen at his location.

“We have a propane grill and we have a stove with three 30,000 BTU burners," he said. "This is our paella pan, it is five-foot in diameter and we have some propane cookers to cook that on. And over there, we have a pig roasting box, called a La Caja China. It’s Puerto Rican style, the pig is inside and the charcoal goes on top and it’s like a big radiant oven. You can cook a whole pig in about four or five hours.”

Shannon Lambert-Ryan is the lead singer for the Celtic roots band Runa. She was thrilled to be playing The Philadelphia Folk Festival this year. And not just because she met her husband and bandmate Fionan de Barra at the festival a few years ago.  It turns out she practically grew up on Old Poole Farm, as her parents were volunteers at the Festival every summer.

“They have a picture of me from when I was about two, naked in a guitar case at the festival. So it’s kind of come full circle," she said. "It’s incredibly special, just the fact that my Mom started volunteering here when she was 17 and coming with her Dad, and my grandparents are here this evening. It’s quite a different experience to perform here, especially on the main stage. It’s going to be a really neat 'first' to have tonight.”    

British songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson first played the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1970 as a member of Fairport Convention. Since then, he’s played another four or five times as a solo artist or with his band. This year, Thompson was back with his Electric Trio and they closed out the Friday night show. No word on who’ll be headlining the 53rd edition of the Philadelphia Folk Festival, but I can tell you they’ll begin planning it in just a few weeks.

You May Like

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Trumpeter, percussionist and bandleader Etienne Charles was born in Trinidad and blends island rhythms with modern jazz. He and his stellar band perform a rich gumbo of jazz, calypso, reggae, and rock-steady that Charles calls “Creole Soul” on "The Hamilton Live."