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 VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. More

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

Dropout rate at an all-time high in South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during 3-year civil war More

Tennessee Songbirds Fly Coop Long Before Tornadoes Arrive

Researchers say birds apparently alerted to danger by sounds at frequencies below range of human hearing More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportionali
X
Aru Pande
December 19, 2014 1:45 AM
The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video US: Response to Sony Hack Will Be Proportional

The White House says President Barack Obama considers the cyberattack on Sony Corp. a serious national security matter and that the U.S. will counter with an "appropriate response." VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

"Soul Lounge" host Shawna Renee catches up with soul singer and songwriter Russell Taylor to hear what he’s been up to since winning the VH1 "You Oughta Know" title in 2013. She also convinces him to share a few songs from his album "War of Hearts."