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The Philadelphia Folk Festival Honoring the Past and Welcoming the Future
Written by Story and Photos by Kevin and Michelle Crilley Correspondents

Festival goers join hands and dance to the sounds of Red Cedar Strings Saturday afternoon at the Philadelphia Folk Festival Front Porch Stage. The Front Porch Stage featured local artists of the Philadelphia Folksong Society's Philadelphia Music Co-op.

                The Philadelphia Folk Festival celebrated its 55th birthday last weekend in Upper Salford Township.  This year's installment featured hot sultry weather for the first three days, so keeping cool and hydrated were key to enjoying the festivities.

                In another Philly Folk Fest tradition, heavy rain arrived on Sunday afternoon, but veteran festers knew to come prepared for any kind of weather, as the shows go on. 

                For the 20,000-plus attendees each year, folk fest means many things, but the music certainly is the key ingredient.  This year's lineup was a wonderful mix of old and familiar acts and up-and-coming artists.  Friday night's show got things heated up in a hurry, with acts to please music lovers of all ages. 

                Boston-based quartet Darlingside was surely a favorite of the 18-34-year-old crowd. Their incredible four-part harmonies using a single microphone were, in a word, mesmerizing.  In addition, each member plays multiple instruments and they really left the audience breathless.            

                Up-and-coming blues singer Anderson East was another wonderful surprise.  His voice invoked memories of both James Brown and Van Morrison, but his stage presence was all his own.  Pay attention to this guy, he is surely going places. Another favorite of the younger set was three-piece tour de force The Lone Bellow.  The group's blending of old-time folk with gospel and rock was something to behold.

                Saturday night was another mixed-bag of musical acts that typifies folk fest. The evening's highlight for many was Peter Yarrow's (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) set.  His show ended with some 60-plus audience members (young and old, alike) joining him onstage for a group sing-along of "Puff, the Magic Dragon." The night's show also featured folk stalwarts Buffy Sainte-Marie and Del and Dawg (aka Del McCoury and David Grisman), and young, rising stars The Stray Birds and the Wood Brothers.

                Sunday night brought the musical performances to a close in grand style. The Fairfield Four and The McCrary Sisters got fans on their feet with their uniquely soulful approaches to Gospel and R&B music. The artists were smiling as much as the crowd and the shared energy brought goose bumps.  The evening also featured five-time Grammy winner and country legend Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives (maybe our favorite act of the festival) and Tejano music legends Los Lobos. 

                While both acts appeal mostly to older fans, they both sampled from old-time tunes made famous by the Grateful Dead ("I Know You Rider," "el Paso" and "Bertha").  The reaction of younger attendees was priceless to behold.

                While the big-name acts play on the main stage, there are seven other stages with lesser-known performers playing throughout fest.  Festival intern and Upper Perk High School graduate Michaela Buckwalter helped book acts for the Front Porch Stage, a relatively new venue in the campground. 

                "This experience has opened my eyes to the diverse group of talented local musicians who have become part of the Philadelphia folk music scene," Buckwalter said. 

                While music is certainly the heart of fest, there is much more happening at the event each year.  Festival goers can shop at any of 50 vendors who sell unique crafts, including fine art, clothing and jewelry. 

                Attendees can also grab a bite to eat at one of many food vendors on site, including several local service organizations. Upper Salford and Schwenksville fire companies and the Skippack Lion's Club rely heavily on proceeds from food sales at fest. They do important work in our communities and really deserve financial support from festival goers. 

                Not surprisingly, an event as big and as storied as folk fest requires a lot of effort to put on and keep going for more than half a century. As was mentioned by nearly every performer on stage last weekend, festival volunteers are the true backbone of this four-day event.  More than 2,000 volunteers from some 33 committees handle everything from building the infrastructure and coordinating parking, to stage security and festival merchandise sales.  For the first time ever, volunteers were all listed by name in the Festival Program booklet in order to recognize how vital they are to fest.

                Each year, we try to end this article with something profound, something that captures the magic that is the Philadelphia Folk Fest. This year, we decided to quote our daughter Jess from a speech she wrote in one of her classes as a college freshman:

                "Music can be so many things; it can entertain, heal and even be a catalyst for change. The Philadelphia Folk festival has not only been a home for me, but has shaped the person I've become. The heart of this weekend lies within the people. Each and every individual has a very different background, but they come together on this farm to create something bigger than all of us."

                We hope to see all of you next year down on the Old Pool Farm.





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