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“Philadelphia Folk Fest – Teaching our Children, Honoring our Elders”
Written by Story and photos by Kevin and Michelle Crilley
2017-08-23

            The Philadelphia Folk Festival marked its 56th anniversary last weekend at the Old Poole Farm in Upper Salford Township. As in years past, this year's installment featured a wide array of musical styles ranging from blues to gospel and soul to 

blue grass.

            While the weather was mostly sunny and mild, a torrential rain on Friday evening made the festival grounds a bit messy for a short time. Anyone familiar with the history of folk fest can tell you- summer storms are one of many traditions here.

            After the rains subsided, the Friday evening concert kicked off the event in high style. Highlights of the show included the masterful bluegrass stylings of the "Infamous String Dusters".  Samantha Fish followed with a powerhouse of a blues set, showcasing her booming voice and stunning licks on lead guitar. Most attendees stayed up late for the Friday headliner "Old Crow Medicine Show". Their set featured cover versions of nearly a dozen Bob Dylan classics.

            Saturday's evening show was truly one for the ages, highlighted by Graham Nash's Philly Folk debut. Accompanied by his friend Shane Fontayne on electric guitar, he

trotted out some real gems including "Bus Stop", "Our House", and a breathtaking cover of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life."  His closing song "Teach Your Children" featured a crowd sing-along instigated by Nash himself.

            His set was warm and heartfelt and brought nearly everyone in attendance to tears. It was, without a doubt, the best musical set we have heard at fest in our nearly 40 years coming here. Not surprisingly, he was the overwhelming favorite act of the festival.

            Sunday's concert closed out Fest 2017, and was veritable mixed bag. Acts ranged from old school folk (50-year veteran Eric Anderson), world music ("Baile An Salsa"), and wrapped up with a smoldering blues set by super-group "TajMo- the Taj Mahal & Keb'Mo'Band".

One recurring theme of this year's music was artists covering other, older acts. In addition to Graham Nash and Old Crow, tributes to the late Jerry Garcia and "The Band" were featured over the weekend.

            In addition to the well-known artists who made this event famous, many smaller regional and local acts are showcased at smaller venues throughout festival grounds. We were thrilled to see local bands from our own Upper Perkiomen Valley ("Hot Beer" and the "Lost Local Boys") play at these smaller venues.

            While Philly Folk Fest is in fact a music festival, it has much more to offer. In the shady woods of "Dulcimer Grove", participants can enjoy performances by jugglers, tight-rope walkers and story-tellers, make a craft project with your kid, or relax in one of a hundred hammocks. Visitors who like to shop have plenty of options in the festival "Craft" sales area. Unique items available include jewelry, leather goods and clothing. Right next door to crafts is the "Society Sales Tent" featuring merchandise with the iconic "Smiling Banjo" logo of Folk Fest. Here you can purchase CD's from your favorite festival artists. In addition, a dozen food vendors are located in the concert area, with another five in the campground. Food vending at "Fest" remains the number one fundraiser for both Skippack Lions' Club and Upper Salford Volunteer Fire Company.

            Among the new activities offered this year were daily tie-dying workshops at the campground general store. If you have ever been to folk fest, you know what a perfect fit this is here.

            While the folk fest is a time-honored tradition for many veteran attendees, a few years ago we began noticing more families with young children coming to fest. This year that was more evident than ever before.  Michelle Segan of Kennett Square told us, "It's a fun place and a safe place for the kids. I can't think of a better place to watch them grow up."

             Throughout the weekend we heard stories from people in their 20's and 30's who referred to themselves "fest babies". Some of these folks come back every year from as far away as San Francisco and Orange County, California among other places.  In every case, the story was pretty much the same. "My parents brought me here as a baby, and I have not missed a year since." Our daughter Jess (now 20 years old) made her first folk fest appearance at age 9 weeks, and hasn't missed one since. We really understand that sentiment.

            It is a familiar refrain, but that ongoing exposure of youngsters to live music at outdoor festivals is what unites multiple generations and keeps this iconic event, and every other music festival in the country alive.

            So, another Philadelphia Folk Festival has officially come and gone. And like previous years, it was a weekend filled with memories, friends new and old, and a place where young and old come together to celebrate something beautiful and magical. We hope to see all of you next August at the Old Poole Farm. Remember to bring a raincoat and sunscreen, and please don't forget the kids and grandkids. 


 

 

 

 

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