One of the most unique offerings for kids is The Great Groove Band. Kids ages 6 to 18 years old attend three two-hour practice sessions before they perform in front of a packed audience on the main stage Sunday afternoon.
The Philadelphia Folk Festival celebrated its 53rd year in Upper Salford Township last weekend. In addition to world-class musical acts, this year's installment featured mostly sunny skies and near-perfect weather.
As in years past, "the fest" drew music lovers from near and far for a weekend of music and merriment at the Old Poole Farm, and this year's lineup did not disappoint. With over 70 different artists performing on five different stages, Folk Fest 2014 had something for everyone. This year's offerings included blues, gospel, Celtic rock, New Orleans jazz, country and much more.
Friday night got things going in style with acts including blues sensation Shemekia Copeland, Scottish balladeer Archie Fisher, and the high-energy Celtic rock of Tempest. Friday night's closer was Old Crow Medicine Show. Their high-energy, yet highly polished approach to country rock had the crowd standing from start to finish. Most festival goers cited them as the weekend's musical highlight.
While Friday's lineup set the bar high, Saturday's show kept the hits coming. Folk icon Janis Ian has not lost a step in her nearly 50 years. Fiddle virtuoso Natalie McMaster had folks up and dancing, as her fast-paced playing was matched by her high-kicking Cape Breton style step-dancing. This year's dark horse performer may have been Australian guitar wizard Tommy Emmanuel. His brilliant renditions of old standards ranged from a Beatles medley, to a cover of the Doobie Brothers' "Taking it to the Streets" and the prettiest rendition of "Moon River" we have heard to date.
After two nights packed with stellar performances, Sunday's concert was yet another crowd-pleaser. The Steep Canyon Rangers' approach to bluegrass (including members in suits and ties, like the good old days) was nothing if not amazing. Up-and-coming singer/songwriter Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit delivered a brilliant set, living up to his fine reputation. His recent accolades and awards in the "Americana music" genre are obviously well deserved. The weekend's music ended with headliner and folk legend Loudon Wainwright III. His songwriting and story-telling had his audience teary-eyed one minute and laughing hysterically at the next. His return to fest was a real treat for everyone in attendance.
While music is, by far, the focal point of folk fest, there is so much more to do here than listen and dance. Handmade and one-of-a-kind crafts are offered for sale adjacent to the concert grounds. This year's merchandise featured over 50 different vendors selling everything from unique clothing and leather wear to musical instruments, hammocks, jewelry, toys, ceramics and more.
Folks who want something to commemorate their festival experience can visit the Philadelphia Folk Song Society Sales Tent to pick up a t-shirt, coffee mug, and just about anything else with the iconic "smiling banjo" logo that became famous long ago.
During daylight hours, festival goers can learn to play an instrument at special afternoon workshops, relax in one of a hundred hammocks in Dulcimer Grove, or grab a bite to eat at one of nine food vending tents on site.
A new feature at fest this year was Yoga sessions led by volunteer instructor Gina Molinari. Diane Cameron of East Greenville was one of 50 participants each morning. She told us, "I was planning to due yoga anyway, so I was thrilled to hear about this new offering."
While many festival goers commute here for a day or evening of music, thousands of other folks prefer the experience of camping at fest. Music lovers stay in campsites with old and new friends. Twenty-six-year veteran Katy Mae Colvin of West Chester joins her 30-plus campmates in "Donutville" here each year. This campsite is now occupied by three generations of campers.
In all our years attending Folk Fest, the one thing that impressed us this year was the presence of larger numbers of families with children. The most popular place for youngsters has always been "Dulcimer Grove", where kids can make a craft, watch a high-wire act, or learn to juggle or walk a tight-rope. One of the most unique offerings for kids is The Great Groove Band. Kids from ages 6 to 18 years old must attend three 2-hour practice sessions before performing before a packed audience on the main stage Sunday afternoon. Seeing some 40 young musicians make their world debut was really a treat to see.
With so many attendees returning here year after year, folk fest has many meanings to many people. When asked what keeps her coming back year after year, Colvin summed it up this way, "Folk Fest is about spending time with my second family, and to just decompress from corporate life. Some people go to huge arenas to see music; I've discovered some of my favorite artists right here at Philly Folk Fest, surrounded by the beauty of nature."
We could not agree more with those sentiments. We hope to see all of you next August down at the Old Poole Farm.