Mt. Airy-based icon for half-century

Local Life August 15, 2012 0 Comments

Star-filled lineup for Folk Festival this week
By Nathan Lerner
The Philadelphia Folk Festival will be commencing its second half-century replete with a star-studded lineup tonight (Thursday, Aug. 16) through Sunday. Friday’s highlights include Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars.

Saturday night will feature Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and The Dukes, John Hiatt and the Combo, Little Feat and Mike Cross. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue will close out the festival on Sunday night.

The Secret Sisters are a traditional country music duo, consisting of vocalists Laura and Lydia Rogers. According to a folk festival spokesman, they are “an act that the audience will either totally love or won’t connect with.” They will perform on Sunday’s main stage evening concert.

Throughout the bulk of the festival’s history, its sponsoring organization, the Philadelphia Folksong Society, has been headquartered at 7113 Emlen St. in West Mt. Airy.

According to Levi Landis, executive director of the Philadelphia Folksong Society, “Many good volunteers come from Northwest Philly. Some people who live near our office put in vast hours in helping our staff. Most notably, we recently lost 50-year volunteer and Chestnut Hill resident Jeanette Yanks. She was instrumental in the success of the festival and the society.”

Last year, the Philadelphia Folk Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary with unprecedented fanfare and an enthusiastic audience turnout. “The Folk Festival is truly a reunion more than a singular event,” said Landis. “That being said, the 50th was definitely a huge milestone. Legendary Levon Helm, whom we have since lost, closed the entire festival with a star-studded collaboration on a rendition of ‘The Weight.’”

Landis rebutted the notion that this year’s festival would be anti-climactic after the 50th anniversary blow out last year. “Every year is important to our audience. The longer you go, year after year, the more important the festival becomes. We survey our patrons every year, and nearly three- quarters of our attendees say that their lives would not be the same without the Philadelphia Folk Festival … In the past, these years after the anniversary years were referred to as ‘hangover years,’ but that is definitely not the case this year. Our lineup is a monster, and advance ticket sales are close to tracking last year’s.

“If you grew up in the folk revival of the ‘50s and ‘60s, now you can have a safe place to bring your kids to go back in time and experience that. This year, we have all new food vendors with fresh, local, organic and veggie options. We will again expand the campground and have a shuttle service to aid folks walking the site.

“Folk music is something that cannot be marketed and sold. It’s what you find in our campgrounds and in the performers who play together in the parking lots. What we have on the stages is our attempt to give as large and exciting of a production as possible while staying true to the roots of the music.”

Lucinda Williams is an American rock, folk, blues and country music singer/songwriter who was named “America’s best songwriter” by Time magazine in 2002. She will perform Saturday night at the folk festival.

Landis insisted that the tent city would not be built and the show would not go on if not for the more than 2500 volunteers from all walks of life, including professionals and business executives.

Since 2009, Jesse Lundy and Rich Kardon, partners at Point Entertainment, have been programming the festival. Lundy pointed out, “Last year we needed to show a good cross-section of acts and styles that represented the progression of the event over 50 years. We still booked some more contemporary acts.”

In recent years, in an effort to expand the audience, the programming has become more youth-oriented. Initially, this evoked opposition from some folk purists. Asked whether the resistance has dissipated, Lundy responded, “It’s hard to say, really. Some of the acts we’ve put in the line-up have been well received.

“Decemberists blew everyone away, and their core audience is a bit younger. I think that as long as the music is somewhat based in traditional, linear music, the audience will like it.

“Some of the more progressive stuff has not been as big a hit. We’ll certainly keep putting stuff in and seeing if the audience likes it. I expect that City and Colour as well as Secret Sisters, both on Sunday’s main stage evening concert, to be the acts that the audience will either totally love or won’t connect with.

“I think the Saturday lobby tent show will be a big one with Chris Bathgate, Arborea, Wooden Sky and Strand of Oaks. That’s one of the coolest things we have happening this year.”

The biggest factor is booking the festival is who is touring. There is so much competition in the market during the summertime that artists can choose a major venue in a given market that they want to play. The folk festival is competing for acts with the Mann Music Center, the Keswick, Susquehanna Bank Center, etc.

“We really rely on artists to understand how unique our festival is compared to the other events,” said Lundy. “We work hard to create lineups that bands will be enthused to be part of, as opposed to just looking for another payday.”

For further information, call 215-247-1300 or 800- 556-FOLK, or visit www.folkfest.org.

Nathan Lerner welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

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