Phew! We are finally getting back in the festival mix here at LTFL. After many months of pandemic problems and the birth of a little one, the Philadelphia Folk Festival was a great way to finally get back in the swing of things. So without further ado, let’s get into the recap.
The 60th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival took place August 18-21 at Old Pool Farm in Upper Salford Township PA. In the area of Collegeville for those who may be familiar. For the last two years, the festival has been online only as a result of Covid -19, so it was exciting for everyone involved to be back live. What stuck out right from the beginning was that this is a fest with a ton of history. Maybe the fact that this was the 60th year should have made that apparent, but what I mean is that the history is palpable. The atmosphere was rich with folksy vibes, and everyone I met seemed to have been coming to the festival or volunteering for years – often longer than I have been alive. This is an event that is near and dear to them and you can really feel that in the experience.
That leads us perfectly to one of the other really interesting and important things about PFF – it is almost completely run by volunteers. The festival is hosted by The Philadelphia Folksong Society and staffed by committees full of volunteers who coordinate everything from the grounds to security. I learned from some festival regulars that 2022 was the first year professionals were involved in some aspects of the festival – like marketing and sound. They were very curious (and maybe a little skeptical) about how these new changes might impact the rich tradition of the PFF.
Speaking of tradition, all these years of experience also meant that many of the logistics of the festival, at least from the perspective of an attendee, ran like a well oiled machine. Despite not having the proper documents, I had no issue parking, getting my pass or getting through the festival gate on any of the days. Once inside you are quickly met with a welcome tent and the fest’s singular greeting – “happy fest.” And that’s it. No fuss and you are off into the rolling hills and farm land of the festival grounds.
Admittedly, I am no expert in folk music – so I spent most of the time on my first full day adventuring around and listening to whatever I came across. The festival featured typical sets and some more creative dynamics as well. For example, on Friday one of the sets was called “Wheel Decide” a wheel of topics was spun and the featured artists were tasked with responding with a song. During the course of the weekend, I also saw other themed sets including the two pictured above – which came back to back on the Craft stage. One featured banjo and the other was all female artists. The point of all this is to say that PFF isn’t your typical festival, artists come together often for creative concepts and group shows – where there is often a dialogue back and forth with fans.
Saturday was a hot one, so in the afternoon I popped over to the Dulcimer Grove to catch some shade and check out some of the music and activity going on over there. The Camp Stage is in this area and it also features live music and activities for families. And given the heat, was a great spot to hang a hammock and spend some time.
Camping is a huge part of this experience, especially for festival regulars. I couldn’t camp this year due to work and the baby, but I got to hear a lot about it from some of the awesome people I met during the weekend. There are large groups of people who have been attending for years, and they camp together, sometimes in themed communities. The music scene in the campground, in the form of singalongs and jam sessions, is often as much of a draw as the festival itself. There are also apparently epic “rolled cheeseburgers” that I will absolutely have to try next year.
Speaking of food…I need to go on a tangent here about Zuzu Confections. It was super hot on Saturday, and I was really struggling to figure out what I wanted to eat. Then I saw it . . . frozen fruit topped with chocolate. This is not an advertisement, this is my new obsession. They had all kinds of fruit, and several types of chocolate and toppings. I chose pineapple dipped in milk chocolate covered in sprinkles. It was about the most refreshing thing I’ve ever had – especially in the heat. Strongly recommend snagging one, or many, if you see them at a festival up here.
Full of chocolate and fruit, I was ready for an amazing evening of music. The headliner was Michael Franti – he was great, very interactive with the crowd. Following his set, I made the walk to my car in the paid parking area (note: there is also free parking accessible by shuttle). And was able to get out of the area with no issue.
I returned bright and early Sunday morning ready for a full day at the fest. The sun was out and it was beautiful and note quite as hot as it had been previously. That didn’t stop me from almost immediately eating another frozen fruit covered in chocolate. And scarfing down some food from one of the stands. This is a good starting point because for the size of the festival there were some really good food options including Thai, which smelled amazing.
By the time I was done scarfing down food, lots of families and groups were filling the grassy hill by the main stage, starting to send up their base camps for the day. A big part of the atmosphere at PFF is just the ability to set up, hang out and roam.
I spent a lot of the day sitting down with female artists who will be featured in a piece coming very soon – keep an eye out. The big finale to that was seeing Bettye LaVette perform, and then getting to sit down for an amazing interview with her. She brought a ton of energy and sass to the stage. Seriously, words cannot describe her – she’s simply a legend and a gem. I should mention that she gave me a reading assignment, to read her book – so I am in the process of doing that. I think this might be the only festival I have ever been to where I was assigned reading not just by an artist but by fellow festival attendees who strongly suggested I check out the book chronicling PFF’s history – called Smiling Banjo.
In any case, homework aside – I moved on to settle in for the War and Treaty. A truly epic performance, before saying goodbye to my many new festival friends and heading home.
This was definitely a different experience for me after being out of the festival scene for a little while. It was nice to start close to home and with a festival that itself has such a rich history and homey feel. It genuinely felt cozy, and that is not a description that is intended to undersell the amazing artists and music that were part of the weekend. There is just something about this festival that clearly keeps so many people coming back. I saw and I felt that myself. I can’t wait to get back out there next year with my family in tow – to spend some more time in the sun, soaking up the vibes this festival brings to the table. It is easy to get there, easy to park, and LTFL had a super smooth experience. We’ll be back next year for those hamburger rolls.
Please keep an eye out for more of our coverage coming soon! Including interviews with Sarah King, Nora Brown and Bettye LaVette (once I finish her book I promise). And check out the festival’s website here.