Philly Folk Festival returns, mixing old and new

Philadelphia Folf Festival campers walk through the campsite for vollunteers at the festival. ( RON TARVER / Staff Photographer ) August 13 2014
Philadelphia Folf Festival campers walk through the campsite for vollunteers at the festival. ( RON TARVER / Staff Photographer ) August 13 2014
Posted: August 16, 2014

South Philly resident Bert Olson - who, along with his wife and three kids, is one of more than 2,000 volunteers at this weekend's Philadelphia Folk Festival - considers the venerable event both a "throwback to an older time," and a "great way to discover new music."

Indeed, that unique mix of old and new is part of what makes the festival, now in its 53d year, so special for music lovers of all ages and interests, according to Lisa Schwartz, president of the Philadelphia Folksong Society: "There really is something for everyone - from very established folk performers, to very up-and-coming talents."

Some of the more than 80 musical acts slated to perform on the seven stages set up at Old Pool Farm near Schwenksville include Old Crow Medicine Show, Janis Ian, Archie Fisher, Shemekia Copeland, Loudon Wainwright III, Australian guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel, Drive-By Truckers' alum Jason Isbell, Steep Canyon Rangers, Natalie MacMaster, Vance Gilbert, and the Hot Club of Cowtown. While the "big name" lineup isn't particularly Philly-centric (as it was last year, when Todd Rundgren and David Uosikkinen's In the Pocket were headliners), there are still some 30 local acts on the roster, including buzz-worthy country-folk trio The Wallace Brothers, which returns for its second year.

"We played the Campground Stage last year and were really 'among the people,' which was great, but we're even more excited to be on the Main Stage this year," said guitarist Zachary Wallace, 30. Relentless gigging - including a popular, twice-monthly house-band stint at the venerable South Street bar, Bob and Barbara's - has helped build the Brothers' audience, which they hope to expand at Friday's 3:15 p.m. performance.

Key organizer Lisa Schwartz, who hasn't missed a Philly Folk Festival in more than 40 years, acknowledges that it's been "reenergized and rebranded" since Point Entertainment took over as talent buyer in 2008.

"Our goal has always been to broaden the festival's appeal, while retaining its core audience," said co-artistic-director Jesse Lundy of Point Entertainment. "It's an approach that's worked well."

The festival - which kicked off Thursday night with a campers-only concert - now draws not only boomer-age devotees, but also "an entirely new generation of music lovers," Schwartz said, adding that "each year, there's something new to enjoy." This year, the 4,000-plus festival campers will be treated to a free, hour-long yoga session Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"Last year, we introduced the Cultural Tent, and that will be back again, too," Schwartz said. Located just inside the main gate, the tent features master classes, in-depth musical workshops and participatory jams. Campers also will be able to take part in activities at the Front Porch Stage, which feature musical showcases throughout the weekend.

About 30,000 people are expected to converge on 80-plus acres of farmland for the rain-or-shine festival, which Bert Olson calls "a true highlight" of his summer. Having attended for many years - first for day-trips, and then to camp over the weekend - Olson and his family became festival volunteers eight summers ago, and plan to be on-site for a full five days, camping in three tents.

"It's a commitment, but we love it," Olson said, adding that his family takes turns in six-hour shifts manning the Camping Office between listening to the music. "It's a real community; you see the same people year after year, and make friends for life."

And Olson, who considers himself a savvy music fan, never fails to discover "an act or two I've never heard of that completely blows me away."

With no major corporate branding, the self-supporting Folk Festival is "a step back in time - a true mom-and-pop, volunteer-run event," as Lundy puts it. Olson agrees: "It's very down-to-earth with a real communal vibe. People connect with the music and each other pretty quickly."

Along with the musical performances, the festival will feature kids' activities in the Dulcimer Grove, plenty of food vendors, a 3,500-square-foot dance floor, an open-air crafts gallery, and a beer tent.

"There's nothing else quite like it," Olson said. "That's why we keep coming back."

If You Go

Philadelphia Folk Festival: Through Sunday at the Old Pool Farm, 1323 Salford Station Rd. (corner of Salford Station and Clemmers Mill Roads), Upper Salford Township, near Schwenksville.

Hours: Gates open at 10 a.m. each day. Music from noon to midnight Friday; 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday;

and 11 a.m. to

9:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: From $58 for

an all-day pass Friday, $75 Saturday; $68 Sunday; to $156 for a three-day pass. All-Festival camping pass, $206. (Kids under 12 are free, and youth tickets for ages 12-17 are 50 percent off with an adult-ticket purchase). Full schedule of performances:, 800-556-FOLK.

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