With so much happening during the past few weeks, there was not the time to hear from our favorite Pennsylvania contributor to this column, Mark J. Smith. Mark knows the Philadelphia Folk Festival well, and yet he always is discovering someone new there.
As I have shared with readers of this column, the Philly folk fest holds a special place for me as it was the first festival I ever attended, and it made a quite an impact in 1969 when I was an impressionable college student. While my indelible moment of the weekend was hearing Rosalie Sorrels do “Rock Salt & Nails” beneath the stars, I also got to see Muddy Waters, Bill Monroe, Rev. Gary Davis, Doc Watson & Son (as they were billed then), Jerry Jeff Walker, the Incredible String Band, and many more. There were three folks who played that year who were also there this year: David Bromberg, Chris Smither, and Tom Paxton. At the 1969 festival I also heard, for the first of many times, Bromberg do “Bullfrog Blues.” A copy of that year’s schedule is included in the photos below.
Also at this year’s edition was Molly Tuttle, winner of last year’s International Bluegrass Music Association guitarist of the year and the Americana Music Association’s 2018 Instrumentalist of the Year award. I heard from another friend that there were quite a few folks at the Philadelphia Folk Festival who had never heard her play, nor were aware of her songwriting skills that won the International Folk Alliance’s Song of the Year award last spring for “You Didn’t Call My Name.” All came away mightily impressed. For some, perhaps, Tuttle’s set will be their indelible moment.
Here, in his own words, is Mark’s report from this year’s fest, held as always at Old Pool Farm.
Considering that we had torrential downpours for the two weeks previous to this year’s Philadelphia Folk Fest I didn’t know what to expect. Yes, we have had rain before but this weather was ridiculous. I heard there were delays getting into the heavy camping areas but my main concern was the photographers pit. Checking the pit was my first activity after checking in. Mud, yes, but the grounds staff did a fantastic job laying straw down in all the worst spots. Relief. I have to say that grounds wasn’t the only committee to do a great job. Facing a lot of issues the management and administration and all of the many volunteers did an outstanding job.
The Philly Folk Fest Experience
The lineup this year was a really good mix of familiar faces and many new names to experience. I always look forward to seeing and hearing the music from those familiar faces. Patty Griffin, Tom Paxton, The Slambovian Circus of Dreams, John Gorka, and Chris Smither to name a few, as well as The David Bromberg Quintet.
The list of new performers that I was looking forward to seeing and hearing had Valerie June at the top. She was fantastic. Joining her on that list was Jeff Daniels and the Ben Daniels Band. Yeah, that Jeff Daniels, the actor. He’s also a very talented guitar player and singer sitting in with his son’s band. I think it was a treat for the whole audience. Shovels & Rope and Wynonna & The Big Noise were also on my not-seen-before list and absolutely blew me away.
Who was my big surprise of the weekend? Well, Valerie June wasn’t a surprise, since I’d heard her music and read so much about her in this magazine and elsewhere, but still she was a huge hit. However, the total surprise winner came all the way from Scotland, and nearly got rained out. Skerryvore, an absolutely fantastic band playing Celtic rock and roll sometimes with two bagpipes. Wow. The show for the first time I can remember had to stop due to a severe thunderstorm headed our way. But when the skies cleared, back came Skerryvore for more great music.
A Final Note: Riders in the Sky
The other standout set at the fest were Riders in the Sky. You can read about them in the Aug. 28 Through the Lens column in which I contributed a live review of those gallant and elegant ambassadors of the cowboy way.
Yes, the narrative this week is short, but Mark’s photos are always long in telling his story about his favorite festival experience of the year. Take your time sliding through the photos below.