Philadelphia Folk Festival at 50 – Schwenksville, PA


The Philadelphia Folk Festival was born in 1962 in Paoli, Pennsylvania, conceived as a fundraiser for the folklore program at the University of Philadelphia. The first year the festival attracted only 400 patrons, but 50 years later, the Philly Folk Festival has moved to a farm to accommodate the four days, six stages, 92 artists and over 70 craft and food vendors who catered to the 12,000 campers and 46,000 fans, total.

Today, the fest offers folk, blues, rock, country, jazz, zydeco and dance. The shows started on Thursday evening at the Camp Stage, a night solely for the campers. Later, afternoon showcases and workshops carried themes like “Songs of Phil Ochs,” acoustic blues, topical songs, ballads, harmonies, etc.

The acoustic blues workshop featured David Bromberg, Jorma Kaukonen, Roy Bookbinder, Tom Rush, the Wood Brothers and the Philadelphia Jug Band with Bob Beach on harmonica. Each artist performed his favorite blues in a song circle while the others filled in with guitars and harmony. David Bromberg grinned ear-to-ear while watching the Wood Brothers perform their bluesy, funked-up version of “One More Day.” Bromberg was the hardest-working man at the festival; he performed in the acoustic blues show, participated in the Husband & Wives workshop with wife Nancy Josephson, and joined Jorma Kaukonen, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Rush, Angel Band, and the Levon Helm Band in their sets.

Alexis P. Suter, another highlight, brought her soulful baritone, full of power and emotion to her brand of blues. What’s the most ridiculous item you’ll find at a Trombone Shorty show? Answer – SEATS. No one used them; they were up dancing. It’s always great to see legendary Arlo Guthrie performing his and his father’s songs, while entertaining the crowd with his fun and whimsical storytelling.

Levon Helm, with his patented huge smile, opened his show with “Ophelia.” With bandleader Larry Campbell on guitar, the band laid down a stellar set of old Band favorites and songs from his recent albums. Even through days of hot sun and rain, Levon made us glad that we toughed out the elements. Happy anniversary to the Philadelphia Folk Festival! Wishing you another 50 years.

—Carol Sandick

Photos by Laura Carbone.

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