“We wait all year for these two days. They’re better than Christmas. And then it just goes by so fast” echoed a veteran Briggs Farm goer. Yes, the camping line formed at midnight for gates opening at 10:30 AM the next morning. By the time we arrived at 7:15 there were over 100 cars ahead of us and tailgating was well underway. . This quaint festival maintains its easygoing hippie vibe (where else would you see an Iron Butterfly t-shirt?) but with over 3000 campers and a Saturday crowd larger than what I’ve witnessed the past two years, we can only hope the magic endures.
Some were probably looking for a respite from the Northeast’s oppressive heat. As sweatshirt-clad Mississippi bred Terry “Harmonica” Bean exclaimed, “y’all ain’t got no heat up here”. At times we felt some heat and humidity but it was much better than last year. Briggs Farm is unusual because 80-90% of the audience is not very familiar with the artists or the genre. Many are there for the party which in the camping areas extends well into the night, replete with live music. Proprietor and Blues Hall of Famer Richard Briggs stays true to the blues, opting for traditional blues artists with a few popular regional bands while shirking any hint of commercial acts. As Richard says of the many young people attending, “Hey, if we can expose them to this music, then that’s a good thing.”
Besides acoustic and electric sets from Terry Bean, we were treated to Philly’s outstanding blues vocalist Georgie Bonds, dynamic drummer Cedric Burnside, and Canadian vocal powerhouse Shakura S’Aida on Friday night. Clarence Spady delivered an audience pleasing blues rock set that included Beatles, Cream, and Hendri x covers. Saturday’s highlights included a varied blues and soul set from Mac Arnold, blues and funk from The Kinsey Report as well as the searing acoustic and closing electric sets from Chicago traditional torch bearer Lurrie Bell. As one fan summed it up, “Now that’s Old School, man.”
The Back Porch featured regional bands as well as the major blues artists and demonstrated how strong the music scene is in central and northeast Pennsylvania. Harpist Nate Myers drew raves with his mix of rap and blues while rockers The Badlees and Symphonic Haze provided a refreshing break. Master BBQ chef Lonnie Shields closed down the Back Porch each night in true closer form. Each year Briggs Farm proves to be the perfect two day getaway. Just be prepared to get there even earlier next year.
– Jim Hynes