By AMANDA PICCIRILLI
More than 20,000 people head to Old Pool Farm in Upper Salford during the month of August to participate in the Philadelphia Folk Festival, an event that is now entering its 50th anniversary.Live folk music and vendors are spread over several hundred acres of land creating a welcoming environment that keeps bringing families and individuals back every year.
Although attending for a single day allows you to enjoy an entertaining and memorable time, to many individuals being a camper is the only way to get the full experience of the Philadelphia Folk Festival.
“To really get a real feel of this festival, you have to be here at night,” said John Fuhr, 67, of Chester County who has attended all but six festivals.
Tracy Beerley hauls gear up a hill as she and fellow campers of the 50th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival set up on Thursday afternoon August 18,2011. Photo by Mark C Psoras
Over the past 40 years, Fuhr stations himself in Azzole Country, a camp that was created at the 1968 Folk Fest by six people and is now known as one of the largest camps at the event. More than 30 different camps are situated throughout the area including The Tuesdays, The Hooligans, Bob’s Country Bunker and F.L.I.D.S.“(Azzole Country) started as something very small and has completely grown from there,” said Fuhr. “We’re always welcoming to new people and new groups, but a lot of the originals come back each year. We give them priority on setting up a tent in our space, but if someone needs a place, we are happy to have them.”
Within the 80-acre camp area that sleeps 3,200 campers and volunteers, Azzole Country covers more than 10,000 square feet and is home base for nearly 65 tents, according to Fuhr. It takes roughly seven hours to assemble the entire camp which includes a 50-foot flag pole waving an Azzole banner and strobe light, a 100-foot dome tent and a decorated entranceway.Each year these campers situate themselves at the same location, marking their territory. But sometimes that is not so easy.
“You need to get here early to get the land,” said Fuhr, who arrived on Tuesday. “I can always know where we stay based on the surrounding like the trees and the level of the ground. I can tell this year we are over 15-feet over from usual because there is a downhill slope we usually don’t have.”
Just like all the other camps on the grounds, people from all over the country travel to Pennsylvania to attend this event. In Azzole Country, individuals from Omaha, Neb., State College, New Jersey and Pittsburgh travel to this central location to enjoy a few days of fun and friends.
“We come here to exchange stories, listen to music and to see friends,” said Azzole camper Gene Goldsmith, 66, of State College. “It has become an annual event.”
As a camper, Goldsmith has experienced many different scenarios and changes over the last several decades. He described the event as either being a mud or dust fest, this year looking more like mud fest, and he remembers portable showers being installed within the last 10 years, when in earlier days a wash cloth and water would have to do. Despite having showers, Goldsmith stated there are still lots of festival stinkies — people who do not shower the entire time.Being the 50th year, there are lots of stories to be told, many of which were happening under the Azzole Country dome by Fuhr.
Fuhr laughs when telling the story of their friend Stoner who showed up to the festival one year wearing white shorts and packing only a tent and toothbrush. Stoner ended up losing the toothbrush inside the tent on day one that year.
Anthony Talatin, 19, of Philadelphia has been attending the Folk Fest for the past 12 years, first as a camper and now as a volunteer.
“It’s a party every day all day,” he said. “You are never not having a good time.”
Being a camper veteran, Talatin knows the essentials for food and clothings. Clothing items you must pack include extra socks and underwear, flip flops and shoes, he said. For food, he suggests grilling items like hot dogs and hamburgers. Chips and other snacks are always a plus.
Many of the camps are fully loaded with a propane stove or camp stove, coolers and water jugs. A camp two doors down from Azzole Country provides a fully-stocked tiki bar and gas grill. For Azzole Country, food musts include canned veggies, cold cuts, bread, bagels, coffee items, and eggs.
“We bring plenty to drink because staying hydrated is key,” said Azzole camper Dave Knapp, 48, from New Brunswick, N.J. “For dinner we usually bring something that is already cooked that we only need to reheat.”As the sun sets, the real party begins at the Philadelphia Folk Fest. The entire camp ground is lit by hanging lights and lanterns, a view Fuhr finds breathtaking. Each night, many of the camps have jam sessions where individuals are invited to sing or play an instrument in a large circle with other music lovers. Campers drink, dance and have fun into the early hours of the morning with some of their greatest friends.“Folk music has really morphed and changed over the years,” said Goldsmith. “It’s much more than just kumbaya stuff. Younger generations are now basing music off of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, a lot less tradition. There really is no way to define folk music because everything is folk music.”Some Folk Fest volunteers have been camping since Monday, but the majority of the 3,200 arrived Thursday. With four days of camping, music and friends, many more memories will be created at this Festival’s Golden Anniversary.