By BRIAN BINGAMAN
UPPER SALFORD — When it comes to the Philadelphia Folk Festival, it is a small world after all.
Maura Kennedy of The Kennedys knew that someone had traveled from the Virgin Islands to make it to the 50th annual Philadelphia Folk Festival. While performing a workshop concert set with her husband, Pete, on Friday, she asked the growing hillside crowd if anyone had come from farther away than that. Somebody piped up that they had come from Bahrain.
Although hail fell in parts of the township Thursday night, most of those camping for the weekend reported that it was just heavy rain that fell over the Old Pool Farm. Philadelphia Folksong Society board member Edward Stevens reported that the special campground concert Thursday night had to be halted because of the weather.
Although there were patches of mud here and there Friday, sunshine and temperatures in the 80s dried things up for a concert lineup that included Justin Townes Earle, Tempest, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, and a slew of regional acts, including Harleysville’s Burning Bridget Cleary.
“I’m having a good time so far,” said Philadelphia resident Alex Satta, editor of a new magazine called Headspace.
Satta thought the festival’s on-site ticketing process could have been more streamlined, however, and said he would keep it mind when he organizes a new, Pennsylvania-oriented folk music festival of his own in the future.
For some, the festival of music, crafts, dancing, family entertainment and food provides a sense of homecoming.
“It’s great to be here for the 50th. It was great to be here for the 40th,” said Philadelphia resident Miki Young.
She was willing to bet that some who haven’t attended the festival in decades made it a point to be here for the festival’s golden anniversary.
“If you were 16 then (in 1961), you’d be 66. You can still make it up the hill,” she said, laughing.
Downingtown resident Jack Marylees’ first Philadelphia Folk Festival was 1971, when he was 14. He estimated that this was probably his 35th time there and he wore his Folk Fest 30th anniversary T-shirt.
While the festival looks and feels the same to him as it always has, he noted the changes.
“The stages are bigger. The sound systems are incredibly wonderful now. They were pretty primitive back then (in the early 1970s). They’ve added a venue or two since then. The variety of the music is the same. The festival gets younger somehow. I don’t know how that works,” he said.
“In the ’70s, the way you found people is there was a huge bulletin board with scraps of paper. Now (with cell phones), you say: ‘Where are you? Three tents down,’” Marylees, said, miming holding a phone to his ear.
While Marylees enjoys discovering artists he’s never heard before, Chris Nyce of Upper Hanover Township said he was looking forward to hearing Celtic music groups and seeing heritage folk artists such as Arlo Guthrie, David Bromberg, Tom Paxton and Tom Rush.
Nyce, who was camping with his 14-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, reported that although the storm had blown some tents about Thursday, the campers were none the worse for wear.
Mike Ruddy of Ridley Township, who has four children performing on the main stage Sunday as part of The Great Groove Band, said he was looking forward to seeing Arlo Guthrie, Trombone Shorty and the several Philly acts that were going to be featured on the main stage, such as Hoots and Hellmouth and Birdie Busch.
Ruddy’s children and the son and daughter of his neighbor Maureen Martin sat under a shade canopy on the hillside overlooking the main stage, while the children beat out bongo drum rhythms and played recorder tunes, hoping for a tip to be tossed into a hat.
Saturday’s Folk Fest headliners include David Bromberg, Trombone Shorty, Arlo Guthrie, Jorma Kaukonen, Battlefield Band, John Hartford, Angel Band, Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble and The Campbell Brothers.
Visit www.pfs.org or call (800) 556-FOLK.
Follow Brian Bingaman on Twitter @brianbingaman