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Philadelphia Folk Fest a Field of Musical Dreams



Steve Earle
Steve Earle

Once a year a mighty tent city rises in the field and—too soon—it disappears again. But, oh, the times and music that happen in those short days during the Philadelphia Folk Festival, held Aug. 17-19 in Schwenksville, Pa.

This year was filled with special moments, including performers from every musical genre honoring the legacies of Woody Guthrie in his centennial year and the passing of icons Doc Watson and Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary.

The tenth anniversary of Dave Carter’s death was marked with the offering of Tracy Grammer and Dave Carter’s lost performances on “Little Blue Egg” and the five-song ep “Joy my Love.” The albums feature archival recordings from 1997-2002 that were previously unavailable. Grammer’s performance Sunday was just one of the jewels of the event.

Carsie Blanton

For Turnips’ Ernie Tokay, it was a thrill to be a part of folk music history and close the loop of musical generations with his two daughters. “We sang the first song I ever learned, “Freight Train” by Elizabeth Cotton. It was fun mixed with a spoonful of pride,” he said.

Then there was official start of “fest,” which has become the Camping Concert. The show with John Fullbright, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, and the raucous Celtic rock of the Fighting Jamesons, began with soulful folk ballads and crescendoed to a fever pitch.

The WXPN Philly-centric set with Aaron & The Spell, Carsie Blanton, Harper Blynn and Andrew Lipke that offered a look at the depth of the local music scene. Based on these performances it may have been a preview of some big careers ahead.

Vendor Robert Deane of Living Earth Potters, a company that sells pottery made with clay from Ridley and Crumb Creeks, said there is something magical about the event that brings him back. “We come to the fest not just based on sales,” he said. “It’s the fun, the campsites, the music.”

Megan Sweeney and Sean Michael Flynn of Mechanique Steampunk had attended Philly Folk Fest in previous years, but this was their first as vendors of Steampunk jewelry and lamps. If it is unfamiliar, Steampunk is science fiction as it would have been in the Victorian age.

Mechanique Steampunk

“We fell in love with what other people were selling and wanted to more it more affordable,” Flynn said.

Sweeney plans to vend again and hopes to inject a little Steampunk into the musical programming. “There are many great ones who are folky,” she said.

The Revolution Starts Now

The core of the program centered on the rich tradition of southern music. There was the swagger and bluster of Steve Earle and the Dukes and Lucinda Williams. And the high energy sound of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.

Living Earth Potters demonstration.

“There’s something about the twang of Steve Earle that makes me feel like taking a 1970 Pontiac down the road at 100 miles an hour,” he said. “It can’t be a new car, if you know what I mean.”

Even though the festival intentionally booked fewer acts, the longer sets gave fans much more time to listen to each act. And, same as every year, there were always so many places to hear great music, both on the stages and in the campground.

Next year’s festival is Aug. 16-18. But hardcore music fans who can’t wait another whole year can join in for the Fall Fling, Sept. 21-23, in Camp Saginaw in Oxford, Pa. More information at

Harper Blynn