By Steven Brodsky
August 18, 2016 – August 21, 2016
The volunteers, the bucolic Festival grounds in Upper Salford Township near Schwenksville, PA, friendly attendees, the finest heritage and up-and-coming performers, all combine to make the Philadelphia Folk Festival one of the world’s preeminent annual music events.
In a 2010 radio interview I asked Gene Shay to share some of his fondest memories of the Philadelphia Folk Festival. He spoke of the many impromptu jam sessions over the years with David Bromberg and others. Gene recalled Phil Ochs singing “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” Asked to describe an especially vivid Festival memory, Gene said: “I remember one night when it was a very cold night and Richie Havens was doing an excellent show and he was in the spotlight and you could see the steam rising from his head and from his body, because he was so into the music and he was getting towards the end of his performance. I wish I had a picture of that because it looked almost like a spiritual aura.” “And he does have that spiritual aura,” I said. Gene continued: “He does have it in his natural, even during bright daylight, but to see him at night with this aura of steam around him you didn’t know whether it was steam or what it was. It could be some kind of spiritual thing just emanating. Well, whatever, that was very exciting and, of course, he was perspiring heavily and he was so much into the music, and everybody in the crowd was upon on their feet and swaying back and forth with him.”
The other day, I asked Jesse Lundy of Point Entertainment about some of his Festival memories. Point Entertainment has booked the Philadelphia Folk Festival talent since 2008. This will be the eleventh year that he will be attending. Here’s what Jesse said: “A few performances that blew my mind: Sturgill Simpson on the Camp Stage for the World Cafe radio program taping at the 53rd Festival. Erin McKeown at the 50th (I think…2010 anyway) joined onstage by Susan Werner, Natalia Zukerman, Trina Hamlin and Treasa Levasseur… an artist had dropped out and these women threw together a set of music to fill the time… it was amazing. Every year on Friday afternoon, we do a local showcase on the Martin Stage… seeing acts like John Francis, the Spinning Leaves and Ben Arnold get to play on the big stage has been fun and emotional for everyone.”
Jesse also mentioned Janis Ian being joined on stage by Tommy Emmanuel. Jesse finished his email response to me with, “The best, though, was at the 50th Festival, seeing David Bromberg bring Gene Shay out onstage and having he and the entire audience sing ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ to him.”
The 2016 Philadelphia Folk Festival schedule is available online at the Philadelphia Folksong Society website: www.pfs.org. Among the many performers listed are: Iris Dement, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Peter Yarrow, C.J. Chenier with the Buckwheat Zydeco Band, Los Lobos, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, The Pine Leaf Boys.
Gene Shay invited Bob Dylan to Philadelphia, PA for his debut performance in the city. The concert took place on Saturday, May 3, 1963 at the Philadelplhia Ethical Society building on Rittenhouse Square. Bob Dylan was relatively unknown at the time in the Delaware Valley; “Blowin’ In The Wind” was yet to be released.
About forty-five people were in attendance. Tickets sold for $1.50.