52nd Philadelphia Folk Festival includes returning favorites, strong local ties and new stages - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Ron Gallo prepares to perform a Sonny Boy Williamson song as Gene Shay kicks off the Folk Fest press conference; Gallo’s band Toy Soldiers perform on Friday | Photo by John Vettese

In addition to showcasing returning favorites like Richard Thompson and Carolina Chocolate Drops, as well emerging names like Frank Fairfield and Spirit Family Reunion and an appearance from The Mavericks, the 52nd annual Philadelphia Folk Festival is taking a community-oriented (and growth-oriented) approach to programming this year.

A generous helping of the lineup of the August 16 – 18 festival announced in a press conference at Fergie’s Pub in Center City are Philadelphia-rooted and span generations. Ben Arnold told the crowd about meeting The Hooters during a jam session at Plays and Players Theater in the 90s; on the festival’s Saturday night showcase, he’ll join most of The Hooters in the cast of In The Pocket bringing the Essential Songs of Philadelphia project to the Folk Fest stage.

Arnold pointed out that the project exists to benefit for the Settlement Music School; “It’s not just a self-aggrandizement mission,” Arnold chuckled. “They’re trying to raise money for a school that a lot of musicians, including myself, are a product of.”

Toy Soldiers will also perform on the main stage on Friday – frontman Ron Gallo opened the press conference with a Sonny Boy Williamson cover – as will The Lawsuits and The Stray Birds, as part of the festival’s Philadelphia Music Co-op, which will set up shop on a new “back porch” stage being constructed in the festival campground.

“That campground is the breeding ground for a lot of the talent that comes through the program,” said artistic director Jesse Lundy. The stage would be a compliment to the existing camp stage, which operates during the day hours of the festival, as well as it’s nighttime campfire singalong, which goes into the we hours. Executive director Levi Landis said “Those artists just descend on the campground anyway, so this is just an opportunity for us to let those magic moments happen even more.”

Another crew of locals, featuring perennial bassist Phil D’Augustino and Brad Hinton will pay tribute to John Hartford’s 1971 LP Aereo-Plain, produced by David Bromberg, while Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner will play a set of Indian slide guitar, and singer-songwriter Marc Silver will perform songs from his new LP A Miner’s Town, a fictional look at the shale industry.

This comes in addition to big-name acts like Thompson, who will perform with his electric trio on Friday. Amy Helm – daughter of the late Levon Helm and a singer-songwriter in her own right – also performs on Friday. In addition, Black Prairie – which features members of Folk Fest alums The Decemberists – performs on Saturday, as well as recent favorites Carolina Chocolate Drops.

A Thursday night campground concert will serve as a taping of World Cafe with David Dye, featuring Star & Micey, Luella and the Thieves and Caravan of the Sun. WXPN’s Helen Leicht will also curate a Philly Local Stage on Saturday afternoon featuring Ali Wadsworth, Ginger Coyle, Lily Mae, Modern Inventors and Juston Stens & The Get Real Gang.

Another new stage will be introduced this year as well. Informally called the cultural tent, Landis said it will feature folklore, storytelling, film screenings and archival video from festivals past, as well as “masters class” workshops with some of the performers. He called it a “potpourii” and a chance to get up close and personal with some of the players.

And returning for a second year in a row, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band will play the main stage. During their appearance at the World Cafe Stage last year, they set a washboard on fire and smashed it. “This convinced us that they had to graduate to the main stage,” Lundy quipped. Marketing chair Lisa Schwartz added that “Nothing says folk music like a flaming washboard.”

But as Lundy said, “we have a deep appreciation for folk roots and traditions, but we’re also a rock and roll crowd. And Philadelphia is the third word. Actually, it’s the first word.”

The complete lineup so far includes:

Richard Thompson Electric Trio – The Mavericks – Asleep at the Wheel – Carolina Chocolate Drops – Jake Shimabukuro – David Uosikkinen’s In the Pocket: The Essential Songs of Philadelphia – Black Prairie – Luella & The Sun – Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars – Spirit Family Reunion – Sleepy Man Banjo Boys – The Stray Birds – Star & Micey – Otis Taylor – Caravan of Thieves – Amy Helm – Jeffrey Gaines – Gabe Butterfield – Ellis Paul – Del Barber – The Como Mamas – Burning Bridget Cleary – Andy Statman Project – Ben Vaughn – Runa – David Francey – Frank Fairfield – Joe Crookston & the BlueBird Jubilee – The Toy Hearts – The Amigos Band – Mike ‘Slo-Mo’ Brenner – XPN Philly Local with Helen Leicht featuring Ali Wadsworth, Juston Stens and the Get Real Gang, Modern Inventors, Ginger Coyle – Aereo-Plain (w/Phil D’Agostino, Brad Hinton and more) – The Lawsuits – Toy Soldiers – Great Groove Band – Dennis Hangey – Give and Take Jugglers – and your legendary host Gene Shay!

Earlybird tickets and weekend passes for the festival are now on sale at Folkfest.org.

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