15 local artists to discover at the Philadelphia Folk Festival
If you’re talking about summer music festivals repping Philly artists, nobody is more inclusive than the annual Philadelphia Folk Festival. Held in the rolling fields of upper Montgomery County for the past 55 years, the festival will welcome dozens of regional performers to the stage when it kicks off on Thursday, August 18th, and runs through Sunday August 21st. While we’re psyched to see everybody from our neck of the woods, we’ve rounded up a list of 15 can’t-miss locals performing this weekend at PFF this weekend. Read more below and let it be your homegrown festival guide.
Bethlehem and Sad Patrick (Lobby Stage, 8/19, 2:15 p.m.)
This duo hails from the Germantown section of Philly, and its tagline “soul, blues, jazz, love and other struggles” is pretty on the nose. (It’d make a great title for a collection of short stories as well.) The warm vocals and percussion of Bethlehem Roberson have been mixing with slick guitar accompaniment from “Sad Patrick” Arkins since the duo first teamed up at Mt. Airy’s Melalani Café back in 2015. Get a taste of what they’ll bring to the PFF Lobby Stage in the backyard video below.
Deer Scout (Front Porch Stage, 8/19, 11 a.m.)
The project of Philadelphia newcomer Dena Miller, Deer Scout’s acoustic, introspective musings are honest, direct and as indebted to early Ingrid Michaelson as Waxahatchee. Which is to say, we could see Miller taking her career in a pop goddess route just as easily as a indie rock queen – and it’ll be a journey to keep your eyes on in either case. Listen to her new customs EP below.
Heart Harbor (Camp Stage, 8/20. 12 p.m.)
Every year, XPN’s Helen Leicht takes a look across the regional singer-songwriter community and picks her three favorites to showcase at a Folk Fest Camp Stage concert early Saturday afternoon. With her lovely, Erin McKeown-produced Tender Trap EP and a solid slate of gigs around town, Kerry Hallett has captured a lot of the scene’s attention with her Heart Harbor project – at turns reminiscent of Ani Di Franco and Jenny Lewis. Get to know her in our recent interview here and watch the “Hating Nothing” video below.
Katie Barbato (Camp Stage, 8/20. 12 p.m.)
Another of Helen’s picks for the XPN Local stage, this Philadelphian has a big pop sound with roots in anthemic soul. To add on to the excitement, Folk Fest is her birthday weekend, so you know it’s going to be a party. Watch the music video for “Times Have Changed” below.
Matt Duke (Camp Stage, 8/20. 12 p.m.)
Ronding out the XPN Local stage, Mount Laurel NJ’s Matt Duke makes a return appearance to Helen’s showcase. (He first wowed there with an acoustic set and a cover of Jeff Buckley’s “So Real” in 2006.) His latest record, The Phoenix, was released to Spotify earlier this year; check it out below.
Driftwood Soldier (Front Porch Stage, 8/21, 2:45 p.m.)
The collaboration of singers and songwriters Owen Lyman-Schmidt and Bobby Szafranski, West Philly’s Driftwood Soldier has been going for a couple years now. The band even played a role in launching the inaugural West Philly Porchfest back in June, and will bring their gutbucket-styled, blues-informed Shakey Graves-esque jams to the Front Porch Stage on Sunday. Listen to / grab a download of “Found” below.
Jason McCue (Front Porch Stage, 8/19, 11 a.m.)
This West Chester singer-songwriter’s sonic palette ranges from wispy and shy acoustic songs to stratospheric Beatles-esque symphonies. He joins Deer Scout on the Next Gen Folk showcase on the Front Porch Stage on Friday — listen to his latest LP, HUMANS, below.
The End of America (Lobby Stage, 8/19, 12:45 p.m.)
After a three-year break, this local harmony-driven trio returned in force this spring with a new single called “Russian Fortune,” a boot-stomping folk anthem of modern rock proportions. The band celebrates the release of their self-titled debut LP on September 2nd, and will treat the Lobby Stage crowd to a preview of the new jams.
The Stray Birds (Martin Guitar Main Stage, 8/20, 9:10 p.m.)
If there is one band this year that has become stars of the locals, Lancaster-bred acoustic roots trio The Stray Birds would be it. The band got its start on the circuit with 2010’s Borderland and could be spotted performing in the PFF campground in 2012. This year marks the release of The Stray Birds’ latest LP, Magic Fire, out on Yep Roc records, and it is a shining collection of harmonized vocals that will radiate off of the Martin Guitar Main Stage on Saturday night.
The Late Saints (Lobby Stage, 8/19, 4:30 p.m.)
Jacopo de Nicola was born in Italy, currently resides in South Philly, and brings a blend of the nomadic acoustic musics of Southeastern Europe to his new home, with a touch of punk rock flair (and kazoo!). Read a 2013 profile of di Nicola’s band The Late Saints by our Brian Wilensky here and watch the video for “Multitudes” below; it’s got something of a Jonathan Richman thing at work under its nylon string strums and soaring horns.
Burning Bridget Cleary (Martin Guitar Stage, 8/19, 5:10 p.m.)
In contrast to Fest regulars Tempest, who will crank it to 11 for a blaring set of celtic-informed rock on Saturday, Philly regional favorites Burning Bridget Cleary keep it trad but don’t skimp on the energy. They’ll open the Martin Guitar Stage on Friday night.
Liz Longley (Camp Stage, 8/18, 7:30)
Another veteran of Helen Leicht’s Philly Local Stage from 2006, Liz Longley returns to Old Pool Farm ten years later and with an impressive career under her belt. The Downingtown native spent a bunch of time touring the country and recording in Nashville, landing a deal with Sugar Hill Records, who released her self-titled debut in 2015. She’s back this month with W E I G H T L E S S dropping on Sugar Hill on August 26th. Think of this return to PFF as her hometown record release party.
April Mae and the June Bugs (Tank Stage, 8/21, 11 a.m.)
A couple Sundays ago, these regional staples appeared on the Folk Show with Ian Zolitor for a set of lively upright bass and washboard jams. They draw on bluegrass, swing and rockabilly, and they have a very fun and stylish bus that transports them from gig to gig. Their set at the Tank Stage on Sunday will be a good one to wake up to.
Sparkle Pony (Lobby Stage, 8/19, 3:45 p.m.)
These newgrass charmers are just as fun and lively as you’d expect a band named Sparkle Pony to be. Acoustic guitar, fiddle solos, vocal harmonies and whimsical words will be racing at a speedy clip on the Lobby Stage Friday afternoon.
Sarah and the Arrows (Front Porch Stage, 8/19, 4:15 p.m.)
A few years back, singer, songwriter and guitarist Sarah Napolitan tapped some friends in the Philly folk circuit to join forces with her, and Sarah and the Arrows were born. Featuring Rosie McNamara Jones – who indie rock scenesters might remember as the lady who ruled at violin in The Low Road and Matt Pond PA many moons ago – as well as versatile banjo player Stacy Weathers (Meghan Cary, Cruel Gypsy) and bassist Lee Vuotto, the group brings warm and communal vibes to the campground’s Front Porch Stage on Friday.
The 55th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival takes place from Thursday, August 18th to Sunday, August 21st at Old Pool Farm in Schwenksville, PA. For tickets and more information, visit the Folk Fest website.