Philadelphia Folk Festival | photo by Lisa Schaffer |

Hours after Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo wowed thousands on the main stage at the 56th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival last weekend, Andy Walko wowed a couple dozen people over in the Hoagie campsite where a pickup band was running through the standards.

Walko isn’t a professional musician. A retired schoolteacher with a lifelong love of music, he’s been coming to Folk Fest for close to four decades and playing upright bass in the immense campgrounds adjacent to the stages for about half that time. It might not seem like he deserves to be mentioned in the same paragraph as the world-famous bluesman Taj Mahal, but Walko is just as important as any other performer at this volunteer-run festival in beautiful Upper Salford, PA.

Despite the peace and love motif of the festival, this isn’t some sort of hippie cliché about how we’re all equal. Instead it’s a reflection of the strong feeling of community at the festival and how important each and every musician, each and every person there, is to its creation and ongoing existence.

With that in mind, here’s a half-dozen interviews with musicians who were playing in the campgrounds this past year. Some of these people are lifers, others have only been coming for a comparatively paltry amount of time. At least one is a professional musician, though they all view making music as a sort of compulsion, something they need to do to survive. Folk Fest, too, has that urgency: 56 years after the first festival and it’s still going strong, due at least in part to everyone there who still sees folk music as a community that can grow, create, and constantly strive to make the world a better place.


Philadelphia Folk Festival | photo by Lisa Schaffer |