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48th Annual Philadelphia Folk Fest: The Decemberists ruled the day, but there was much more


The Philadelphia Folk Festival is a right of passage for many, yearly tradition for many more, a curiosity for some, but ultimately the epitome of what is great about summertime in the Philadelphia region.

The thousands of music-lovers, media, volunteers and performers were blessed with sunny weather this weekend, but also muddy conditions throughout the grounds.  There were alternating spots of muddy areas covered in hay and dry spots.  If you were smart you stayed near the fence while trekking down the hill towards the wooded location in the valley.  The stench of mud emanated throughout the festival grounds as the sun baked the earth and the people walking upon it.

One visitor stated that it took nearly 20 hours for trailers loaded with hay to get onto the Schwenksville location at Old Pool Farm.  This coming on the heels of weeks and weeks of storms and rains in Southeast PA.

When Philly2Philly.com headed out to the Folk Fest on Saturday the conditions were oppressive at times.  Clouds in the sky were few and far between with the wooded locations offering the relief from the hot and humid conditions.

The Philadelphia Folk Fest in it's 48th year, is known for music, partying, camping, and partying some more, but offers much more.  When you venture away from the stage areas to the vendor area, there is much to offer.

There was an assortment of jewelry, crafts, and art throughout the hundreds of vendor stations.  One stand, which stood out to me was represented by Spokes People who sell artwork constructed out of bike parts.

The organizers of Spokes People are Sue Ellen Klein and Bob Henner. Ms. Klein stated that they are in their 4th year running the project, where the proceeds go to support the "Neighborhood Bike Works" in West Philadelphia.  Ms. Klein is also involved with the Philadelphia Magic Gardens on South Street, the well known outdoor art exhibition featuring tile and mosaic artworks.

There were many other offerings in the vendor area including pottery, decorative hoola hoops, and oh yeah...massages.

The food did not disappoint either.  You could find anything from a philly cheesesteak to a gyro to a vegetable wrap.  My choice-a chicken caesar wrap for $7 hit the spot.

What struck me most about the Folk Fest is the eclectic mix of people:  young and old, children, old heads, hippies, non-hippies, and really anybody down with music was down with the Folk Fest.  It's not about a group of people on this day, because there really is something for everybody there.  And, that's something you see sorely lacking throughout America these days.

Saturday afternoon was all about The Decemberists who were set to go on sometime around 5:00, but there many, many acts on the different stages.

The Camp Stage provided a venue for many unique acts.  You could check out the acts on this stage from the shade or if you were brave enough, out in the field.  Many people opted for the latter surprisingly.  Over in this area you were more likely to catch a whiff of pot smoke as it provided a more secluded location than the rest of the festival's grounds.  At 12:00 the Wissahickon Chicken Shack, a 7 piece roots progressive folk band, was on stage.   At 1:00 Zack Djanikian took the stage.   Djanikian is a 23 year old phenom who has already toured the U.S. with his band "The Brakes", and is a huge part of the Philly music scene.  Adrian Reju, hit the stage at 
2:00.  Reju, equipped with the stage presence of a 20-year veteran, and a voice that is about as impressive you'll ever hear, could rival Robert Plant's even as she covered "What is and what should never be."   She also performed one of her well known tunes "Fire Away."

Philadelphia Folk FestIf you needed relief from the sun, you could watch the acts from the shade, but spots were limited.  Back in the wooded area you could watch folk singers at the "Dulcimer Grove" location or even watch people doing arial stunts.  Turn to the right and there jugglers performing and a puppet show followed that.  Then the acrobatics followed that up.  One woman who performed arial stunts on a rope defied the laws of physics with her death-defying moves on a rope some 20 feet up in the air.  People gasped at certain points when she appeared to lose her grip on the rope, but at no point did you ever think she would not pull it off.  She was quite simply amazing.

At 4:00 the main events of the afternoon were set to start on the Main Stage with Alela Diane opening for The Decemberists.

Diane's voice was melodic and her guitar work was soothing.  She performed six songs and thanked the crowd for braving the sultry conditions that afternoon.

At 4:49 PM, The Decemberists took the stage.  They ended up performing their entire album "Hazards of Love" released earlier this  year.

If you sat out on the lawn for their performance it felt well over 100 degrees as the sun shined directly upon you with only one moment of relief.  At one point a cloud Philadelphia Folk Festmade it's way across the sky providing the audience with a few minutes of relief.  And, once the cloud made it's appearance you saw the sense of relief amongst many 
of the people in the audience and could almost sense a standing ovation about to take place.

Their performance was nothing short of remarkable as they brought down the house even with acoustic songs such as "The Rake's Song", which is a dark song about a man who murders his children after his wife dies during child birth.

DecemberistsAt many points during their performance The Decemberists brought down the house and shook the earth musically and vocally.  They also feature Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark and My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden on a few of the songs for the female characters on the album.  The Hazards of Love is the tale of a woman named Margaret; her shape-shifting lover, William; his fey forest queen mother; and a cold-blooded, lascivious rake, who recounts with spine-tingling ease how he came "to be living so easy and free" in "The Rake's Song".

The Philadelphia Folk Fest was an amalgamation of mud, heat, sweat, insects, music, good food, crafts, art, good conversation, smells of mud cigarettes, pot, and of course good company.

Everyone there on this day was good people.  And, that made the day.

The official site for the Philadelphia Folk Music Society is at 

Aileen Bannon's photos can be found at www.philly2philly.com/culture/lens