Anybody who’s ever attended the Philadelphia Folk Festival can attest that the best part about it is the surprises you’ll find within. Sure, Old Crow Medicine Show is going to be great in their Friday night headlining slot, and singer-songwriter icon Janis Ian will dazzle the Saturday audience, but to truly experience this half-century running celebration of global roots music, we recommend getting away from the nighttime main stage sets. Here are our picks for five artists you won’t hear discussed as much, but who should make it a point to catch. You’ll go away from the festival loving them.
1. El Caribefunk | Saturday, Camp Stage, 3 p.m. – This eclectic and wildly entertaining band from Colombia is having a great summer sojourn in the states. In residence since June at the South Philly venue / rowhome The Clubhouse (hosted by Ryan Tennis, another PFF performer), El Caribefunk has used its time based in Philly wisely, performing at MusikFest, 2nd Street Fest and Love Park, touring the southern states and hopping on a brief European jaunt. They blend reggae, funk, Afro-Caribbean dance music with Spanish lyrics and will pretty much leave you with no recourse but to get up and move your feet.
2. Sturgill Simpson | Camp Stage, Thursday, 9 p.m. - This Jackson, Kentucky singer-songwriter does country music that will convert even the “I like everything but country” types. His songs reverently reflect the styles of the masters: Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Townes Van Zandt. But Sturgill Simpson isn’t a guy who’s going to trot out yet another cover of “Folsom Prison Blues” and wave the Johnny Cash flag (with all due respect to JC). He does honest American music with heartfelt depth and a touch of psychedelic orchestrations – get your Gram Parsons on, y’all. In the Thursday night World Cafe taping and concert, he’ll showcase his 2014 sophomore album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music for host David Dye.
3. Old Man Luedecke | Lobby Stage, Saturday, 1 p.m. / Craft Stage, Sunday, 2:30 p.m. - Though his monicker evokes a mental picture of a grizzled retired miner whittling wood on his front porch somewhere south of Hazleton, Chris Luedecke is most definitively not old. The thirtysomething Nova Scotia musician is a hard-traveling guy, criss-crossing the continent on a regular basis with his banjo, his guitar and his voice. Old Man Luedecke has five albums in his discography, most recently 2012′s Tender is the Night, though a new release is in the works. Last fall, Leudecke debuted four songs in his Folkadelphia session, which you can listen to and download below.
4. DakhaBrakha | Main Stage, Sunday, 5:40 p.m. - This Ukrainian four-piece uses the phrase “ethno-chaos” to describe what they do, which is a pretty awesome and evocative description I think, but it gives the sense of something more rowdy and dangerous than what they’re all about. In reality, DakhaBrakha are just masters at the melting pot, blending various strains of Eastern European folk music with sounds from India, Africa, Russia, the Middle East and Australia. This sonically well-traveled bunch was founded ten years ago at the Kyiv Center of Contemporary Art; it’s most recent LP, Khemleva Project, was released in 2012. Check out their Take Away Show from La Blogothèque below.
5. Spuyten Duyvil | Main Stage, Friday, 4:45 p.m. - This very poppy jug band from the Hudson Valley will give you a reason to head to the Martin Guitar Stage early on Friday evening. Their latest album, Temptation, was released last October and though they band is traditional in instrumentation, it is expansive in scope, working in elements of Nashville country, Appalachian bluegrass and New Orleans 2nd Line marching sounds into the festive blend they bring to the stage.
Philadelphia Folk Festival begins Thursday night, August 14th, at Old Pool Farm in Schwenksville, and runs through Sunday, August 17th. For complete information, head to their website.
DakhaBrakha, El Caribefunk, Old Man Leudecke, Philadelphia Folk Festival 2014, Spuyten Duyvil, Sturgill Simpson