Welcome to Week of Folk, a series of interviews, reviews, artist spotlights, playlistings and general ephemera to get you ready for the 52nd Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival, happening August 16th to August 18th at Old Pool Farm in Schwenksville. We begin with our thoughts on one documentary filmmaker’s attempt to sum up Philly Folk in the 90-something minutes.
You know you’re with a devoted audience when the movie screening has cheering sections.
As soon as Lee Theis, chair of the Philadelphia Folk Festival “Groundz” committee (and an utterly recognizable face at the festival every year), appeared on the big screen, a roar emerged from the right rear of the theater. Or more like a burst of applause and a swell of voices hollering “Groundz!” Later on, members of the recycling committee made their first appearance on screen, and a similar enthused, “go team” reaction emerged from the front row.
It happened when longtime folks-about-Fest were interviewed, it happened when popular scenes of campground absurdity (like the annual water balloon fight) appeared onscreen. It was clear that this was an amongst-friends audience, and that the film – James Wallaces’ At Fest, which made its world premiere at The Trocadero last Wednesday night – was on a certain level a film about festies, by festies, for festies. But it was also a great introduction for the uninitiated, an explanation of this long-running regional event and the culture surrounding it (albeit through a G-rated lens).
To underscore the night’s homey atmosphere – and to presage the dwellings that much of the festival-attending crowd will call home for the coming weekend – the At Fest crew set up a decorated tent next to a crepe-paper campfire towards the back of the theater. The first five to ten minutes of the film is a montage of soundbites from ateendees who all share a common refrain. “I met my husband / wife here. I grew up here. This is my family.”
“Here” refers not only to Folk Fest in general, but to its sprawling campground in specific, and the community housed within. This is an element of Folk Fest that the day-trippers – the crowd who just comes in for the afternoon, watches whatever headliner, and heads home – completely miss out on. It’s unshowered and often muddy; it can be a bit dysfunctional at times; but it’s also utterly filled with joy. Continue reading →