This is the weekend of the summer I pencil on my calendar each year – a time when 6,500 people turn the grounds of the Old Pool Farm outside Schwenksville in Montgomery County into a small, close-knit community of music lovers and revelers for four days as part of the 54th annual Philadelphia Folk Festival.
I’m already planning out a spot to set up my tent and join my friends at Camp Carnivore who work security for the festival. I’ve also been planning out who I’m looking forward to see perform as some of the biggest names in folk, blues, Americana and beyond make the journey to the town 35 miles outside of the city limits of Philadelphia.
There are some obvious choices to see – musicians like Arlo Guthrie who will perform a rendition of his famous song “Alice’s Restaurant” in honor of its 50th anniversary, and Lyle Lovett & His Large Band with their classic country sound and Lovett’s distinct hairstyling.
There’s also Parker Millsap and Selwyn Birchwood – two performers who lit up the stage earlier this year at the Long’s Park Summer Music Series in Lancaster. And there’s also Mechanicsburg’s own Vulcans – a band Fly has highlighted in the past.
But there are also more than 150 performers to choose from during the festival. Here are three I’m going to be sure to see (and also a video to give you a sense of what the Philadelphia Folk Festival is all about.)
1) Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear – Saturday, August 15; Main Stage; 4:30 p.m.
Just one year ago, Madisen Ward and his mother, Ruth, were playing for small crowds at coffee shops in their hometown of Kansas City, MO. Creating their own original folk tunes, Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear quickly won influential friends and fans in the Americana music scene, securing a record deal with the popular indie label Glassnote (along with fellow labelmates Mumford & Sons and Childish Gambino). Fast forward to today, and the duo have already landed spots at major music festivals (Newport Folk, Bonnaroo, XPoNential), the opener for major acts (Rodrigo y Gabriela, Tallest Man on Earth, B.B. King) and scored one of the final performing slots on The Late Show with David Letterman. Now they’re one of the headliners of this year’s Philadelphia Folk Festival.
2) Shakey Graves – Friday, August 14; Main Stage; 9:45 p.m.
The ultimate one-man band, Alejandro Rose-Garcia – better knows as Austin, TX’s Shakey Graves – is a performer you have to see to believe. The young guitarist broke on the Americana scene in 2011 with his critically-acclaimed album Roll the Bones and has gone on to receive even more accolades for his most recent release, 2014’s And the War Came. His rising talent is so recognizable that Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell proclaimed February 9, 2012 as “Shakey Graves Day.”
3) Angela Sheik – Saturday, August 15; Camp Stage; 11:25 a.m.
Another outstanding one-man performer (or one-woman, in this case), Wilmington, DE’s Angela Sheik is a wizard with a keyboard, mandolin, auto harp, looping pedals and other instruments. She makes amazing beats, harmonies, chords and other sounds come together with ease, playing both originals and her own takes on popular songs. She recently dazzled the crowd at Tellus360 in Lancaster when she opened up for Kopecky, The Lost Bayou Ramblers and Ton-Taun as part of the Taste of XPoNential in Central PA show in July.
The Philadelphia Folk Festival runs from Thursday, August 13 until Sunday, August 16. Tickets range between $55 for a single day on Friday to $230 for the entire festival and camping. For tickets and a complete schedule, go to the Philadelphia Folksong Society’s website.