The annual Philadelphia Folk Festival has taken quite a few hits this year. Yet, and still, it’s moving on, and moving forward.
First, one of its founders and longtime Master of Ceremonies (to say nothing of his role at WXPN’s Folk Show, or as the man who first brought Bob Dylan to Philly in 1963) Gene Shay passed away. Then, one of the Folk Fest’s most revered constants, John Prine, died.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic couldn’t be very far behind in its affecting of all outdoor and indoor ventures in its wake. Think Coachella and Firefly, so far. With that, and for the first time since 1967, the Philadelphia Folk Festival is not happening live or taking place at Old Pool Farm in Upper Salford, Pennsylvania, according to the Philadelphia Folksong Society.
What is happening is that the 59th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival will take on a new handle (the Philadelphia Folk Festival Global Edition), and become a streaming concert that will take place the same weekend as the festival was intended to run as a live concert and camping event, August 13 through August 16.
The Folksong Society has already taken its initial baby steps toward the digital realm with its PFS’ Digital Concert Venue (commenced March 13 with its first live-stream with Mari Black) and its decidedly non-folksy hashtags, #KeeptheMusicPlaying and #SecuretheFutureofFolk. The Digital Global Folk Fest then, should be a piece of cake – and make it so that its 60th annual festival, next year, has even more money to play with in terms of bookings.
Mountain View Staging is PFS/PFF’s partner to stream the performances. Tickets will start at $25 a day. A lineup has not been announced, though it is safe to say that both John Prine and Gene Shay will be memorialized and paid tribute.
Heather Shayne Blakeslee, the Philadelphia Folk Society’s Vice President (Board of Directors) weighed in on the topic of moving from the bucolic fields of Pennsylvania, and into the digital realm for the 59th Folk Fest:
“Gathering in that beautiful outdoor venue every year at Old Poole Farm is the heart of the Philadelphia Folk Fest community. We all have good memories there. My favorite is my bassist from Sweetbriar Rose, Shane Leddy, sleeping in his soft upright case because we camped unexpectedly and it got really cold for a night in August. You can’t forget sweet moments like that. Or listening to Dom Flemmons from the Carolina Chocolate Drops sing on the mainstage side steps to a small crowd when an electrical issue forced them off the stage for a short time. So we’ve been talking as a board and staff about what to do since March. And every week new information came in, including that we lost John Prine to the pandemic. He would have been our headliner this year and we know that for so many people his voice and humor are irreplaceable. We’ll never know what he would have had to say about this strange time we’re in, and that’s a true loss. And we lost our founder, Gene Shay, and you can’t even say Gene’s name without smiling. In the midst of all that loss, we can’t come together to mourn, like so many families right now. So this was a wrenching decision not to hold a live festival. But it wasn’t a hard decision, because we know the society has to be stewards not only of folk music traditions but our community’s health as well. Of everyone’s health. I’d say that includes mental health, and it’s obvious that we all need each other right now, and we need art and music to connect us. So we’re committed not only to a high-level at-home concert experience but also to interactive and engaging ways of connecting our fans and family via online campsites and other means. You’ll still get teeshirts and wristbands if you want them. We know an online model can work for us because we’ve been testing for months now and watched as more and more folk fans have tuned in to concerts online after we pivoted from live performances at our Roxborogh venue to a digital venue model. In some ways, the intimacy of folk performances can shine through even via a computer screen and the speakers in our living rooms. People need to be together in whatever ways we can right now.”
At the very least, I won’t have to pull my tent out of the basement. This year.
Stay tuned for more info as it comes.