Friday, September 2, 2011

Philadelphia Folk Fest: 50th Year

Michelle Alton
Well, I am fresh out of stories this week with two slightly vague promises waiting in the wings.  You are all weary of either living through Hurricane Irene, or just hearing about her, so I will forego telling the story of what could be the epilogue of "Water Torture," because, as you already suspect the recalcitrant damned leak did come back.  And a handful of huge trees DID fall down around us.  Perhaps a story for another day.  So I thought I would take a slight turn off the beaten path and just show you some photos I shot on the last day of the Philadelphia Folk Festival (last week in August) and include some narratives about the relentless search for the 1960's that I observed until, soaked to the bone, I slogged back in the sheeting rain to the parking lot.   I hope you enjoy these!

  Michelle Alton


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Philadelphia Folk Festival: 50th Year
(Click photos to enlarge and then click your browser's back button to come back)

I had decided to forfeit the $80 I had paid for an afternoon/evening ticket for the last day of the Philadelphia Folk Festival in Schwenksville.  Torrential rains were suddenly predicted and well, you could describe me in a lot of ways, but when I try to describe myself, I do it in one word:  Goldilocks!   I'm fine as long as it's not too hot, not too cold, not too wet, not to arid, and as long as I have a hot shower and a comfy bed with clean sheets and four pillows.  "Intrepid" would not be me.

But the sky was blue and the temperatures were mild when I decided to set forth.  It would be a 50-mile drive.

An uneventful trip ended up in a soggy overflow parking lot about a mile from the Main Event.  The traffic controllers allowed me to park there because I had four-wheel drive.  Oh boy, this was going to be fun! 

I had a backpack with citrus green tea, a folding umbrella,  a few basic bits of camera equipment, and two plastic grocery bags, in case I had to cover my camera in a downpour.  I was wearing sturdy Mephisto walking shoes (and socks) and I had a tiny fanny pack with about $50, my driver's license, and my insurance card.  And of course, my trusty Canon 7D DSLR and my versatile Tamron 18-270 mm zoom lens. 

After parking the car, and shooting a photo of the immediate surroundings (I did not have bread crumbs to drop) so I could find the car again on the way back, I followed the crowd walking in the rural road.  Already it was feeling "Woodstock-esque," as I encountered headbanded, tie-dyed, mud-encrusted people carrying huge back packs, or pulling giant wagons that seemingly contained all of their belongings.

All along the Festival Route, people had home-made signs on their lawns offering all-day parking for $10, and there were signs posted along the roadside, advertising some of the acts and goodies for sale at the fest.

And then there was this wonderful roadside Lemonade Stand:

Finally I entered the onsite parking lot for the Festival. It was full to the brim with cars, and its perimeters were marked by about twenty or thirty large Sanitation trucks, there to service the dozens of "Porto Potties" on the grounds. The facilities were plentiful, clean, and well maintained. Whew! In fact, everything was so well organized and well thought out that I found myself happy that I had made the trip. And the sun was still shining, with beautiful wispy white clouds making everything beautiful.

The first thing I encountered inside the festival grounds was a large tent, with a small performance stage at one end. A group of musicians were playing, and people, old, young, big, and small, were either swaying with the music, parked on sand chairs or sitting on plastic tarps.

In the Performance Tent

All her belongings, seemingly abandoned..

And right outside the tent a local radio station was handing out watermelon wedges.

Watermelon Woman

I decided to try to find the other stages, and walked past the area designated for arts and crafts vendors, then past the food court, and finally, there were two more stages and a pathway to the woods, with a sign that said "Dulcimer Grove."

Dulcimer Grove
Inside the wooded grove hung dozens of colorful hammocks, strung between trees.  Kids played with hula hoops and yo yos, and adults snoozed or engaged in cozy conversations.

Forty Winks in Dulcimer Grove

Relaxing Together

Another Forty or so Winks

Hammock Man
Later I learned that nearly all the hammocks had been acquired from one of the festival vendors, for $35 each.  A bargain!

Outside Dulcimer Court, folks were already staking out their spots for the evening performance on the Main Stage.  There were reserved seats, and then there were seats on the grass.  All would soon be in the rain!

Camped Out in front of Main Stage
On the far side of Dulcimer Grove was the Camp Stage, and I arrived there just before the "Celtic Afternoon" was about to begin. The skies were darkening, but folks didn't seem to care. The Philadelphia school teacher who had become my buddy was sitting on the grass beside me, with no protection but a baseball cap. He did not care. He got soaked. Others suddenly covered themselves with black plastic bags, blue tarps, rain gear, and whatever protections they had improvised. The Battlefield Band did not disappoint. Shirtless, tattoed, and painted 60s throwbacks were dancing in the muddy isles. Everyone was happy, despite the downfall.

Camp Stage Audience

What better way to hold a tarp down?

And then suddenly OUT CAME THE SUN!  I decided to explore the vending areas, as there was an hour before the evening's final performances on the Main Stage.  I had really come to see Gene Shay, the Philly DJ who had been the EMCEE since the first festival in 1962, and to hear Levon Helm and his band.  THAT was not going to happen for me!

On the loudspeaker, someone suggested an interesting refreshment:  Iced coffee with a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream at the bottom.   I  rushed to the Ice Cream Concession.  Wow!  That was delicious, and a treat I'd recommend highly.

Martin Guitar Contest

I passed the Martin Guitar tent, where they were holding a contest in which the winner would go home with a new, beautiful Martin acoustic guitar.

They will Come  Martin Guitars (and other instruments) were hanging from the sky.

Grizzly Adams?  Or just another 60's "Throwback?"

Jugglers in Dulcimer Grove
A mother and daughter were relaxing on a blanket, as each checked their messages.

Texting 101
And a ceramics artist provided clay for the little kids to play with.  It reminded me of my childhood when my Jewish grandmother would come to bake strudels for us.  She would give me little bits of dough to roll into long fat worms, and then twist into little sugared cookies that she called "feygelas."  Don't ask!

Making "Feygelas"

Tie Died
Who knew that tie dying was big again?

Tie Dying is Big
And finally the Main Peformance was about to begin. But suddenly the the skies opened like nobody's business. Three inches of rain fell in the first hour.

Singing' in the Rain

It was only minutes before my umbrella turned inside-out and I became soaked to the skin.  Luckily my camera was high and dry, and wrapped in my Acme grocery bags.
I took one last look at Dulcimer Grove before slogging through the thick mud and down the long road to my car (in the muddly parking lot), all the while making plans to return next year.  Anyone want to join me?

Cocktails in Dulcimer Grove

  All photos by Michelle Alton


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Joe DiGilio said...

I love the way you tell a story. Looks like fun,except for the rain, and it sure sounds like you had fun. The image in your opening looks like something you might have taken, back in the day, when you were a mere child. Perhaps I'll bump into you there next year. See if you recognize me in my 60's get-up.

Monnie Ryan said...

Well, except for the rain, the mud, the long walk and the crowds, it sounds like a good time to me...! :-D Seriously, the festival looks like an interesting and fun way to remember what was an interesting and fun time! Terrific write-up and photos, Michelle!

Patricia said...

I'm with you Michelle....Goldilocks....I'd like to think that I'm intrepid...alas I have to face reality. Another wonderful story....with great images to illustrate. I miss these festivals that are held back East...perhaps when I retire I can join you in the "relentless pursuit" of good "street" photography at which I do not excel...You're an inspiration Michelle....Keep the stories coming...Cheers =^..^=
Patricia Casey

Anonymous said...

You are such a wonderful story telling and photographer. Don't not stop :) I enjoy your tales so much!

Dave Phalen said...

Goldilocks??? Love It!! I know I shouldn't laugh at your problems but you write with such clever humor that I can't help it. Another wonderful story with excellent photos!!

Anonymous said...

you write so well, and it was a fun read, your photos tell the story about your day...great stuff 'Goldilocks'you sure tell them well...
I sure would love to go there !


Anonymous said...

I want to join you, Michelle. My kind of music and my kind of day, rain and all. A great story and photos to go with it, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks for the memory lane trip.

Anonymous said...

Great journalism and photos, Michelle!! Sign me up for a hammock at Dulcimer Grove!!

Robert B

Larraine said...

I love your photos of this event. You have really told a story.