BY MEREDITH KLEIBER If you live in the Philly metro area and have yet to attend the Philadelphia Folk Festival, well this is your year to start. The Folk Fest turns 50 this year and will be celebrating five decades of good, clean, crunchy, folky fun for the whole family this weekend when it returns to beautiful Old Pool Farm in Schwenksville. Once again the lineup is a heady mix of heritage folk artists and barn-burning upstarts. Below are our picks for the must-see performances of the weekend. And don’t forget to sample Yards’ special Folk Fest Lager, which is just what the doctor ordered for a hot day down on the farm.
Joel Plaskett Emergency – Joel Plaskett is no music-biz newbie. If you’re an American, his name may not yet be familiar to you, but Plaskett is among the most well-known and beloved contemporary musicians in Canada. The 19-year industry veteran is a touring fool, and he’s hoping to leave an imprint on Philadelphia when he plays the Philly Folk Fest on Thursday. If the energy that he emits on his most recent release, Three, is any indication of how he will play on Thursday, I think he’s gonna leave a mark.
Hoots & Hellmouth – The lineup of Philly’s own Hoots & Hellmouth has certainly changed a lot over the years, but what remain immutable are their folk-powered melodies, honeyed harmonies, and prevailing sense of good ol’ foot-stompin’ fun. To add a little more oomph and keep spirits high after the departure of founding member Andrew “Hellmouth” Gray, they recently added a drummer into the mix, thus changing the band’s dynamic and adding more rhythm to their already animated live energy. Catch them on the Main Stage on Friday to see what they’re all about.
Birdie Busch – If you live in the Philly metro area, you’ve no doubt heard the name Birdie Busch. This songstress is an integral part of the Philly folk scene and has continued to enchant her audiences with her gorgeous pipes and nitty-gritty guitar. Her passion for her craft and the city she calls home is readily apparent in just about everything she does, from her richly evocative lyrics to the love on the tracks of her most recent EP, Everyone Will Take You In. I dare you not to fall under her spell when she takes the Main Stage on Friday.
Justin Townes Earle – Justin Townes Earle, son of Steve Earle and namesake of Townes Van Zandt, has a lot of history engrained into his name. The Nashville-raised Earle was pretty much born to be a musician. His captivating live performances include everything from country and folk to blues and bluegrass, all of which he backs with confident, commanding vocals. His performance will surely be among the best of Friday’s lineup and is not to be missed.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue – Multi-instrumentalist Trombone Shorty is the nickname bestowed on four-year-old Troy Andrews when his brother saw him in a street parade playing a trombone that was bigger than he was. The New Orleans-born-and-raised prodigy has recently taken the music world by storm, ripping up stages across the country and around the world with his searing, soulful self-described “Supafunkrock.” At the ripe age of 25, he has garnered praise from myriad music legends, including Wynton Marsalis and Allen Toussaint, and was featured in a recurring role on the HBO series Tremé, a show set in his native NOLA neighborhood.
Arlo Guthrie – The man who penned one of the most famous folk songs of all time, “Alice’s Restaurant,” will be gracing the Main Stage on Saturday. Arlo Guthrie, son of Woody, the godfather of protest singers, is probably best known for his early 70s hit “City Of New Orleans.” But he’s no stranger to Philadelphia — at the beginning of his career, he frequented The 2nd Fret and The Main Point so much that he routinely referred to them as second homes. His knack for weaving stories into his songs and onstage charisma will almost make you forget that he became a Republican a few years back. Almost.
Jorma Kaukonen – Jorma Kaukonen, one of the most respected guitar players of all time, will be playing the Main Stage on Saturday. A founding member of the 60s psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane and the blues-rock spinoff band Hot Tuna, his name is synonymous with blues-based shredding. And don’t think that just because he’s in his 70s he’s ready for the rocking chair. He still tours rather prolifically, weaving together experimental bluegrass, rock-and-roll, blues, folk, and psychedelic roots into one stellar, kaleidoscopic performance.
David Bromberg Big Band – Philly native and internationally revered multi-instrumentalist David Bromberg doesn’t play out much these days so when he does it’s a pretty big deal. His big band boasts a wide assortment of instruments — including fiddle, mandolin, bass, trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, trombone, and drums — and a mastery of multiple forms: bluegrass, blues, folk, jazz, country and western, and rock & roll. If we’re lucky, Bromberg will rekindle his collaborative efforts with Jorma Kaukonen at the Folk Fest — there must be a reason why the two were scheduled on the same day, right?
The Wood Brothers – Oliver and Chris Wood, aptly known as The Wood Brothers, started playing music a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Oliver’s soul-tinged bluesnik style was right at home in the Deep South, where he toured a lot with his band, King Johnson, while Chris’s jazzy bass-playing skills were brought to bear as a founding member of Medeski, Martin & Wood. But it wasn’t until 2005 that Oliver decided to get his peanut butter in Chris’ chocolate. The just-out Smoke Ring Halo is a blessed thing.
The Levon Helm Band – The latter days of ex-Band drummer/vocalist Levon Helm’s storied career, including two solo Grammys, seem like one long last waltz, a victory lap for a man who stared down death, in the form of throat cancer, and lived to tell. Still, the cure exacted a terrible price: the radiation treatments that eventually rid his throat of malignancy damaged his vocal cords, reducing his once-strong, clear tenor to a weak, scratchy rasp. So, it should come as no real surprise that his band — a crack 12-piece that includes a full complement of horns and his daughter Amy on vocals — does most of the singing, taking the weigh off Manny, as it were. As a drummer, he is still more than able to do the locomotion and the Levon Helm Band’s recent performance at Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival sounded just like the night they drove ol’ Dixie down.
Wilderness Of Manitoba – One part Fleet Foxes, one part Fleetwood Mac (circa Future Games/Bare Trees), one part Laurel Canyon, Wilderness of Manitoba’s layered sound is rich, organic and bearded, shot through with pristine vocal harmonies and all manner of folksy acoustica to evoke the endless sylvan vistas of their namesake. Their debut album, When You Left the Fire, came out in May to deafening critical acclaim and they’ve been plying their trade on the highways and byways of North America ever since.