BEING THERE: Richard Thompson @ PFF

Richard Thompson, Philadelphia Folk Festival, last night by PETE TROSHAK

The Philadelphia Folk Fest is a music institution now in its fifty-second year. The Fest is held on an idyllic patch of moonlight farmland, with a stage housed in a barn-like structure at the bottom of a steep, crowd-filled hill. The fest is a four day event complete with campgrounds and a variety of musical acts, kind of like a mini-Woodstock with less mud and no bad brown acid. Friday night at the Philadelphia Folk Festival was headlined by British guitar and songwriting legend Richard Thompson — a veteran of the festival, having first performed at it forty-two years ago on a ramshackle stage with folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention. He took the stage looking like a beret-and-scarf wearing Obi-Wan Kenobi and packing a battle-worn orange creamsicle Fender Strat. Thompson was backed by the frisky, Double-Trouble-esque rhythm section of slick bass player Taras Prodaniuk and thundering drummer Michael Jerome. They kicked off their slow building 80-minute set with three new songs from Thompson’s current and altogether excellent Electric album, the standout being the brisk rocker “Sally B.” He followed that with a majestic, amps-on-eleven “For Shame of Doing Wrong” that elicited a loud cheer from the crowd. Thompson delivered his best new song next, a scathing tune called “My Enemy” during which you could almost taste the venom dripping from the notes as they spit from his guitar. Other highlights included the appropriately carnival-like, chiming “Wall of Death” and a three minute long breathtaking solo by Thompson during crowd sing-along favorite “Tear Stained Letter.” But the twin peaks of the show came when Thompson delivered two of his most famous numbers. First he strapped on an acoustic and gave his band a breather while he delivered a crowd-silencing and chill-inducing “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” Thompson stood eyes closed as his fingers flew up and down the frets as the notes of the tragic love song poured down like silver from his guitar. Thompson closed out his main set with a stomping, reverb-drenched “Shoot Out The Lights” that had the usually mild-mannered festival crowd fist-pumping and rocking. Thompson dazzled with multiple solos on this number, and played so hard that his guitar went way out of tune. Prodaniuk stepped in and delivered an impressive impromptu bass solo to cover the space in the song until Thompson was back in tune. Thompson announced his return by tearing back into the song like a charging elephant, driving it to its finish with a furious flurry of bucking-and-snorting notes, leaving the stage smiling and triumphant. — PETE TROSHAK