Going Historical, Going Folk: The Philadelphia Folk Festival Comes of Age

The copy of my article for the 2010 Philadelphia Folk Festival Program Book arrived via email. It’s a shame I couldn’t make it up to see the festival last month. The Philadelphia Folk Festival and the Philadelphia Folksong Society are historic institutions. Drawing on 25 years working in history and academic training in folklore, I can say without equivocation that the festival and its parent organization, the Folksong Society, are indeed historic. They easily pass the time test and both have had profound impacts on musicians, music lovers, folklorists, and communities throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania. Continue reading

Silver Spring Drum Circle: Starting the Groove

August 28, 2010

Since July 2010, when the Silver Spring Civic Building and Veterans Plaza opened, a drum circle has gathered Saturday evenings. I wanted to see how the drum circle forms each week so I arrived at 6:30 PM to see how it comes together. Performances are complex social events. The activities leading up to the actual event can be as significant as the music or drama performed during the performance. With that in mind I tried to catch how the Silver Spring drum circle comes together as a performance. This video is compiled from clips I shot while watching the drummers and their audience gather between 7:00 and 8:20 PM in Veterans Plaza.

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Unmaking Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Updated)

In 2006 Montgomery County, Maryland, received international attention for purchasing a 19th century farmhouse that oral tradition suggested was the original “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The county paid $1 million for a little over an acre in suburban North Bethesda. Now, four years later the county is holding community stakeholder meetings to map out the future of what officials are now calling The Josiah Henson Site. I recall the excitement surrounding the announcement that the legendary material link to American literary and social history would be “saved” from land hungry developers gobbling up Montgomery County real estate. Continue reading

Philly Folk Festival Season

Each summer Google directs dozens of visitors looking for information on the history of the annual Philadelphia Folk Festival. This year’s festival runs from August 20 through the 21st and the hits to my site are already picking up. Why is Google sending folks to my Web site? Because in the 1990s I covered folk music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and in advance of the 1992 festival I wrote a Sunday feature on the festival’s history and the folks behind it: The Philadelphia Folksong Society. I was finishing up my coursework at Penn at the time and I just happened to be enrolled in the now-defunct doctoral program in Folklore and Folklife. I also happened to be gearing up for the required FOLK 606: History of Folklore Studies class taught by the inimitable Dan Ben-Amos and I decided to use some of the reporting I did for the Inquirer article for one of my class papers. Since my time at Penn coincided with my early years writing about music I got to use interviews with folks like BB King and others as source material for term papers. Now that was cool.

For the Folk Festival story (and subsequent paper) I interviewed legendary Philly radio personality Gene Shay and many of the festival’s founders. I also interviewed Irish musician (and fellow Penn folklorist) Mick Moloney as well as George Britton (who died recently). Britton was a fun interview. Near the end of our interview he sang the chorus of a tune he wrote about the festival. He called the song, “Barefoot, Bearded and Bedraggled”:

I’m barefoot, bearded and bedraggled
Stoned and drunk as I can be
I’m the counterculture and I’m all folked up
This here’s my cry of liberty. Continue reading