Philly Folk Fest Has Arrived

There was a time not long ago that the Philadelphia Folk Festival appeared to be losing relevance. The bookings weren’t on a par to what the legendary festival deserved.       However, much has changed over recent years and that’s particularly so for the 49th annual event, which is set for Friday through Sunday at Old Pool Farm in Schwenksville.     Much has been made of festival headliner Jeff Tweedy, which makes sense. Tweedy is the leader of Wilco, which is perhaps the most significant and consistent band of the last 15 years.        A few spins of Wilco tunes and it’s evident how integral Americana is to the sound of the band. Wilco is a great live act but Tweedy is formidable on his own. The gifted bard impressed eight-years ago by his lonesome at the Theater of Living Arts. Odds are that his Philly folk debut will be memorable. Tweedy is at his best living in his moment. It’ll be curious what observations he’ll make.  Odds are that the Folk Fest crowd will be more respectful than those who attended Wilco’s April show at the Electric Factory. The audience’s constant chatter during the set led to a tongue-lashing by Wilco’s heart and soul.        Tweedy isn’t the only notable artist making their debut at the festival. Sultry Shannon Whitworth will bring her clawhammer banjo and a stunning voice, which sounds like a combination of Peggy Lee and Patsy Cline, to Schwenksville.  “I’ve heard a lot about the Philadelphia Folk Festival,” Whitworth said. “I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it. It sounds like I’ll be playing before the perfect audience, receptive people.”      Such veteran folkies as Chris Smither, Susan Werner and A.A. Bondy are slated to perform. Count on some familiar tunes and some great stories.      One of the most venerable players to return to the Fest is Richard Thompson. The British-folk hero is unlike any other artist thanks to his exceptional songwriting, superb guitar skills and incomparable wit.       Yes, it’s the Philadelphia Folk Festival but there’s always more than folk at the event.  Blues legend Taj Mahal is a coup for the fest. The venerable songsmith isn’t the only blues artist on the bill. Underheralded Canadian Treasa Levasseur will make her Folk Fest debut. Levasseur is charismatic and humorous.     Count on Bonnie Prince Billy aka Will Oldham to be his usual entertaining self. Oldham delivers folk but also dabbles in country and punk. Oldham is unpredictable and remains one of the most clever songwriters on the circuit.      New Orleans’ Subdudes reflects the music of the Big Easy. A potpourri of sounds emanates from Saints country and the same can be said for the Subdudes. Funk, blues, gospel and R&B are vital parts of  the Subdudes sonic attack.        The festival wouldn’t be complete without a nod to MC Gene Shay, who some say is the Folk Festival. The event wouldn’t be the same without the folksy WXPN DJ.     The mighty array of talent assembled for this year’s Folk Festival seems as if it’s a year early. PFF hits 50 in 2011. The event will have quite a bit to live up. Hats off to those assembling a stellar festival.     For more information, call the Philadelphia Folk Festival at 215-242-0150 or go to www.pfs.org

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