UPPER SALFORD — Philadelphia Folk Festival security volunteer Vic Martinson eloquently summed it up.
“It’s about music and people watching,” the Pitman, N.J., resident said, just before posing with a group of men for the festival’s second annual “Facial Hair Photo Opp” by the Martin Guitar Raffle booth Sunday afternoon.
“If this ain’t the big time, then what is?,” sang Antsy McClain from the Tank Stage.
The 53rd annual Folk Fest program prominently featured photos by Green Lane resident and Philadelphia Folksong Society board member Howard Pitkin, who attended his first Philly Folk Fest in 1965 and has “loved folk music all my life.”
“It’s definitely work,” Pitkin said of being one of the Folk Fest’s official photographers since 2010. “There’s so much to see here. We have so much music ... seven stages ... you can’t possibly see everything.”
“People keep coming back every year. It’s like a family,” said Pitkin, who was on hand to document the Facial Hair Photo Opp, performances and backstage moments.
Some of the images Pitkin is most proud of were taken “pre-fest,” when the grounds committee begins the conversion of the Old Pool Farm from a hay farm into the more recognizable landscape of the Folk Fest.
“Our heart and soul is here,” said Folk Fest grounds committee assistant chairwoman Ellen Ehrlich Superfine, who starts camping at the site with her committee around the Fourth of July. Superfine mentioned this year’s “only leave footprints” festival green initiative to be conscious of keeping the grounds clean, and the related bicycle-powered sound system for the Lobby Stage.
Despite the initiative, a reminder announcement was made from the stage during the Sunday Evening Concert to “show a little restraint with the fire lanterns” in the campgrounds, because of an incident that caught leaves of a tree on fire.
“My first Fest was in 1964,” said Bala Cynwyd resident Dan Ruvin. Back then it was held in Paoli at the Wilson Farm on Swedesford Road. Ruvin remembered Rev. Gary Davis and Mississippi John Hurt being on the bill that year. “I think Doc Watson was there,” he added.
Shortly after that, the festival site moved to Upper Salford, and Ruvin has returned here for every Folk Fest since 1974. “I performed here 24 years ago. I started the instrument check-in in the campground. I sold a lot of ice for the festival,” he said, detailing the festival’s significance in his life.
Standout performances for him this year included Hot Club of Cowtown and Saturday’s tribute to Pete Seeger (who passed away this year) with Janis Ian, Roger Deitz, John Francis, Michael Braunfield, Josh White Jr., Dave Fry and SONiA.
One of the largest (and loudest) crowds of Sunday afternoon could be found at the Camp Stage, lining the hill from top to bottom, for the Celtic Afternoon set with Natalie MacMaster, Tempest, John Byrne Band and Archie Fisher.
The grand finale on the Main Stage began with the ad hoc Great Groove Band, led by the group Groovemama. Members Donna Hebert and Jane Rothfield — now in their ninth year of playing the Folk Fest — paused from rehearsing Friday afternoon to report that 26 children made the commitment to practice and perform this weekend. The youngest singer of the bunch was 6 years old, they said.
Sunday night’s closing concert also featured Loudon Wainwright III (“Dead Skunk”), Steep Canyon Rangers, Ten Strings and a Goat Skin, Orpheus Supertones, DakhaBrakha, Sarah Jaroz and Jason Isbell.
Folk Fest raffle coordinator Jerry Segal called the festival “the tail that wags the dog” for the Philadelphia Folksong Society, which he said has generated more than $1 million over its existence to promote folk music through programs such as the Odyssey of American Music, and a network for regional musicians called the Philadelphia Music Co-op.
For more about the PFS, visit www.pfs.org.
Follow Brian Bingaman on Twitter @brianbingaman