This might go down in history as the Philadelphia Folk Festival’s “Year of the Woman.”
One press release announcing the 57th annual Folk Fest, which returns to the Old Pool Farm in Upper Salford Aug. 16 to 19, revealed that the Philadelphia Folksong Society’s festival of music, crafts, camping, family entertainment, food, beer and more has officially taken the Keychange Pledge. It is an international campaign introduced by the London-based PRS Foundation, with the aim of empowering women in all facets of the music industry, starting with a goal for music festivals and conferences achieving an even gender balance in their programming by 2022.
Taking a break from writing her letter to the festival audience that appears at the beginning of the Folk Fest program book, Lisa Schwartz, the PFS’s festival and programming director, said in a phone interview that the Fest has already achieved that mark this year, with an estimated ratio of 54 percent female performers to 46 percent male acts.
“We were the first in the United States to be asked (to take the pledge),” said Schwartz, sharing that a recurring remark she used to hear in PFS programming meetings over the last decade was, “You know folk music is mostly white-male-dominated, Lisa.”
Taking it a step further, the Folk Fest has also committed to more global multicultural inclusion in its lineup. Schwartz, who now handles the festival’s talent booking, said it’s a matter of the Folksong Society getting back to its mission as a nonprofit educational organization.
“It isn’t our job to present people that you can see at any club or festival around Philadelphia,” she said.
Judge for yourself. Here’s a sample breakdown:
Thursday campers-only concert
Gina Chavez, Talisk, Toronzo Cannon.
Friday main stage
Afternoon: Earle and Coffin, The Accidentals, William Prince, Élage Diouf, The Slambovian Circus of Dreams.
Evening: Skerryvore, The Seldom Scene, Riders in the Sky, Patty Griffin, David Bromberg Quintet.
Saturday main stage
Chris Smither, Molly Tuttle, Tom Paxton and The DonJuans, Balsam Range, Alash with Shodekeh, BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet, Eileen Ivers, David Myles, Valerie June.
Sunday main stage
Great Groove Band, John Gorka, Jeff Daniels & The Ben Daniels Band, Mary Gauthier, Shovels & Rope, Wynonna & The Big Noise.
Also keep in mind that there are eight stages spread across the Folk Fest grounds.
“Alexis P. Suter, she will change your life,” Schwartz said, rattling off non-main-stage names you should catch, such as Irish group Hermitage Green and kindie stalwarts Trout Fishing in America.
Explore more at pfs.org/philadelphia-folk-festival, where you can also download the Folk Festival app.
“I want people to realize just how different our event really is,” said Schwartz, mentioning the 2,500-some volunteers who donate their time to keep the festival running. “People say: ‘Why do you do this? Why do you give so much of yourself?’ The answer is it’s who we are.”
According to Schwartz, because the Newport Folk Festival had a period in its history when it was on hiatus, the Philly Folk Fest has the distinction of being the longest continuously run outdoor music festival in North America.
Martin Guitar Stage headliner Chris Smither, who is playing both the Philadelphia and Newport folk festivals this year, backed Schwartz up on her statement that Philly Folk Fest stands out, citing the workshop concerts and assortment of smaller stages.
“Philly is more like what I grew up with, as far as folk festivals,” said Smither, who made his first Philly Folk Fest appearance in 1969.
One can’t-miss workshop concert will be at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Culture Tent with actor and mainstage performer Jeff Daniels spotlighting the music from HBO’s “The Newsroom.”
Smither is touring behind “Call Me Lucky,” his first album with new music in six years. Among its standout tracks are an eyebrow-raising, minor-key reworking of Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” and the LOL social commentary “Nobody Home.” Among that song’s zingers:
“I saw a White House down on Pennsylvania Avenue.
I said: ‘Open up the gate. This can’t wait.’
They said: ‘Who are you?’I said I was a citizen trying to cut a deal/on a Russian unicycle with a missing wheel.
They let me through.I saw a clown with a comb-over trying to float a loan/through the CIA while he tweeted on his phone.
But there’s nobody home.”