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Live Reviews

48th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival

By Published: September 5, 2009

Excitement was building for the Saturday afternoon performance of The Decemberists. This seven- member Seattle-based group had the twenty-somethings head bopping in the August heat in the mosh pits to their indie-rock storytelling tunes. This group left no doubt that there's something for everyone at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Boston folk singer Ellis Paul brought the festival back to its roots, accompanied by a beautiful piano, and later Philadelphian Tom Rush played his feel-good make-the-world-a-better-place tunes that really did have the audience feeling better. Toronto Celtic rock group, Enter the Haggis, lit the festival up with its high-energy Celtic-infused tunes that included bag pipe and fiddle. This young, hip group was appealing to all ages and had the audience clapping and dancing as the evening progressed. The night ended on a mellow note when Iron and Wine—Austin resident Sam Beam—played a solo show. With his good humor and excellent acoustic guitar playing, he had his loyal fans singing along to his always meaningful lyrics, including his tune "Naked As We Came"—a song about long-term love.

Caravan of Thieves

Sunday's groups included Works Progress Administration, The Del Mc Coury Band, and Langhorne Slim. But the crowd seemed most interested in the festival closer, The Derek Trucks Band. A long-time member of the Allman Brothers Band, Trucks was simply amazing as he played covers and originals in various styles. The band's jazz version of the Sound of Music's "My Favorite Things" was beautifully played and Trucks showed that he owned the guitar, making it sound however he wanted it to sound. Trucks' blues tunes had the audience howling in appreciation. This was a perfect ending to a great festival.

There is no doubt that The Philadelphia Folk Festival is making great changes to draw a wider audience. It seemed that the original folk audience was happy, and the festival welcomed in a new generation of music lovers who also look for meaning in their music. Folk musicians have always been about the stories they tell of peace, justice, love, and change. Groups like Iron and Wine and The Decembrist also tell stories with great meaning to a younger generation. Groups like Rebirth Brass Band, Enter the Haggis, and The Derek Trucks band are an evolution of roots music. Including these new bands while keeping the groups that made the folk fest what it is and keeping it alive for forty-eight years is a tribute to vision and dedication of the Philadelphia Folk Song Society and its 3000 volunteers. This sort of progressive thinking should carry this festival forward for the enjoyment of many more generations.

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