Friday, August 17, 2012

Philadelphia Folk Festival's inner sanctum

Most people see the Philadelphia Folk Festival from this side:

Chris Kasper and some of his former bandmates from The Lowlands at the 2012 Folk Fest.

And this side:
 Folk Fest volunteers Bryan Edwards and Lindsay Kuzara dance to the band Cabinet.

While I was interviewing the charming pair mentioned above, up comes a professional acquaintance from the PennSuburban Chamber of Commerce and Moyer Indoor/Outdoor. He was rather reluctant about being quoted in a story (Perhaps they don't know about his Folk Fest side outside of work?), but was excited to show me this area backstage where I had never been in all my years of covering the Folk Fest.
"Prepare to have your mind officially blown," said one of the backstage gatekeepers on the Dulcimer Grove side of the stage. 
To be more exact, it's under the main stage. This is the secret domain of the Philadelphia Folksong Society's Archive Committee, where audio and video recording of the main stage concerts takes place.

Dig those lava lamps in the back! The woman in the back is Joyce Lieberman, a sound mixer from WHYY.

To hear Hatfield resident James Fox tell it, there are gobs and gobs of archival reel to reel tape recordings going back to the earliest days of the Philadelphia Folk Festival, which is now in its 51st year. There are even recordings and photographs that pre-date the Folk Fest. The Folksong Society was founded in 1957.
Sadly the archive, which includes one-of-a-kind Folk Festival live jam sessions led by instigators like David Bromberg and Tom Paxton, is kept under wraps and can not be accessed by the general public for fear of bootlegging, or drawing the ire of music publishers ASCAP and BMI. However, access has been granted to Godfather of Folk Gene Shay and authors researching singers Stan Rogers and Steve Goodman.
"We had the only live video recordings of him," Fox said of Rogers, who passed away in 1983.
Fox said the society is working on getting a grant to digitize the analog audio archives, which promises to be a very time-consuming and expensive venture.
Thirty-year festival attendee Gary Schuman of Reading shared that he also had a serendipitous backstage access experience 20 years ago at the Folk Fest when he met The Holmes Brothers, who are back at the festival this year.   

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Musikfest: A Most Happy Place

I first started attending Musikfest in Bethlehem when I returned to the area in 1998. It is the biggest free, 10-day music festival in America, according to the Musikfest organizers.
It's a large-scale party held around the beginning of August that shuts down the major thoroughfares of the City of Bethlehem, and is something that has to be experienced to be believed!
 I've seen Starship with Micky Thomas (a surprisingly good concert), The B-52s and Robert Hazard there.
As my fiancee and I were waiting to gain access to a port-a-potty (an inescapable reality of the festival), a stranger remarked how impressive it is that alcohol is served on this grand of a scale and everybody gets along. Well that's the unifying power of music for you.
An exciting development that's come along is ArtsQuest's takeover of the festival. Within the breathtaking remains of Bethlehem Steel, the platzes (stages) have been reorganized so there are now South Bethlehem venues at Steel Stax, the magnificent new ArtsQuest performing arts center. The Eric Steckel Band played an electrifying set at the Americaplatz stage, which is now at Steel Stax.
A jaw-dropping difference since the last time I attended Musikfest is the relocation of the main stage. In the old format, it was hidden away in a creekside location prone to lots of bugs. Now located on the Steel Stax campus, you can clearly hear the music and glimpse the video screens of the main stage concerts without actually having to pay for a ticket. The bit of Boston we caught as we waited for the yellow school bus to take us back to North Bethlehem was rather cool. 
Perhaps the biggest Musikfest buzz was the armless guitarist (!) that opens for The Goo Goo Dolls joining the band to perform "Iris."
One suggestion for ArtsQuest that arose when I brought my fiancee there for her first Musikfest experience: Have somebody sell batteries. This Talk About the Passion post would have been so much better if she could have taken pictures. The batteries in her camera mysteriously died.
Here's what she managed to take with her phone:

Oh and the one stage on Main Street needs much more seating. An entertaining group called Gangstagrass was playing there on Aug. 12 and there was no place to sit down.