Looking for a perfect way to spend some good wholesome family time while filling your soul with great music in a peaceful atmosphere? American folk festivals are a gathering of not only the stars of the folk music circuit but also living room pickers and those who are just there to get an ear full. They have gained popularity as a favorite pastime for thousands upon thousands. And for good reason. Folk festivals are family oriented, and quite simply put, they are a blast.
Modern American folk music is a popular genre revered by many. It’s largely acoustic and is usually woven with heavy traces of Americana, country, Appalachian, and bluegrass. Try it once and you might be hooked.
The stages are active day and night but the real fun comes when impromptu jam sessions break out around campfires where anyone can join, no personal invitation needed. The atmosphere is light and friendly as many of the attendees have met at other festivals, or maybe even shared a stage with one another. It’s like one big family and new members are always welcome. If you do happen to write songs, classes and seminars are held at some of them, and the instructors are nothing short of experts. If you don’t, that’s okay too. Hang out. Have fun. Relax.
Here are some of the more widely known folk festivals:
Kerrville Folk Festival – Kerrville, TX
The biggest and best of them all. If you only go to one festival, make it Kerrville. It has it all. The festival features over 100 performers and lasts for 18 days and nights. Since 1972, Kerrville has grown in number and currently draws an estimated 30,000 singer/songwriters and music fans.
The very first event featured 13 performers and drew a crowd of 2,800. It was held indoors.
The festivals primary goal is to promote new and emerging talent while at the same time giving recognizable seasoned talent a stage on which to perform. Not just anyone can perform. They are hand selected and it is considered quite an honor.
Tents can be pitched wherever a good spot can be found on this 20-acre campground at Quiet Valley Ranch situated in the scenic hills of Texas. Hot showers are scattered here and there along with semi-primitive toilets. Potable water is available but hauling in your own drinking water is recommended.
If roughing it is not your style, there are 91 RV sites, but only 57 have full hook-ups. These go quickly so plan ahead. In addition, there are food and craft vendors.
Previous well-known entertainers include Kathy Mattea, Willie Nelson, Peter, Paul and Mary, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nancy Griffith and Lucinda Williams, among others.
Sorry, but unless Fido is a service dog he’ll have to sit this one out. No pets allowed.
Tucson Folk Festival – Tucson, AZ
The oldest free folk festival in the country. Past performers include Richie Havens, Austin Lounge Lizards, Odetta, Guy Clark, Billy Jonas, Black Lillie’s, and many more favorites.
This two-day only event takes place in five different venues scattered around the downtown area so it’s important to see who is performing where and when if you have a favorite you came to hear.
The event draws somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,000 people so it’s advisable to make hotel or nearby camping/RV reservations as far in advance as possible.
There are over 120 solo acts and groups, a songwriting completion, shows for the kids, a special stage for performers under 18, and different types of workshops for those who came to do more than just listen.
The festival is always held during the first weekend in May.
Florida Folk Festival – White Springs, FL
This 3-day event takes place over Memorial Day weekend and features over 300 performers. Starting in 1953, it is held at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park along the banks of the Suwannee River.
Visitors are guaranteed to hear their fair share of music, but they are also treated to storytellers and dancers. The emphasis is on Florida heritage and it is considered a “Top 20 Event” by the Southeastern Tourism Society.
There are various workshops available where someone can even learn to make a basket out of pine needles if they so desire. Learn how to square dance or try your hand at playing the mandolin.
Even the food is not what you would typically find. There are blue crab burritos, chicken and dumplings, shrimp gumbo and lots of other tasty southern treats.
Nearby Lake City, approximately 18-miles, offers hotel accommodations and the entire area is literally littered with camping/RV grounds.
Newport Folk Festival – Newport, RI
The Newport Folk Festival is a direct cousin of the world-renowned Newport Jazz Festival.
The festival takes place at Fort Adams State Park at the mouth of the Newport River. The views are outstanding. Four stages are filled with performers so you’ll need to keep track of where your favorites are.
There is no camping in the park but there are lots of campgrounds nearby, as well as hotels for those who prefer their amenities.
Beginning in 1959, the first lineup included the likes of Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, the Kingston Trio, and 18-year-old Joan Baez. Since then, artists of such caliber as Bob Dylan have performed. These days, artists like John Prine, The Drive-by Truckers, The Wild Reeds, Big Thief, Wilco and Speak Out adorn the stages. If hardcore folk music is what you are looking for, Newport is where to find it.
The festival draws upwards of 10,000 people and lots of time can be spent wandering between stages. But, at Newport, you’re going to hear the best of the best.
There are other folk festivals scattered about the country and a quick search should find one somewhere near you. Join the thousands who have already discovered what a great time can be had. Large or small, they are the most friendly gatherings you’ll ever attend.