At a time when artists such as Mumford and Sons and The Avett Brothers are leading a resurgence in interest in folk music, it seems like the perfect time for the Philadelphia Folk Festival to tap in.
And it does for its 53rd annual run Aug. 14-17 at Old Pool Farm in Upper Salford Township, Montgomery County.
Headliners include Americana band Old Crow Medicine Show, former Drive By Truckers frontman Jason Isbell and Texas contemporary bluegrass singer Sara Jarosz, who festival Artistic Director Jesse Lundy says reminds him of a young Alison Krauss when she took the event by storm years ago.
But Lundy says response to new acts over the years has taught organizers to be cautious when infusing new styles.
"We keep trying to introduce more contemporary versions of what folk music is, and it's really been to varied success," Lundy says.
So this year, Lundy says, the contemporary artists on the lineup are more traditional. "Something like Old Crow, something like Isbell, those are very palatable to our audience and right up their alley."
The festival also will offer classic folk artists. Scottish singer Archie Fisher will be on the main stage Friday, and Janis Ian on Saturday. Loudon Wainwright III will close the festival's main stage on Sunday. On Saturday, there will be a workshop performance of the songs of Pete Seeger, who died in January at age 94.
"The true folk world — the people who were around in the '40s and '50s — we're losing a lot of the heritage people of the folk world all the time," Lundy says. "Pete played the very first folk festival in '62, and he turned around after his set and gave his check back to the event and said, 'Here, keep this to keep the event going.' Which is huge — I mean, that's huge. So Pete's always had a special place at Philly."
In all, the festival will offer more than 120 performances and workshops on eight stages over four days. Included are blues favorite Shemekia Copeland; Amanda Sudano, a folk artist who is a daughter of the late disco queen Donna Summer; and regional favorites Dave Fry and Kwesi Kankam. There are also perrfomers and activities for kids.
Make no mistake: Despite the care in choosing artists, the festival is heavy on the Americana variety of folk that's now popular.
"Real heavy on it this year," Lundy says. "Heavy on the Americana, heavy on the bluegrass, for sure."
Take, for example, Old Crow Medicine Show, best known for its hit "Wagon Wheel," famously covered recently by Darius Rucker. Its music falls into both categories — its last five albums have gone to No. 1 on the folk and bluegrass charts.
The group in July released its newest disc, "Remedy," which hit No. 4 on the country chart. Its folk festival show Friday night will be its area stop on the tour to promote the record, so it will do a concert-long set rather than the fest standard of under an hour.
"We sort of swore we weren't going to hire some gigantic act, like we always end up doing," Lundy says. "We always say, 'We're not going to do that this year.' And then we do it. Old Crow, we got really lucky to grab them on a really great night like this. It's a perfect folk fest act."
Sunday's finale will feature Jarosz, who Lundy says is "just unbelievable, in the same way that years and years ago Alison Krauss came and played the folk fest when she was like 19. Sara is that — she's that level of musicianship, she's that level of songwriting. Her bandmates are that good. The entire package."
Also performing in the finale are Steep Canyon Rangers, which in recent years has played with Steve Martin on his banjo music tours, and Isbell, who continues to tour in support of last year's critically acclaimed solo disc "Southeastern," his fourth since leaving Drive By Truckers.
Wainwright, best known for his 1973 single "Dead Skunk" and his song "Daughter" from the 2007 Judd Apatow movie "Knocked Up," will close the night with a more sedate folk set.
Lundy said that's also by design. Saturday night also will close with a folk set by singer-songwriter Steve Poltz after sets by Australian guitar virtuoso Tommy Immanuel and Rebirth Brass Band, whose New Orleans sound opened the main stage the first time it played the festival years ago.
"We're closing with acoustic acts rather than having the audience brought to a fever pitch and then sent back into the campgrounds to work it out," Lundy says. "It's a nice way to mellow everybody out before they head back up into the campgrounds at night."
Speaking of the campgrounds, the one area in which the festival is more adventurous is the Thursday night lineup for campers only, a tradition since the mid-2000s.
The night includes Angaleena Presley, a member of country supergroup Pistol Annies with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monore, who is making her first market area appearance as a solo artist. Also featured are Caroline Rose, whom Lundy says will be a breakout artist in the next year, and country music singer-songwriter Sturgill Simpson, who recently showcased his 1970s outlaw country sound on "The David Letterman Show."
"It's a really fun night because it's the night that everybody is just getting there, everyone is fresh," Lundy says. "It's really, really, really enthusiastic. We tend to — I don't want to say break the rules — but we tend to really stretch the limits of what is folk music, certainly, on that night. 'Cause it's really a rock 'n' roll crowd that night."
PHILADELPHIA FOLK FESTIVAL
•When: Aug. 14-17
•Where: Old Pool Farm, Salford Station and Clemmers Mill roads, Upper Salford Township, Montgomery County
•Hours: 7:30-11 p.m. today (campers only); 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
•How much: $58 Friday; $75 Saturday; $68 Sunday; $156 all festival ($78 ages 12-17); all-festival camping and preview night concert $206 with tent, $246 with vehicle ($103 ages 12-17); 11 and under free.
•Info: http://www.pfs.org/folk-festival, 800-556-FOLKCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun