The Philadelphia Folk Festival: My Life as a Fest Kid

By: Ryan Weiss

The Philadelphia Folk Festival occurs every year during the third week in August on Old Poole Farm in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. Akin to Brigadoon, Fest pops up, seemingly, out of nowhere every year. My life as a fest kid began in the summer of 1984. My mother had given birth to me the previous November. Once August hit, off we went to the Farm. Obviously, my memories of my first years are vague and fleeting. However, I do remember a strong
community aspect that surround this gathering I attended each year.

Before cell phones, before social media, before instant connection. We looked for our friends and, in the process, made new friends. I grew up around people, groups, and families that are burned into my memory. There was no place like fest. Growing up in my early year, I remember the green pup tents, blue tarps, the Blue Route cutting through the camp ground, The Fish, The Azzole Jams, The Front Porch, SPAM, Bobs Country Bunker, FLIDS, the running of the bulls, knowing where each camp ground was, the Security annex, the old wristlets with the metal clasps, the return passes, learning to juggle in Dulcimer grove, the weighted tennis balls, knowing all the jugglers jokes, making crafts in Dulcimer Grove looking for cray fish in the creek, walking in the creek from Dulcimer Grove to the bridges, the Murky Perky, the old man face carved into the tree in Dulcimer (next to the creek adjacent to the area behind the main stage) the volunteer fire company food tent, the wizard candles, the glass blowing, the original t-shirt stand, the Martin guitar raffle (my friend won once!), my first time seeing Tempest, seeking into the media only area to watch Wolfstone up close, watching Richie Havens sing “Freedom”, waiting for Ani Difranco to set up, listening to bad jokes on stage, Michael Cooney singing me to sleep on my parents lap, laying on my parents lap listening to the bag piper opening each concert, the old Main Stage, the tapestries on the stage, the mud, the smell of the mud, the lights from different camp grounds, the smell of the tents, the smell of the fire, dumpster drumming, port-o-potty drumming, the fires never dying, the music never stopping, the laughing never ending. These are just a fraction of my memories.

My fondest memories are with my fest kid friends. We grew up together, once a year. We didn’t have cell phone and maybe didn’t know each other’s phone number or addresses, but we knew that we could find each other each year at the Farm. We would hang out during the day, discussing everything, anything and nothing. We would re group, repack our back packs and gather for the evening concert. I’ll never forget the air those nights. Around six thirty in the evening, the air was cool, crisp and we knew the night concert would bring it all together. We would walk from the camping area to “the other side” and find our spot on the hill above the Craft Stage. It was always open and waiting for us, almost as if the earth knew we were coming. We would walk the craft area, pull together change and cash for that smoothie from the booth that used to be at the top of the hill adjacent to entrance to the craft area. Wait until the end of the concert and ask for the left-over food that was going to be thrown away at night (veggie tempura and cheeseburgers!). Our blankets, backpacks and conversation. What did we talk about? I have no idea, I may never remember but I like it that way. We watched the concert and looked at the house overlooking the Main Stage area. We hung out, chilled, relaxed. No Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. No celeb drama to be caught up in. We were caught up in that moment, on the hill, under the lights, under the influence of Fest spirit. It gripped us, held us together, held us close. We were a family. A fest family. We did everything together, we were all there and found solace in each other.

Growing up a fest kid had a great impact on my life. I often think about my fleeting memories and some come back clear, some not so much. I’ll never forget my experiences there and will forever cherish the memories created. I miss those times. Simple times. Wonderful times. We had not a care in the world except to find each other and be around each other. We leaned on each other. We needed each other.

I hope these words find a place in your heart. I hope these words can trigger your creativity. Yes, people drift apart, but always remember: Your family is what you make it.

These are my memories as a Fest Kid. 


  1. I'll never forget my step son and one of his buddies talking with Bruce U. Utah Phillips. They were taken by his story Moose Turd Pie and others. Bruce was wonderful with those young boys. Talked for quite a while. Performers can sometimes be aloof and stand off-ish. Utah was anything but! What impressed me was his skill as a performer. He was performing on the main stage. Someone put a live mallard duck onstage. Bruce just rolled with it. It was hilarious!

    Bill Dempsey, San Juan Capistrano, Ca.

  2. Well said! I'm grateful for these memories also and grateful that you're s part of my fest fam!

    ☆ Monica


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