Gratitude Friday 8-11-23 – HaggisVitae at the Philadelphia Folk Festival 2015
“What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000” ― Wavy Gravy
For readers who may not know, my wife Julie is an artist. Her web site is HaggisVitae Studios. She has sold stuff around the world, including to notables like Courtney Love and Chris Hardwick. Truth be told, I have long been her number one fan. It makes me happy to see her artwork all over our house and beyond. A number of years ago, she shared her works at regional festivals. I loved seeing people walk into her tent and experience her amazing work. My measure of art is that it makes you feel things and by that measure Julie is a great artist, although she would be much more modest.
Festivals were a tremendous amount of work for Julie and not without significant risk. A severe thunderstorm could wipe out thousands of hours of creative effort. Despite the challenges, she did rather well and drew a loyal following. Her work resonated with people who had not experienced anything like her work. She did a number of festivals in those years. The biggest of them was the Philadelphia Folk Festival, which I had not known much about before then.
The Philadelphia Folk Festival (PFF) is the longest continuously run outdoor music festival in North America. It was founded in 1962. I ran across this 1977 New York Time article that described the festival as “moving back to the basics.” And how the use of electricity was at that time controversial. The organizers of the holy grail of outdoor music festivals, Woodstock, was modeled on it and the Newport Folk Festival, that started in 1959. Last year the Philadelphia Folk Festival held its 60th consecutive festival. PFF had the feel of community reminiscent of a bygone era.
For me, one of the joys of the festival years was being the roadie and logistics person. It reminded me of years gone by when I was involved more actively in such work. It was a lot of effort, but I enjoyed the process of bringing all the pieces together. Through the festivals, we met a lot of really great people. There is this festival community we were a part of during these years. It is like a family of some kind. To belong is a fundamental human need, and this community checked those boxes for me.
I was thinking of the Philadelphia Folk Festival this week. It was held at this the time of year. In 2023, after 60 consecutive years, it is on pause. I hope it returns. It feels like we caught the tail end of a great thing. I recall driving into the event to set up and all these people lining the road welcoming us home. There were camps of people all around, some who had been participating for decades. The community was the festival, and the music was the glue that held it together. The list of musicians who have played the PFF includes Pete Seeger, John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, Mississippi John Hurt and Tom Rush along with so many others. The whole thing was staffed by volunteers, many who devoted years of their lives to keeping it going. To sustain community. A purpose onto itself.
Eight years ago, this weekend when she was part of the festival, changes were beginning to occur. The next year, they hiked up the merchant fees and it felt much more commercialized and much less like a community. They cited increased costs that drove the need to charge more and offer less to the vendors. Julie decided not to participate. There was a sense that the soul of the festival was eroding as it focused on revenue generation and not on the experience of community. I am grateful we were part of that legendary community, if only for one year. There was no breakfast in bed for 400,000 but the quotes does capture the feeling. Volunteers and vendors were fed for free, including breakfast.
I actually found the full set of Shakey Graves performance from that night at the festival. We had a great view of it as we struck Julie’s tent and put everything in our vehicles for transport, with a lot of help from good friends. I felt like I was in my element is so many ways. I felt like a kid again, being part of the show and helping to bring it all together. It was great to connect with the inner roadie of my youth, even if it was for a brief period of time. Grateful for it.
Julie is no longer doing festivals. The risks to her work from the weather and transport and the effort to bring it together were just too much. She has found new markets for online sales and commissioned pieces. So that chapter has closed. Life is like that, there are beginnings and ends to all things. Over time, we learn to look towards that new chapter. That I got to be a roadie again was not something I anticipated would be in the cards for me, and to do so for the amazing creations of HV studios was the cherry on top. Perhaps there will be some future experience where being a part of the arts community, such a central part of my youth comes full circle again.
Community can be found in many places. I am grateful for times in my life when I have been a part of the arts community, including helping Julie with her shows. Eight years ago this weekend, we got to be a part of American History. Being a part of that festival was the closest to the era of the 60s and the ethos of that time I have had as an adult. To me, feeling like I am part of community is really important. I suspect I am not alone in this. I am grateful when it occurs. Grateful for Julie and Haggisvitae studios for the experience.
What are you grateful for today?