Feb 9, 2023 - News

Philadelphia Folksong Society cancels 2023 festival

Musicians playing on stage at the Philadelphia Folk Festival

The Philadelphia Folk Festival is the longest continuously running outdoor music festival in the U.S. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Folksong Society

The Philadelphia Folksong Society is teetering on bankruptcy and won't put on its annual folk festival this summer for the first time in more than 60 years.

Driving the news: The group is "otherwise broke" and has not generated substantial income in recent years, Miles Thompson, president of the society's board of directors, said during a virtual meeting with members yesterday.

  • The group will “pause” the festival this year as it looks to "rebuild," Kimberly Sinclair, a board member, told Axios via email.

Why it matters: The Philadelphia Folk Festival started in 1962 and is the longest continuously running outdoor music festival in the country.

Flashback: The society celebrated its 60th anniversary last year at the Old Pool Farm in Montgomery County with about 80 acts, including Punch Brothers and Watchhouse, the War and Treaty.

Zoom in: The Folksong Society has experienced a series of financial challenges in recent years while ticket sales have dropped over the decades, all of which has created uncertainty over the future of the group and festival.

  • The festival was virtual in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, further hurting the group’s finances.

By the numbers: The Folksong Society has more than $200,000 in debt due to operating costs and putting on last year year's festival.

  • But the group had but less than $800 in its bank account earlier this week.

Meanwhile: The society is not renewing its lease for its office and venue space at 6156 Ridge Ave. in Roxborough.

Between the lines: The society’s board of directors never approved a budget or a festival this year, and tickets were never sold, Sinclair says.

Yes, but: Justin Nordell, the executive director of the society, told Axios last year that organizers were planning a 2023 festival.

Of note: Sinclair did not respond to Axios' requests for comment about how the society is looking to rebuild or whether there will be a festival next year.

What they’re saying: "We are no longer self-sustaining," Thompson said.

Roger LaMay, general manager of alternative public radio station WXPN, tells Axios he isn't surprised this year's festival has been canceled, despite the event being a Philadelphia institution and having devoted fans.

  • "The traditional folk festival model, especially post pandemic, is broken right now and you have to either reimagine or take a different approach.”

Of note: WXPN puts on its own XPoNential Music Festival in the fall.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Philadelphia.

More Philadelphia stories