Aug 9, 2023 - News

Philadelphia Folk Festival revival up in the air

A revived Philadelphia Folk Festival is possible for 2024. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Folksong Society

Plans to revive the Philadelphia Folk Festival remain in limbo after the longtime annual summer event was canceled for the first time.

Why it matters: The Philadelphia Folksong Society's festival was the longest continuously running outdoor music festival in America, attracting some of folk's biggest names.

Driving the news: The group has largely stabilized its finances and resolved most of its debt due in large part to an uptick in memberships and donations since the February cancellation announcement, Miles Thompson, president of the society's board of directors, tells Axios.

  • That has allowed discussions about hosting a scaled-down festival in 2024.

Yes, but: Thompson emphasized that reviving the festival, which launched in 1962, will depend on a forthcoming fundraising campaign, along with artist fees and other costs.

  • "We're still at the concept stage," he said. "I can't promise [a 2024 festival]. There are a lot of chainsaws and bowling balls up in the jugglers' hands."

Catch up quick: The group was practically broke at the start of the year and saddled with more than $200,000 in debt, forcing the society to nix the annual August festival.

  • The society experienced financial challenges in recent years, including falling ticket sales and a two-year in-person hiatus during the pandemic.

Zoom in: If a 2024 festival gets approval, Thompson said organizers are considering several changes from previous years' events. They include:

  • A shorter festival than the traditional three days.
  • Fewer acts — in 2022, there were about 80 — and fewer stages operating simultaneously.

Plus: The society is also seeking corporate sponsors — something the group vehemently opposed in the past.

Meanwhile, the group is in talks to potentially return the festival to its home at the Old Pool Farm in Montgomery, Thompson said.

Between the lines: The society left 6156 Ridge Ave. in Roxborough earlier this year as an effort to cut costs.

What they're saying: Ian Zolitor, host of WXPN's "Folk Show," told Axios that he credits the festival with fueling and sustaining the region's folk scene over the decades.

  • He also notes that folk enthusiasts — including himself — are planning to gather this month at places like campsites to play music and continue the spirit of the event.
  • "The [folk] community wants another festival," he said.

What to watch: The society would need to put together a planning committee in September to ensure a festival happens next year, Thompson said.


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