First-timer's guide to folk festivals

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Newport folk festival. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie, Mississippi John Hurt and many other legends launched – or relaunched – their careers there, and Newport spawned imitators across the globe.

Today, nearly every town of size in Canada has a music or arts festival of some kind. And in many towns, the local folk festival is THE event of the summer, and has been for years. Folk festivals boost the local economy, provide exposure for musicians, artists, and vendors, offer young people roles in volunteering and are a wonderful expression of community spirit.

Yet many people still think folk festivals are “not for them.” That’s a shame – it’s hard to imagine anything more inclusive than a folk festival.

So to encourage the curious, but reluctant would-be attendee, here’s a first-timer’s guide to your local folk festival, a.k.a. Five Things You Didn’t Know About Folk Fests

1.”Folk” music is stuff you like! Today’s folk festivals feature a range of music that includes country, rock, blues, traditional, gospel, world, singer-songwriter, roots, Cajun, Celtic, children’s, reggae, hip-hop and a whole lot more. Artistic directors deliberately try to please the kids, the teens, the adults and the elders with their programming choices – and some of the best stuff happens when you mix all of the above.

2. “Folk” means people! While music is the “folkus,” people are the heart of the festival. It’s about getting together, relaxing, participating and appreciating music, the outdoors, and creativity as a community.

3. “Folkies” are like you! Yes, there are tie-died shirts and birdwatching hats in abundance, and you’ll see bearded men with pony tails and ladies in flowing batik dresses. But many of them are dressed up just for that big occasion, and anyway – you’ll see nearly every other sort of person as well, from babies to grannies, including plenty of people more or less like you.

4. Folk fests are not like Woodstock! Okay, if it rains, there may be a little mud, but folk festivals are generally exceedingly well organized, with proper facilities, clean washrooms, food and drinking water widely available, parking, you name it. It’s not a mudfest. It’s a place to go and safely, comfortably enjoy being a citizen of a diverse little village for a weekend.

5. Folk fests are more than music! Yes, there’s something for everyone on stage – but there’s lots going on off-stage too. There are typically artisans and crafts-people selling their wares, activities for the kids, local food, hands-on workshops in music, arts, wellness, the environment, spirituality, and sustainability. Not to mention relaxing in the grass, catching up with the community, and just catching your breath.

What are you waiting for?

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