I think we’ve written about The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival every year since our origin, making this a record-breaking sixth feature article on the same damn festival. But 25 years, two site changes, and one micro-burst tornado since its founding, the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival remains my favorite summer experience: a guaranteed go-to event that offers some of the best, most eclectic truly folk music on the circuit, in a lazy, generous atmosphere charged with joy.
As I’ve noted before, my affection for the fest is deepened by my involvement in its infrastructure: as Crew Chief of Teen Crew, married to the co-chief for Sign Painting, we arrive a full weekend early to work, and watch with awe and wonder as the open fields are transformed slowly into the home we love, and opened to the equally appreciative masses, even as the sight lines shrink. It is our haven, our Jerusalem, after 17 years of consecutive festivaling. We’ve even raised our children there, in ten day intervals in what we half-jokingly refer to as our real homestead.
But it’s not just us, and it’s not just the volunteers who feel the closeness. Outside of our embedded camp with its white picket fence, the festival ebbs and flows with the tides of wanderers and fans. All night, the hills echo with campfire sessions and songwriter swaps. I know there is love in each circle. And those who join the fray come back, to be welcomed with open arms.
As with many festivals, Falcon Ridge has teetered on the edge of uncertainty in recent years. The move to the first weekend in August is both an attempt to avoid the weather that nibbles away at sustainability, and to cancel out any conflict with other neighboring festivals, such as Newport, which might have found favor with an overlapping fan base.
By universal consensus, however, this year’s 25th anniversary celebration pulls out all the stops. Strong past-favorites returning for the anniversary run the gamut, with well-traveled solo singer-songwriters Dar Williams, Ellis Paul, Eliza Gilkyson, Susan Werner, Vance Gilbert, Dan Navarro, and Mary Gauthier coming home to lead off a stunning roster that also includes everpresent psychedelic folkrock bands The Grand Slambovians and The Kennedys, formed-at-Falcon-Ridge trio Red Molly, tradgrass pickers Chester River Runoff, the high-energy sounds of folkband Spuyten Duyvil, and half of long-disbanded fest faves Moxy Fruvous.
And kudos to organizers, who continue to bring in great new acts from the expanding indie-traditional genre space to complement the familiar faces, and honor the vibrancy of modern folk. I’m especially looking forward to hearing Poor Old Shine, an acoustic Americana quintet whose late 2012 live album sports a vibe not unlike that of the Avett Brothers and The Low Anthem combined with The Mammals and The Band, and who earned their place on the mainstage through top audience honors in the 2012 Emerging Artist’s Showcase, alongside equally potent trio The YaYas and the gentle harmonies of Gathering Time. Also high on the don’t miss list: The Stray Birds, a sparse fiddle-and-guitar-led tradfolk trio whose harmonies are sweet and light, and who have garnered no small amount of indie cred in the last year for their newest self-titled album, a timeless, aching piece of work that hasn’t left my CD changer in months, and Roosevelt Dime, who we celebrated here way back in their early days and ours, and who will be playing the entirely festival-independent but always welcome “pop-up” Lounge Stage on Thursday atop 10 Acre Field alongside a stellar all-day pre-fest line-up.
There’s always something to discover at Falcon Ridge, of course. Kids are welcomed with playtents and sun, crafts and all-day musical acts and jugglers; themed and cover sets at the workshop stage promise song-swap intimacy and sing-along choruses. The vendors and musicians are part of the community, and genuinely happy to be there – a rarity at larger festivals, sadly.
Some of my very favorite acts were introduced to me at Falcon Ridge, from Crooked Still to Joe Crookston, from Eddie From Ohio to Moxy Fruvous. Some of my very best friends and companions live there, too. It’s the place we love, and we’d love to have you join us, if you can. And even if you can’t, enjoy this year’s preview mix.
- Vance Gilbert & Ellis Paul: May I Suggest (orig. Susan Werner)
- Vance Gilbert & Ellis Paul: Comes A Time (orig. Neil Young) 
- Dar Williams: Highway Patrolman (orig. Bruce Springsteen) 
- Dar Williams: Troubled Times (orig. Fountains of Wayne) 
- The Kennedys: When I Go (orig. Dave Carter) 
- The Kennedys: Chimes of Freedom (orig. Bob Dylan) 
- Eliza Gilkyson: Sleeper (orig. Greg Brown) 
- Eliza Gilkyson: Is It Like Today (orig. World Party) 
- Susan Werner: Vincent (orig. Don McLean) 
- Susan Werner: Something So Right (orig. Paul Simon) 
- Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams: Like A Rolling Stone (orig. Bob Dylan) [unknown source]
Download the entire 21-track Falcon Ridge 25th Anniversary Preview mix!
As a bonus: a discussion of best Falcon Ridge musical moment on the FRFF Facebook Page reminded me of this collaborative Cat Stevens cover, filmed live from mainstage in 2007. Perhaps we can convince Dar and Gandalf to stage a repeat performance this summer. You won’t know if you don’t go.