Festival Coverfolk: Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, August 4-7
(with Peter Mulvey, Heather Maloney, Tom Rush, Patty Larkin & more!)
We founded our family on the spirits of close community and adventure: it’s in our wedding contract, and one of the main reasons my wife and I both work in education is to ensure that our calendars include time to wander together. But nothing looms as large in our ongoing pursuit of the live and immersive than our annual excursion to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, which this year celebrates its 28th anniversary August 4-7 at Dodd’s Farm in Hillsdale, NY, just over the border from Great Barrington, MA, at the foothills of the Berkshires.
Founded in 1988 to celebrate and sustain the nascent singer-songwriter revival, Falcon Ridge has come to embody the ideals of the modern folkworld, in which fans, artists, concert and radio hosts, and others who live their lives grounded in the diverse ideals and soundscapes of folk come together to celebrate the breadth of the movement, the music, and the community they engender. As ethnomusicologist and regular FRFF attendee Liz Carlisle wrote in her 2006 undergrad thesis on the fest,
As a well developed “state” into which “citizens” opt in, FRFF is not just summer camp for a bunch of delusional, idealistic folk music enthusiasts (folkies)…Indeed, the real-ness of FRFF is at the crux of its symbolic power. The common goal of those who attend is to make the folk music ideal – a vision of shared power and creation, uninhibited personal expression, and general acceptance and love – real through a successful music festival.
Reaching this goal every year can be a challenge, especially in a world where smaller music festivals are falling apart around us – both Clearwater and Gathering of the Vibes have been cancelled for this year, due to a combination of factors that inevitably include financial concerns. But thanks to that efficiency, and a core cohort of volunteers and organizers who work tirelessly year-round to maintain and sustain the place they love, Falcon Ridge Folk Fest continues to offer the best of both the world of intentional community, and the world of folk.
This year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Fest mainstage and workshop stage performers include the usual mix of well known names from three generations of American folk, representing a broad tent, from solo singer-songwriters like Tom Rush, Patty Larkin, Vance Gilbert, Matt Nakoa, Heather Maloney, Eric Schwartz and Peter Mulvey to folk rock, world music, psychedelic, country rock, Americana, and other genre-busting bands and folk supergroups like The Felice Brothers, The Gaslight Tinkers, Brother Sun, Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes, and The Slambovian Circus of Dreams. Well-populated contra dance and children’s stages run throughout the festival, too, and up-and-coming performers play regularly alongside colorful tye-dye, jewelry, henna tattoo parlors, and African drumset sellers in the vendor area, and stalls selling everything from Caribbean goat stew to ice cream, sweet and savory crepes.
Camping at Falcon Ridge isn’t mandatory; only about a third of the attendees each year choose to stay overnight in the fields, and my parents – neither of whom camp – have always found themselves both fully welcome and fully sated by their own experience. But if you can do it, living on site is highly recommended. The sense of community on the farm is palpable and sweet; I have yet to meet a camper who did not discover their own site “family” in their first few hours on the farm, and wandering camp-to-camp brings an evening’s delight, full of laughter and food-sharing. Those who play and sing are always welcome to join in. And, as a bonus for nightowls, the music at Falcon Ridge continues into the wee hours in the campgrounds, where a half-dozen regular formal songcircles and stages like The Budgiedome and Pirate Camp bring together mainstage performers and up-and-coming name-brand performers from the coffeehouse circuit.
Although officially Falcon Ridge doesn’t start until Friday, August 5, Thursday offers its own special pre-fest charm, with a shaded farmer’s market and tasting day on-site that offers the best of local breweries and wineries, dairies and farms. And there’s music, too: some of the best music I’ve seen at Falcon Ridge in the past 4 or 5 years has been presented or previewed on The Lounge Stage, a one-time campsite stage that found it’s way into the main festival grounds to avoid a thunderstorm two years ago, and has since become an officially sanctioned festival-within-a-festival housed under the Dance Tent. Performers for this year’s Lounge Stage have not yet been released, but their ability to select and combine mainstage players and rising stars together for intimate sessions in the round makes the Lounge Stage a must-see; past performers include Jean Rohe, Matt Nakoa, We’re About Nine, John Gorka, Irish Mythen, Pat Wictor, Pesky J. Nixon, Caitlin Canty, Buskin & Batteau, hosts Pesky J. Nixon, and more.
One last note before we get to the music: while Falcon Ridge needs paying patrons to survive, as alluded to in Carlisle’s thesis, it also needs volunteers, and this year’s volunteer pool is currently thin, far below the needed thousand it takes to run the place efficiently. Volunteers get two solid meals a day, free access to campgrounds and the festival itself, and the warm satisfaction of helping build and maintain a crucial cultural locus of love and music, all for the price of a staff t-shirt and a few four-hour shifts throughout the long weekend; if you’re interested in joining up, head over to the volunteer website, and stake your claim for a spot on one of our crews.
Either way, we’d love to have you – and we’re sure you’ll love it, too. So click through below for a 21-track collection of coverfolk from a set of artists who together represent the breadth of modern folk music and the promise of an intentional nation. And then, if you can make it happen, save the date, and register now – as a volunteer or a paying patron – for the very best fest around. We’ll see you there.
Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Preview, 2016
[now available in mixtape format!]
- Peter Mulvey: The Fly (orig. U2) 
- Peter Mulvey: Ghost Repeater (orig. Jeffrey Foucault) 
- Peter Mulvey: Old Fashioned Morphine (orig. Jolie Holland) 
- Mike and Ruthy: My New York City (orig. Woody Guthrie) 
- Mike and Ruthy: I’ll Keep It With Mine (orig. Nico)
- Heather Maloney: And I Love Her (orig. The Beatles) 
- Heather Maloney w/ Darlingside: Woodstock (orig. Joni Mitchell) 
- The Gaslight Tinkers: I Ain’t Got No Home (orig. Woody Guthrie)
- The Gaslight Tinkers: Quite Early Morning (orig. Pete Seeger) 
- The Felice Brothers: Cumberland Gap (trad.)
- The Felice Brothers: Sail Away Ladies (orig. Uncle Dave Macon) 
- Matt Nakoa, Eric Schwartz, Jared Salvatore: Dancing In The Dark (orig. Bruce Springsteen) 
- Matt Nakoa & Eric Schwartz: I’m Only Sleeping (orig. The Beatles) 
- The Slambovian Circus of Dreams: Starman (orig. David Bowie)
- The Slambovian Circus of Dreams: Ghost Riders In The Sky Medley (orig. Stan Jones / Merle Haggard / Johnny Cash) 
Artist-centered and ad-free since 2007, Cover Lay Down shares coverfolk features and ethnographic musings throughout the year thanks to patrons like you. Coming soon: new and newly discovered tributes and cover collections take on Dylan, Blind Willie Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, American tradfolk and more, plus our usual plethora of artist and songbook features as the summer kicks in!