COLUMN WRITTEN BY JARREAU FREEMAN
@JarreauFreeman on Twitter
I had been transported back to an era where long beards, coupled with shoulder-length hair, tie-dye shirts, flowy skirts, bikini tops and Birkenstocks reign.
The 54th annual Philadelphia Folk Festival, which took place Aug. 13 to 16 in Upper Salford, is the region’s epicenter for a foot-tapping-hammock-napping-camping good time. Until the steamy month of August rolls in, the Festies are nostalgic for this place — the place they call their “true home.”
What is a Festie? You might wonder. They are the people who inhabit the Folk Fest whether newbies or veterans. And they are people, as Jen Delpopolo, 21, of Warminster, said, who are the “friends you always had, but haven’t met.”
Once you’re a Festie, I was told, you’re always a Festie, and so are your children and your children’s children. And the philosophies of Festie living become your philosophies for life.
And what is Festie living? You might also wonder. Festie living is a community of tents and other unique abodes that seem to span for miles in an open field toward the rear of the festival activities. There is no right way to be a Festie, I was also told; you just are one, and your No. 1 goal is to have fun, relax and love.
And so, on a sojourn through the camping grounds, I discovered what being a Festie is all about.
Lesson 1 — The More the Merrier
The first lesson I learned in Festie living is the more people the better.
Mira McDonald, of Abington, who has been coming to the Folk Fest for 26 years, was nice enough to give me a tour of her campsite while explaining this Festie philosophy.
McDonald first came to the Folk Fest with her childhood best friend when she was 12 years old and has been back every year since.
With each year her camping crew expands, and this year, the Arabian Nights, the name of the campsite, was bustling with about 20 friends, some of whom were cooling off from the heat in a kiddie pool filled with fresh water thanks to the kind folks from Potty Queen Portable Toilets.
“The more the merrier,” she said. “Everyone has something unique to contribute.”
The site was decorated with hanging tapestries, lounge chairs and coffee tables.
“I came of age at the Folk Fest,” McDonald said. “I want to pass it on to my children. I feel comfortable here; it’s home.”
Lesson 2 — An Unexpected Detour
In what seems to be true Festie fashion, 64-year-old Wayne Belfiglio, of Havertown, had not intended to come to the Philadelphia Folk Festival 46 years ago, but when traffic got backed up on his way to Woodstock in 1969, he took a little detour after some friends suggested he come to Philadelphia’s Folk Festival.
Since then, he’s only missed a handful of folk festivals, he explained.
“I love it at Fest,” he said, while standing under a 16-foot-tall, 25-foot-wide dome made out of old water pipes and designed by his cousin Ed “The Mayor” Marlin, of Wildwood, N.J.
The Campsite at the End of the Universe is what they named their home away from home, inspired by the book “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams.
“It’s about family,” Belfiglio said. “I have three generations here. It’s a rock concert and it’s family.”
Lesson 3 — There is Always Time for a Party
When you are a Festie, you are open to spontaneity. I came to learn this as I walked in on a random afternoon cocktail party at The Roast campsite.
“It’s about unplanned chaos,” said Joy Gurnwald, of Paoli, as she and a bunch of friends popped open a bottle of champaign for an impromptu afternoon cocktail soirée. Sporting cream-colored cocktail dresses, Gurnwald and several of her gal pals toasted in honor of friendship, pretty dresses and the Folk Fest under their white tent.
Lesson 4 — It’s All about the Music
Charlie Maer, of Wynnewood, has played folk music with a group of friends every Tuesday for close to 30 years. They named their campsite Tuesday in honor of their long-standing weekly ritual.
The Folk Fest is not only about hearing great music, but performing it, too. A musician could feel the urge at any moment to break into song, and the other Festies could spontaneously join in.
“We enjoy the music and we play the music; that’s how it works,” Maer said while sitting in the shade of an old 1963 International school bus that belonged to one of his friends. The bus had been painted green with a sign that read “This is my home. This is my only home. This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known.”
“It’s about playing songs that tell a story, with people that have a story,” he said.
Lesson 5 — You Fest No Matter What
Festies, although free spirited, are dedicated to their craft of friendship, family, spontaneity and music. I also learned that Festies don’t miss Folk Fest for anything as I discovered from Genevieve Brandenberger, a native of Warminster, who had made her home with several others at the Sillyville campsite.
The 27-year-old explained that her younger brother just graduated from Penn State University and was on his way back to join in the festivities.
“He came to the folk festival Friday, left early Saturday morning to go to his graduation and he’s on his way back now,” she said with a giggle. “We have been coming to Folk Fest for 27 years, and my parents several years before that. Now that’s how you Fest!”
“Unless you’re dead,” added Delpopolo, Brandenberger’s friend, “you don’t miss Folk Fest.”