Philly Folksong Society alters long-range plan with move to former Roxborough church

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 The Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church at Ridge and Roxborough avenues will be the new home of the Philadelphia Folk Song Society. (Photo via the Philadelphia Folk Song Society)

The Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church at Ridge and Roxborough avenues will be the new home of the Philadelphia Folk Song Society. (Photo via the Philadelphia Folk Song Society)

Just as Arlo Guthrie celebrates the 50th anniversary of his chestnut rambler, “Alice’s Restaurant,” at the Philadelphia Folk Festival this weekend (a song not quite as old as the festival itself), the festival organizers announced the future of Philadelphia folk.

The Philadelphia Folksong Society has operated the annual festival for 53 years, most of that time at the Old Pool Farm in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. But the society has never had its own, permanent performance venue.

On the first night of the festival, executive director Justin Nordell announced to the crowd that the society will buy an old Lutheran church in Roxborough.

The church — Grace Evangelical at Roxborough and Ridge avenues — was built in 1910 on the grounds of a historic stone barn, a Revolutionary War battle site. The church was deconsecrated in the 2000s and sold to a medical imaging company. For the last few years, it has been empty.

“The MRI facility left the chapel intact. They did nothing to it,” said Nordell. “We have a full chapel with a full pipe organ that still works. I was just playing it on Tuesday.”

The church, twice the size of the society’s current building in Mt. Airy, will house its entire operation — including offices, classrooms, archival recordings, and a performance venue that, with  some renovations, could accommodate 200 people.

To raise the $1.2 million needed, plus more for renovations, the society is using this year’s festival to launch a five-year capital campaign.

“Capital campaign dollars are separate from festival dollars,” said Nordell. “Any capital campaign investment needs to come in directly as such, for legal purposes. We are asking for donations and pledges from our attendees.”

While fundraising, the society could move into the space as early as September. Nordell already has the keys.

The 35,000 people expected to attend the festival will be asked to donate to the capital campaign, on top of the ticket price, which can run up to $230.

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