Halfway through a set on Saturday at the 52nd Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival, lead singer Ruben Koroma of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars lifted his hands skyward and sang, “Smile, smile, you smile. We be thinking about positive change.”
The message left the main stage riding a reggae beat that drifted through the air, gently blanketing the crowd that gathered on a grassy hill on a late August afternoon. The universal language of music had spoken.
As the song concluded, Eileen Graham, 61, of Eagleville hugged new acquaintances as she finished dancing. She reflected on the festival she has attended for the last 43 years.
“The world is crazy place, but here people are kind to each other. It’s about doing good,” she said. Graham added that the festival was a place where you can smile at others and they smile back, which creates a larger ripple effect—the eclectic music played at the festival creates a broader view of the world promoting openness and tolerance. “We are an extended family,” said Graham, who is the PreFest crew chief who feeds the approximately 2,000 volunteers each year at the festival.
The sun settled behind the trees surrounding the 90-acres on Old Pool Farm in Upper Salford where the four-day festival was held. Magan Amy, 30, of Quakertown spun a hula hoop over her head as stage hands moved equipment for the next performance.
“Folk Fest is about being yourself. Being you. It’s a time to push the reset button on your life,” Amy said. “We are not always acting the way that we really are. The festival gives you a chance to do that. It’s about enjoying yourself.” She smiled as she recalled the time when she and her father drove 700 miles from Gorman, Maine, to attend her first festival.
Approximately 30,000 people including 7,000 campers attended the festival, which is the longest continuously running outdoor musical festival of its kind in North America. The Philadelphia Folk Song Society has made it a priority to present a diverse line-up to ensure it continues to keep attracting its core audience, but also keeps the door open to a younger audience, ensuring the festival continues for generations to come.