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Every year, I go to the Philadelphia Folk Festival with my dad. It’s a beautiful gathering of creative, free, & unapologetically inviting people.
Before this, however, it’s simply an empty field at Old Pool Farm.
Because we volunteer during Pre-Fest, we roll up in my dad’s moving trailer Monday night (3 days before the festival begins on Thursday).
Seeing as interactions on Monday are limited, you just can’t help but look at the ground as you walk, indulging memories of years past.
When I was 6, I woke up to a note, waiting by my pillow, from my dad:
I’m at the mud slide.
“The mud slide?” I thought.
Every campsite buzzes with excitement, volume, and childlike fun. How is the idea of a mud slide at 7 AM even a little descriptive in such a lively environment?
I smile while remembering these moments, looking down at my feet, covered in wet Earth while walking to retrieve my Volunteer badge.
This is one of the last days your dirty feet lay claim to your priorities. Because right now, it’s quiet. Volunteers make the most of their “Alone Time,” strumming good tunes, positive and mellow, but when it comes to the Folk Fest, it’s the number of creative beings that come together that really magnifies the whole experience.
You leave Old Pool Farm the last day of the previous year with new friends, a sense of unspoken community, and larger-than-life goodbyes as you feel you have met some of your once-in-a-lifetime friends. Then you return, as a volunteer, 3 days prior to the festivities, to an empty field and a slew of porta pots.
the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.
This is where we are in society right now. A kid is outside his home dribbling a basketball alone. Saturday morning garage sales, where people get 50 cent movies and a new neighborhood friend, are hibernating. Friday bonfire barbecues with extended family are on hiatus.
There is no way around it. People are what make events worthwhile. But people are worth waiting for.
Those first few days at Fest are slow. My dad and I set up camp, sage our site, and work our shifts Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but guess what?
Thursday always comes. The Fest always prevails.
We spend the former 3 days staring at an empty lot wrapped in caution tape, excitedly waiting for the “Running of the Bulls.”
Running of the Bulls?
All the campers wait outside of the entrance for the gates to be unlocked. They wait… and they wait… and they wait (because they know the Fest and the people within it are worth waiting for). When the gatekeeper’s watch strikes 10 AM, the gates are flung open and campers flood in to lay siege of their usual spot on the empty lot. People in costumes, people pulling wagons, people, people, people…
The volunteers wake up early on Thursdays to line the path that leads to their destination. Whether from the top of the bus or from the dirt path “the bulls” themselves will be running on, we celebrate those who run towards us. High fiving, appreciating, hoping the most enthusiastic runners bunk nearby. The energy rises with each new Folk Song Society member that rushes in.
Their is an indescribable buzz of both “We’re Here!” and “Did we ever really leave?”
Suddenly, our relaxed but lonely existence, turns into a collaboration of mind, body, and spirit as we all meet again or for the first time, with no distinguishable difference in if it’s the former or the latter.
No matter the pre-existing relationship with one another, we accept invitations into their temporary residence, offering fresh cooked meals, an instrument to fiddle, & a song to sing.
I hope when we are released from our invisible constraints that we never take for granted the beauty of physical touch, warm welcomes, and proximity.
When you go without something, you revel in its re-appearence. When they cut that caution tape, I can’t wait to give you a high five & a “seeya around.”
Ah, you just wait!