of The Folk Life ( Inc. 1976)
John McLaughlin and
Jamie Downs, Editors
A Festival Sandwich: Knowlton and Philadelphia Intro.
Once upon a time some friends and like-minded spouses who loved folk music dearly
decided to put on a show. So they organized the Philadelphia Folk Song Society.
A couple of year later they decided to put on a bigger show. So they started the
Philadelphia Folk Festival. Fast forward ten or twelve years, where Jamie and
I come in.
I was teaching Chaucer and other English classes at La Salle College, in Philadelphia,
and Jamie was working in the Museum Shop office at the Philadelphia Museum of
Fine Arts. Some of my students in an English lit class, where wed used Steeleye
Span to illustrate how you could jazz up the old ballads, asked me if Id
like to go to the Irish Centre, the Commodore Barry Club, in Mt Airy, which was
down the street from where we were living. So one Friday night, thats what
we did, and we met this wee leprechaun of a fiddling maestro, Eugene ODonnell,
and thro him his partner in concertizing traditional Irish music, Mick Moloney,
fresh off the boat from Ireland to pursue a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania,
under the late Kenny Goldstein, chair of Penns Dept of Folklore & Folklife.
One thing led to another, and I offered a colloquium seminar for Kennys
grad students in folklore, on the Parry-Lord theory of formulaic composition of
anonymous medieval poems Beowulf, the tail-rhyme romances as Id
studied under Albert Lord at Harvard, as an undergraduate, and done oral-formulaic
analyses of these tail-rhyme romances at Harvard and then at Berkeley. Mick had
a fine time, and he and Kenny both asked me a lot of nicely-aimed questions. A
good time was had by all.
So one night at the Irish Centre, Stretch Pyott, the industrial electrician whod
been responsible for getting the Philadelphia Folk Festival site wired for TV
a from-the-site broadcast on Philadelphias PBS-TV station
sauntered up to me and said, So McLaughlin when are you going to
come work for me? Stretch was also responsible for the Community Relations
committee for the Festival it later amused him when I got an Upper Salford
selectman to help me park the cars - and it wouldnt surprise me in the least
if Kenny hadnt decided to break me in on how the folk process really worked,
apart from the theory. How The Boys of the Lough played backstage, how Aly Bain
jammed for Western Swing, how Eugene ODonnell played with Robin Williamson
of the Incredible String Band. Magical sessions at the hotels after the festivals.
And that was really it. Thro Kenny or Stretch or whoever, I got introduced to
the group of old friends responsible for getting Philly off the ground in the
first place, from Gene Shay to Howard Yanks and his wife, to Esther Halperin and
her husband she ran one of the early coffeehouses in Philadelphia, The
Second Fret and to Kennys now-widow Rochelle and her large family
of folklorists, scholars and musicians.
O'Connell and Aly Bain
Goldstein and Dave Van Ronk
What can I say? Every year since then, going to Philly is like going over the
river and thro the woods to grandmas house, if grandma knew how to throw
a three-day party thats a four-stage carnival with a campground attached
thats its own world entirely, Santa Claus playing Frisbee, kids hollering,
Hey Santa, wheres my pony
So this ones for Howard Yanks, Esther Halperin, Kenny Goldstein, and all
the rest of that extended family of Philadelphia folkies. Once one of them takes
you in, youre adopted. Its such a privilege. This is our thank-you
to Kenny and his friends, without whom wed still be wandering the hills
looking for the end-of-Summer Brigadoon you can never find without those signs
that pop up mysteriously every year around a week or so before Labor Day.
So around 1982, Jamie and I moved up to the Poconos, to a teaching job up next
to the Delaware Water Gap, and we made a whole group of other friends up here.
Among them have been Rich and Eleanor Clarkson. Eleanor is an artist, a sculptor
and painter, and Rick works for parks and recreation, just across the river in
Jersey. And wouldnt you know it, about a decade ago, Rick and Eleanor started
talking with some of their friends over there about starting up their own festival,
in the town park in Knowlton, NJ. One of the interesting things they did was,
from the beginning, to book some of the musicians who would also be appearing
at Philly, opposite which they scheduled their much-smaller, more intimate, free
community celebration (well, okay, seven bucks for parking, which goes to the
local fire company).
Can you believe Tuvan Throat Singers from Tibet, groaning away in your town park?
Well, Rick and Eleanor could certainly imagine it, and were very pleasantly surprised
when it got standing ovations at Knowlton. How about Shooglenifty, the Scottish
fusion band, which takes old Scots tunes where theyve never been before?
Well, they not only played for Philly, they wowed the crowd over at Knowlton too.
How about the Alison Brown jazz-grass quartet, not only at Philly but also at
Knowlton? Youre beginning to get the idea.
You have to understand, of course, that The Delaware Water Gap area has a long-standing
tradition of top quality entertainment, ever since Enrico Caruso sang and Fred
Astaire danced at the Castle Inn, in the village of Delaware Water Gap, on the
Pennsylvania side of the river. Phil Woods, the Grammy-winning saxophone player,
was one of the co-founders of the local jazz festival, the Delaware
Water Gap Celebration of the Arts, some twenty years ago, featuring local
musicians who, when theyre not playing in Japan or Europe, are commuting
from the area to NYC for session work. Its a big jazz area, with the kind
of expert ears you can expect from such an audience, and its also beginning
to get very interesting in terms of bluegrass and other acoustic, thanks to the
Pocono Folk and Bluegrass Society, and now the recently-established Pocono Mtns
Folk Song Society.
So thats whats always been a bit of a dither for us, personally. Phillys
our grandma, and we always almost always celebrate our wedding anniversary
(31 years and counting) down at Philly. And yet theres this lovely
wee festival, right across the river from the house, and weve been hearing
great things about it for the past ten years or so.
Well, thats it. This year, we decided to do a festival sandwich. Knowlton
on Friday night Philly on Saturday Knowlton, to rest and relax for
the upcoming week, on Sunday. How about that? And this is how it tasted:
(End Part One; Go To Part Two)