When you think of a hotbed of folk music, Brooklyn may not be the first place that comes to mind. But in fact, the borough has a long folk music history and for three days in April it will be the place to hear some of the best folk music in the land.
The 11th annual Brooklyn Folk Festival, which will take place from April 5 to April 7 at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church at 157 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, will be a potpourri that includes blues, jazz, jug band, country, gospel, Cajun/Zydeco, Western Swing and bluegrass straight out of the Ozarks.
And it’s really not so surprising. After all, folk legend Woody Guthrie spent seven years in Coney Island during the 1940s, his son Arlo released an album titled “Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys” and some even speculate that Bob Dylan lived, or at least spent some time in Brooklyn Heights, at least according to his song “Tangled Up in Blue” where he explained, “I lived with them on Montague Street, in a basement down the stairs.”
The annually sold-out festival will bring to the stage over 40 musical acts over three days including Amythyst Kiah of Our Native Daughters, Jerron Blindboy Paxton, Frank Fairfield, Meredith Axelrod, Ian Felice, Joan Shelley, Little Nora Brown, Baby Gramps, Bruce Molsky, Jim Kweskin, Jake Xerxes Fussell, Kashiah Hunter, The Local Honeys, Ozark Highballers, The Mammals, Jontavious Willis and will also feature a Pete Seeger 100th birthday Tribute.
The roots of folk music run deep. For example, Ozark Highballers will bring its vintage folk stylings from the mountains of western Arkansas to Brooklyn. It will also be debuting songs from a new album.
The Brooklyn Folk Festival takes its inspiration from the early years of the Newport Folk Festival and other now-classic festivals that are known for presenting a vibrant array of grassroots traditional music, songwriters and better-known touring musicians.
The festival was founded by folklorist, musician, and producer, Eli Smith, along with the Jalopy Theatre in 2009.
“We’ve got 50 bands coming from New York City and all around the country,
as well as workshops, film premieres, jam sessions, dances and of course the ‘Banjo Toss’ banjo throwing competition. Throw a banjo into the Gowanus Canal! Win a free banjo!” Smith said.
He was initially surprised that Brooklyn didn’t already have a folk festival. “I thought there was a need for this festival at that time and I think there still is now, maybe even more so,” he added.
This year’s highlights will include performances by The Down Hill Strugglers with John Cohen, an old-time string band based out of Kentucky, Louisiana and New York which has just released an album on Smithsonian Folkways Records and is featured on the soundtrack to the Coen Brothers film, “Inside Llewyn Davis;” Little Nora Brown, a 13-year-old banjo virtuoso who also plays fiddle, ukulele and accordion; songwriters Feral Foster and Ali Dineen; and Michael Daves, Bruce Molsky and Tony Trischka. Daves has worked with performers such as Steve Martin and Rosanne Cash; Molsky has released seven albums and Trischka is a renowned bluegrass banjo player and recording artist.
In addition, Appalshop, a nonprofit folk arts organization in eastern Kentucky, will present three bands that represent the traditional music of central Appalachia; master old time fiddler John Harrod, all-female string band The Local Honeys, and country musician Nate Polly.
Smith said the festival will offer a diverse, down home, homemade, grassroots, community-oriented music. “Back in the 1940s, Pete Seeger and his friends called it ‘People’s Music,’” explained Smith. “It offers an alternative vision of music, something apart from corporate marketed music. The Folk Festival is a way to hear bands you won’t often see elsewhere, playing music with deep roots and lots of soul.”
The festival also features music for kids, local food specialties and will be screening several award-winning music documentaries. Performances are separated into afternoon and evening shows. Day passes and a full-festival three-day pass are available. For more information, go to www.brooklynfolkfest.com/tickets.