Falcon Ridge Folk Festival
The Facts About Falcon Ridge
On the folk festival calendar Falcon Ridge falls right between Newport and the Philadelphia Folk Festival, both of which boast lineups with more marquee names. (People are buzzing about Brandi Carlile’s historic Newport set that included Dolly Parton, Judy Collins, Linda Perry, and her country supergroup, The Highwomen, featuring Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby.
So what about Falcon Ridge? Headliners this year include Stephen Kellogg, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Martyn Joseph, and the BoDeans. Not household names, but sheer star power is beside the point. Falcon Ridge is a tribal gathering where regulars come to camp, reunite with old friends, and stay up late for after-hours sets on the hill at the Budgiedome, Pirate Camp, Big Orange Tarp, and other jams, each curated by folk connoisseurs.
Falcon Ridge, set on a farm in Hillsdale (Columbia County), New York, s certain traditions which the regulars count on. Friday afternoon is the Emerging Artists Showcase, in which two dozen artists, selected by a panel of judges from several hundred applicants, each get to perform a couple of songs. This year, I’m proud to say, 10 of the 24 are past or future artists from my On Your Radar series. (And I look forward to hearing the other 14 as a talent scout!) The audience is encouraged to vote for their favorites, and the top three vote-getters are invited back the next year for a set on the mainstage. This year’s “Most Wanted” are Carolann Solebello (one of the original Red Molly trio), Quarter Horse (an Americana group from Long Island), and Justin Farren (a singer-songwriter from Sacramento.)
The Friday Night Summer’s Eve Song Swap features four performers in the round. This year that group includes folk-rock veteran Stephen Kellogg (in his first Falcon Ridge in many years), the Welsh dynamo Martyn Joseph, the award-winning young North Carolina talent Crys Matthews, and the Nashville songwriting maven Beth Nielsen Chapman, making her first-ever Falcon Ridge appearance.
For years I’ve been asked to emcee the Sunday morning Gospel Wake Up Call. This year’s choices – Mustard’s Retreat, the Rowan Brothers, and Emma’s Revolution – have a high standard to meet compared to past favorites like Brother Sun, Kim & Reggie Harris, Susan Werner, The Kennedys, and Vance Gilbert, but they’re all solid performers and will likely generate their own camaraderie.
In addition to their Main Stage sets, performers are called to the Workshop Stage for song swaps revolving around a theme (e.g., “The Songwriting Process,” “Our Roots Are Showing,” “Beatles Forever”), and the Family Stage has weaned kids in the folk tradition for years. The Dance Tent has its own culture, from square dance to contra dance to Cajun, but the unquestioned highlight is the Friday night set by the Slambovian Circus of Dreams. For 15 years it’s been an all-ages siren call to rock out, with a parade of illuminated “jellyfish” umbrellas snaking through the crowd.
When the Slambovians made their debut at Falcon Ridge, it was definitely out of the box, but they’ve become perennials. Some people feel that the festival has relied too much on perennials, but every year I get introduced to a few artists who excite me, like the world-folk hybrid of the Gaslight Tinkers or the harmonies of Ryanhood, both of whom I booked for On Your Radar and who are performing this year. (If you crave harmonies, Low Lily and Nerissa & Katryna Nields will also satisfy your sweet spot.) This year I look forward to hearing the veteran Midwestern rockers the BoDeans and the second-generation blues of Michael Allman (son of Gregg Allman), performing at Falcon Ridge for the first time.
Yes, there are other artists I’d love to see, but the whole of Falcon Ridge is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a community. It’s where I first heard Dave Carter & Tracy Grammar and Mary Gauthier in 2000. It’s where Red Molly was born and where Pesky J. Nixon became Pesky J. Nixon (and became impresarios of the Thursday night pre-festival Lounge Stage). It’s where WFUV hosts a booth near the workshop stage. It’s where inevitably there’s at least one storm of biblical proportions (though, cross fingers, maybe not this year). It’s a legacy that I honor, and having missed last year while I was in the hospital, I look forward to a homecoming this year.