I was quite the air guitar player growing up. In the stage that existed in my mind, it was always a matter of when I’m a rockstar, not if it would happen. I bought my first albums during those few years when tapes and CDs were both available in the music department (stores had music departments dad?). I remember coming home with mixed emotions; happy with the first two CD’s in my collection (Smashing Pumpkins and Offspring, there was no one cooler in 1994), but disappointed I had to settle for Green Day on tape because they were out of stock. Fast forward less than a decade, and I was off to college with two overstuffed case logics, one for my Busta Rhymes and Jay-Z CDs, and the other for RHCP and RATM.
We traded CDs in college like younger kids traded pokemon cards. My dorm neighbor had a catalog of every Phish show ever performed. I downloaded some of the most obscure Bob Marley songs ever recorded. By the end of the year, I was coming home with an entirely new Case Logic stuffed with CD-Rs and a few CD-RWs. Now an enlightened college sophomore, the CDs came along with a new appreciation for genres and decades of music I would have scoffed at as a high school sophomore of the MTV generation. Another decade later, and music festivals became part of our summer pilgrimages. A Well-crafted live set can be as memorable as hearing your favorite song for the first time. It’s like listening to an album from start to finish. Live music is now what brings me to Salisbury in the summer of 2022. Unfortunately, I was here to work.
I followed the Wicomico River pretty closely into Salisbury, electing to scope out some possible shore fishing spots as opposed to straight down route 13. I was here all weekend, representing my Chesapeake wildlife as one of a few fine artists in the Folk Festival Marketplace at the National Folk Festival in Salisbury. The National Folk festival, now in its 81st year has taken place for the past four years along the bank of the Wicomico through downtown. After this, the Festival will move to a new city, and Salisbury will continue as host of the inaugural Maryland Folk Festival. Mark your calendars. If you've been to Richmond Folk Festival, it has the same pedigree as a former host.
I hadn’t spent too much time in Salisbury prior to attending the National Folk Festival in 2019, and the time I had spent prior was visiting friends at Salisbury University, or lacrosse camps at the school before that. I had no idea or interest in the river which flowed through downtown at that point (we had a river on our campus after all), and you don’t get a sense of how much the town has to offer when you’re 19, partying in a dorm room in 2001.
That was two decades ago, and like many of us, 2019 seems like decades ago as well. A different world existed back in 2019. But the ’19 festival was a memorable moment for me. For one, it boosts your ego just to have your name attached to a “national” anything. Back then (ages ago!), my work and my artistic voice were still incubating in a lot of ways. But here, the folk festival intertwined my art on display and my love of music on stage. And having my work in the 2019 program alongside major headliners including Jerry Douglas or Rare Essence (both represented in my Case Logic) was an impactful experience.
The whole experience of 2019 started coming back to me as I pulled up along the riverside today. I started setting up my work just thinking about how much I like this place. The Wicomico River itself might not be what brings people into town for the Folk Festival weekend, but it is the common ground we’ll share for the next three days.
The common ground is also a love of music and traditions. Did I mention Jerry Douglas and Rare Essence in 2019? It’s probably not often that those two legends of their genres are in the same sentence together. But here is where the regional flavor of an Appalachian acoustic legacy is followed up on stage by D.C. Go-Go royalty. This is really what places the National Folk Festival in a whole other category from other festivals.
I’m sure compiling a list of performers as diverse as the National Folk Festival is a complex and arduous task. Crafting that list is probably one of the most meticulously challenging parts of the festival. After all, the music is what makes the headlines, draws the crowd and sets the tone. I’m just happy to be on the side.
The diversity in the offerings is in a sense what also makes this festival so appealing. With the variety of music at the folk festival, everything you hear strikes a different chord. The variety of the regional and folk music traditions, one after another, combine to create a constantly fresh and fuller experience. To a large extent, the same is true of the handmade marketplace too. I’m one of only a few fine artists, and everyone else is one of only a few in their own handmade traditions. Variety is the spice of life here.
There’s also an incredible spirit that resonates throughout the area. Everyone just seems happy. Even when a tornado watch causes a temporary evacuation order, the crowds come back to square dance in the afternoon. By the end of the night, it’s a go-go party and we’re doin tha butt with Experience Unlimited. Despite the marketplace not ending till 9:30 (late for an art show!), I leave for the night feeling energized, not exhausted. In all honesty, I’m just excited to be there, and humbled to be a part of it.
I'm proud of the work I make, and I love making a living from it. I love being able to share it on a stage like the National Folk Festival. But I also love music. I guess I just have one major problem with the National Folk Festival. And it seems to only be a problem at the National Folk Festival- I can’t seem to stay in my booth. How am I supposed to sell art with the siren song calling me? Having my tent so close to the dance stage feels somehow both blessed and excruciating. I knew as soon as I heard the voice of La Marisoul and the Texmaniacs accordion on Friday afternoon- this would be a long, grueling exercise in self-discipline. By Saturday night, the go-go rhythm was too much, and I, like most of the audience at the festival, found myself in the crowd.