The Philadelphia Folk Festival community will not be convening at the Old Pool Farm this summer. Instead, due to COVID-19 concerns, the storied gathering will carry on in its 59th year as a weekend-long virtual event, running from Aug. 13 to 16.

The headliners, announced Tuesday, are Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, Shakey Graves, and Allen Stone. But the acts get more impressive — and also more diverse — as the names get smaller on the Folk Fest poster.

They include Carolina Chocolate Drops founder Rhiannon Giddens (with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi), Canadian First Nations singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, East Los Angeles rock band Los Lobos, and legendary singer-guitarist Richard Thompson (and his son Teddy, performing separately).

Americana songwriter Josh Ritter, Texas troubadour Robert Earl Keen, Nashville guitarist Molly Tuttle, Ru Paul’s Drag Race winner Trixie Mattel, British leftie Billy Bragg, New Orleans funk scion Ivan Neville, and Nashville-based “gothic blues” singer Adia Victoria are also on the bill.

Familiar faces who have played the fest over the decades returning this year include Chris Smither, Tom Rush, and Steve Forbert.

Among the locally connected acts being showcased are Eric Bazilian of the Hooters, Susan Werner, John Flynn, and Delco’s Devon Gilfillian. Noteworthy American acts on the bill include the Lone Bellow, Amythyst Kiah, Courtney Marie Andrews, Aoife O’Donovan, and Gangstagrass.

Tributes are being planned to both John Prine, who had been scheduled to be the fest’s 2020 headliner, and longtime Philadelphia folk DJ and Folk Fest emcee Gene Shay. Both men died of coronavirus in April.

Shay was one of the fest’s founders in 1962 and hosted it every year until 2015. When he died at age 85, festival and program director Lisa Schwartz acknowledged the fest would not be the same without him.

“Gene is part of the Philadelphia Folk Festival’s DNA, and vice versa,” she said. “You hear his voice, and whether it’s on the radio or behind the mic on the main stage, it’s like, ‘Welcome home.’ He’s been a lighthouse.”

Legendary DJ and longtime Philadelphia Folk Festival host Gene Shay, who died from the coronavirus at age 85 in April.
Lisa Schaffer
Legendary DJ and longtime Philadelphia Folk Festival host Gene Shay, who died from the coronavirus at age 85 in April.

The festival will kick off on Thursday with a “virtual campfire” open mic, then run on three stages for 12 hours a day though the weekend, beginning at noon Friday and Saturday and at 10 a.m. Sunday.

The Folk Fest has partnered with Mountain View Staging to present the festival, which promises “a fully digital interactive musical experience, complete with multiple stages/streams of curated music, fully integrated chat features, campfire open mics, Zoom campsites, craft show, food and merchandise tents.”

Ticket packages begin at $25 per day and $75 for a full weekend pass. They’re on sale at folkfest.org.