There's a lot to love about this weekend's Philly Folk Festival, with more than 100 wide-ranging acts — folk, bluegrass, world fusion, blues, and more — performing on four stages set up on 80 acres of farmland. Thousands of music-loving day-trippers and weekend campers are expected to bliss out to those sounds and other fest traditions, including a massive dance floor, an open-air arts gallery, varied food options, a beer tent, and activities for the kids.
Here are 10 acts not to miss:
Cry Cry Cry. This late-'90s folk supergroup — which began as a one-off project for Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky, and Dar Williams — is back after 18 years. Devotees can expect the same shimmering harmonies, the same old-friends banter, some new tunes, and a smattering of their best-loved songs: R.E.M.'s "Fall on Me"; James Keelaghan's true-life retelling of a deadly 1949 forest fire, "Cold Missouri Waters"; and Shindell's own aching "Ballad of Mary Magdalen." Check out "Cold Missouri Waters."
TajMo. Blues masters and longtime friends Taj Mahal and Keb' Mo' merged their talents (and their names) to collaborate as TajMo, releasing a much-praised album this year. The partnership seems to have brought out the best in both soulful musicians, melding their rich, distinctive voices and guitar styles to create vibrant music deeply rooted in tradition but ruled by a sense of adventure. Check out "Don't Leave Me Here."
Sierra Hull. She's only 25, but this mandolin wizard (and ethereal-voiced singer) has dazzled audiences since she first appeared at the Grand Ole Opry at age 10. The unassuming Hull — who more than mastered an instrument in a field dominated by male players — took some time away from recording to attend Berklee College of Music and, last year, released the compelling Béla Fleck-produced Weighted Mind. Check out "Black River."
Sam Baker. Thirty years ago, Texan Sam Baker barely survived a terrorist attack on a South American train when a bomb exploded on a luggage rack above him. The singer-songwriter underwent more than a dozen surgeries and was left partly deaf and with speech and memory problems. That life-changing experience has deeply informed his powerful and haunting (but never maudlin) music, including this summer's buzzworthy Land of Doubt. Check out "Peace Out."
Old Crow Medicine Show. They were busking outside a North Carolina drugstore in 1998 when Doc Watson stopped to listen, then got them a major gig at MerleFest, which launched their career. Seasoned road warriors, the Old Crow Medicine Show is the quintessential live ensemble act, and the two-time Grammy winners likely will play a mix of old and new, including some of their latest 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde Dylan tracks. Check out "Wagon Wheel."
Graham Nash. With a career stretching back more than 50 years to his tenure with the Hollies, decades with Crosby, Stills, Nash (and sometimes Young), and six solo albums — including his first in nearly 15 years, This Path Tonight — the 75-year-old Nash has nothing to prove. And that's exactly the point. It's all good, laid-back vibes when he steps on stage with accompanying guitarist Shane Fontayne. Check out "Myself at Last."
Tift Merritt: Recorded after a divorce and the birth of her daughter, Tift Merritt's sixth album, Stitch of the World, is a soul-searching collection of pop-country songs that transcends the personal and touches on universal themes of loss, human connectedness, and redemption. Even heartbroken, she sounds terrific. Check out "Heartache Is an Uphill Climb."
Baile an Salsa: More than 20 years after the Afro Celt Sound System brought a mix of electronic, Irish, and African music to the masses, we have Baile an Salsa lifting up the torch of world fusion. An Irish ensemble with a Uruguayan lead singer, this 10-member band blends traditional Gaelic music and singing with Latin salsa, rumba, and flamenco, creating unique, foot-tapping, sing-along fun. Check out: "My Salsa Song."
Philadelphia Folk Festival
Thursday through Sunday
Old Pool Farm, Upper Salford Township, Pa. (near Schwenksville)
www.folkfest.org or 800-556-FOLK