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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Preview of the Boston Folk Fest

The lineup has been unveiled for the 7th Annual Boston Folk Festival, which happens on the UMass Boston campus from September 17-19, and if the weather delivers sunshine like it has for the last six years, it will make this the best festival to date.

Beyond the crowd of 10,000 expected to gather over the weekend, beyond the nearly fifty food and craft vendors who turn the campus into a virtual exotic bazaar, beyond the ever-popular music-filled harbor cruises, beyond the five water-front stages, it is the talent represented by the more than twenty-five acts in the line-up that makes this year’s event so special.

“There appears to be a sudden burst of remarkable talent emerging from the acoustic, traditional, and singer/songwriter market. In many ways, this year’s festival is a testament to that,” says festival Executive Director Patricia Monteith.

Saturday’s headliner, for example, is Dar Williams-a superstar caliber singer/songwriter and one of the most sought after musicians performing in the genre today. Williams’ songs are popular for their accessibility and familiarity, but her mature compositions avoid the canned stylings of pop music by reaching certain emotional and intellectual depths, reminiscent of an earlier generation of thoughtful songwriters.

Natalie MacMaster, Sunday’s headliner, is also chronologically part of the younger crowd, though she’s reached international acclaim by turning that crowd on to the traditional fiddle music of her native Cape Breton Island. As a result, she has received one Grammy nomination, two Juno Awards (Canada’s Grammy Awards), and eleven East Coast Music Awards.

Audiences will also hear from seventh-generation Floridian Adrienne Young, who is being formally recognized for pumping new life into old-timey bluegrass, the kind of music she heard her granddad play on the front porch. Another performer is the twenty-five-year-old Erin McKeown, who is successfully invigorating the coffeehouse scene by relying both on her age and her diverse range of musical interests-from Icelandic pop-star Björk to hip-hop diva Missy Elliot.

While the festival will showcase a score of relatively new artists, it will also celebrate a number of musicians who have paved the way for their successors. “We’re happy to be presenting the brightest stars in the business, but this year we’re able to present the best as well-performers whose influence on music is historically important,” said Monteith.

The festival will feature Tom Paxton, a Greenwich Village icon who for over forty years has delivered some of folk music’s most memorable songs, but who was also nominated for a Grammy in 2003 and 2004. David Bromberg, another former Greenwich Villager and Festival performer, is a multi-talented instrumentalist who has been paired with Paxton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr and other well-known musicians on over 100 albums. Artists like John Cephas, who received a coveted Living Treasure Award from the U.S. government, will return to the festival with Phil Wiggins as the most accomplished Piedmont blues duo performing today.

Of course, there are a few artists playing at the festival who seem to take up space on both sides of the list-youthful and cutting edge but accomplished and influential. For more than 25 years, Mandolin extraordinaire Sam Bush has been at the forefront of the newgrass/bluegrass revival, alongside musicians like Bela Fleck and David Grisman, while serving as “resident” artist at the renowned Telluride Bluegrass Festival. In addition to being nominated for several Grammy Awards over the course of his career, Bush has accompanied a variety of well-known artists from last year’s festival headliner Emmylou Harris to the record-breaking, wildly popular jam-band Phish.

Like last year’s festival, this year’s event also features a songwriting competition judged by Tom Paxton as well as Jack Hardy and Rod MacDonald, two of the festival’s performers with more than fifty combined years in folk music. The competition allows one lucky and talented amateur to take center stage on Saturday. It also gives the folk community an opportunity to identify and reward musicians who are keeping the art of folk music alive-something that speaks to the mission of the Festival.

That is not to suggest, however, that the event is for folk fans only. “It’s a family environment,” said Monteith. “We want everyone who comes to this campus to feel welcomed and to enjoy themselves. If they leave with a greater appreciation of folk music, that’s a bonus!” After its success last year, a free blues workshop will be offered to the public on Sunday on a first-come, first-serve basis.

All UMass faculty, staff, and students can purchase a ticket at a discounted price, and volunteer opportunities are still available. For more information about the 7th Annual Boston Folk Festival, the songwriting competition, or to volunteer, visit www.bostonfolkfestival.com or call 617-287-6911.

Darrell Penta is a student employee of the radio station WUMB, which organizes the annual Boston Folk Festival.