On the third day, I stood at the bottom of the hill and watched the organized chaos of the tarp run. It was accompanied by the sharp pings of hammering pegs and bagpipes that served as oddly poetic symphony that began each day on the hill.
Our day at Folk Fest, however, begins much earlier than that.
Every day, we enter the corral with our two tarps brimming with a hope of first pick of spots on the hill. When the whole group finally enters, we meet with a sense of determinism, a fistful of tickets and the grounding line, “We’re only as good as our second pick.” A roller coaster of hope and disappointment as a name is called and a mad rush through all your tickets to see if you’re part of that winning group. While it might be early and in a constant state of hungover, but I wouldn’t want to miss it any day.
After the early morning lottery finishes and our tarp runners lined up, we head to The Wired Cup for a Shot in the Dark (coffee) and da Breakie (sandwich). We cram into the small shop and eagerly anticipate the day’s performances and seeing which one of us will assume the risk taking in the extra drinks passed the bag checks.
After this, we all head to see our tarp runners placed on the hill. Usually when we reach the tarp, we quickly regroup and plan what side stages we’re going to see that day; however, nothing beats a quick 20-minute power nap. While the main stage performances are great, the side stage workshops are where the festival truly shines. These workshops combine multiple artists on one stage performing their songs, with fellow artists adding their own style to create a version of the song that you won’t hear anywhere else.
While the music stands out for most, the stories that inspire the music are what I come for. From William Prince’s mother to Foy Vance’s interaction with Noam Chomsky, the stories these artists tell enrich not only the music but bring you closer to the artist. It’s the side stages every year that’ll steal the show for most festival goers and it’s a damn shame if you miss them.
The last aspect of the festival that sticks out for me is the beer gardens. This year, they lost a key element that made them so great: the pitchers. Despite the increased need to get back in the line for more beer, we still could drink plenty. That being said, drinking at Folk Fest isn’t like drinking at BVJ or Craven where the primary focus is to get black out drunk in the campgrounds with the music being irrelevant most of the weekend. The beer gardens serve as a break from the music to gather with friends and create memories. From me last year becoming the WOO guy to this year’s finding our friend’s doppelgänger to witnessing the most dad dab ever performed: the beer gardens are an essential part of the Folk Fest weekend.
This was my second year going, and both years it’s been an amazing time with great people punctuated with fantastic music. So next year: grab a tarp, gather some friends, stay up late drinking and jamming out at the main stage, get up painstakingly early for the lottery, run your tarp, check out up-and-coming musicians jam out together, and enjoy. It doesn’t matter who’s playing or whether or not you’re into folk music, because regardless, what you end up with is a good time with good friends — what more could you ask for? —Nicklaus Neitling