Folk Festival unites past and present

Brenna McNamara

Rachel Roberts performs at The Pub in Kent as part of Folk Alley ‘Round Town Friday night. LESLIE L. CUSANO | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Dan Kloock

The 41st Kent State Folk Festival began Nov. 8, but Friday’s ‘Round Town event brought a sense of unity among students, alumni and folk enthusiasts as artists performed at more than 30 venues throughout Kent.

Artists such as Pete Nischt, who performed at a packed Firefly, represented the younger crowd. Veteran performers such as Charley Brown, who performed at the Pufferbelly, were similar to classic folk artists.

Brown, sporting long white hair, closed his eyes and told the audience the stories behind each song.

“Here’s another one when I was stuck on country and blues,” he said after singing about an old friend who “moves so smooth and sways so gentle.”

Alumna Shirley Skellenger, who attended the Kent State Folk Festival in its beginnings, sat among a younger generation at Starbucks to watch Zach perform. Her fourth artist of the night, the young Zach topped her list of artists.

“He doesn’t stop moving!” she said.

Skellenger said this year’s festival is 180 degrees different from Kent’s festivals in the 1960s.

“Many more people knew about the artists and came out, but they were not in bars and all over downtown,” she said. “This festival is so much more well-organized and well-published, which makes it odd that more students don’t come.”

Eva Burris, also an alumna, said the college folk fan-base has declined since the ’60s because college kids don’t care about the music.

“Back then, the media didn’t control what you hear, so more people saw live events at coffee houses on a regular basis,” she said. “But even so, the reaction between the artist and audience never changes. The intimacy is still there.”

Downtown Gallery employee Anderson Turner agrees that the “friendly and intimate” folk festival tends to draw a lot of alumni and people over 50 rather than young kids.

“For me, this is very representative of what Kent should be,” he said. “People downtown, hopping from place to place. Even if it doesn’t generate sales, events like this are great for everyone.”

Folk music gives audience member John Francis of Akron a strong feeling.

“It’s one of oneness among the people,” he said. “Total strangers, no matter what age, unify through music. It’s a powerful thing.”

Francis believes his generation was impacted by the folk music of the ’60s.

“A lot of music now is uninspired and amateurish,” he said. “Anyone who feels like producing a CD can. People don’t even call them albums anymore. The mainstream music is not art, it’s attention-getting noise.”

If there were more festivals like this, Francis said, the chance to develop and expose more talent would refresh the youth’s appreciation of music.

“My hope for the future generations,” he said, “is that the demand for events like this would create more opportunity for good music to prosper.”

Contact features reporter Brenna McNamara at [email protected].