All about 39th Kent State folk fest

Erica Crist

From the Appalachian Mountains to the city of Kent, folk music is back again

Donovan won’t be so mellow at the Folk Festival this weekend.

Credit: Ben Breier

Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer hope to make the Folk Festival fun for the whole family.

Credit: Ben Breier

The 39th annual Kent State Folk Festival began last weekend, and the great folk music tradition of Kent will continue through Saturday night.

Headlining the festival is Donovan, a song-writing icon of both folk and rock music. Throughout his career, Donovan’s talent and rich voice have produced 12 Top 40 hits, including “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow.” His concert this weekend will coincide with the fall 2005 release of Sony’s four-disc box set, “Try for the Sun,” that spans his entire career, and the publication of his memoir “Donovan: Hurdy Gurdy Man.”

In addition to these main concerts, the Kent State Folk Festival also includes Folk Alley ‘Round Town that offers free concerts of regional folk performers at more than 20 Kent clubs and coffeehouses Friday, and free folk music workshops from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Student Center.

Folk music means many different things, but all of the aspects of this genre revolve around the music. It’s not about the video on MTV or the bling. It’s not about being sexual or breaking the rules. Folk music was around long before the record companies and the studios. It’s about sitting on your porch playing your guitar just for the sake of making music.

That is why keeping the folk music tradition alive at the university and the city of Kent is so important. This is the history of music, the backbone of our country and its values. College students need to experience this music, and the Kent State Folk Festival gives us the perfect opportunity every year.

“Whenever you encounter new music, it makes the world a little bit wider,” said Linford Detweiler, piano player for Over the Rhine. “College can be a sheltered routine, and this gets you off campus to see new things and get a new perspective.”

When you’re listening to live music, a song can accomplish things that you can’t just say with words, Detweiler said.

“When I experience good art, be it music or a painting or reading a paragraph in a book, it’s like I can feel a chemical reaction on my skin,” he said. “Inevitably, I always walk away wanting to be a better human being. That’s the magic of creativity and encountering something beautiful – you feel rejuvenated and full of hope.”

The focus of the concert by two-time Grammy winners Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer is to introduce folk music to children. Although it is labeled a family show, it should be labeled an audience show, said Fink, banjo player and singer.

“It’s all about the audience participating,” Fink said. “Come to the show and sing with us, yodel with us and participate in American Sign Language. In an adult show, it’s all about the performance. But in a children’s show it’s all about the audience.”

She said that the most rewarding part is seeing light bulbs go off when the children learn something new or do something that they didn’t know they could. She said she wants the audience to go home being motivated to keep folk music in their lives, by doing things like singing together and making an oatmeal-box banjo together.

“I want to make that connection with the kids and their families,” Fink said. “It’s a combination of immediate and later payoffs. We’re offering an alternative to commercial radio, and that is the importance of this festival at Kent State and what the artists are trying to do. It’s to remind people they still have access to this alternative form of music.”

Fiddle player Judy Hyman said she hopes the audience will stay after the Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer concert to see The Horse Flies. She said the show will be a good time, and she hopes to see a lot of people get up and dance.

“I want them to lose themselves in the moment,” Hyman said. “When we played at Kent State a couple of years ago I got so many e-mails from people who had a good time – one guy proposed during our show, one guy decided to start a career in music.”

She said all ages, especially college students, should go see the live folk music offered by this festival.

“What you get when you see live music, you don’t get any other way because all albums sound better live,” Hyman said. “We make albums, but where we are truly ourselves is in live performances.”

This year’s festival promises a humorous closing concert by the Canadian-based band the Dust Poets in its second gig ever in America.

“We have four singers, so there’s all kinds of vocals and genre-hopping going on,”

said Corey Ticknor, mandolin player for the Dust Poets. “We are sarcastic and irreverent. We make fun of ourselves and everyone else.”

During a “genre-hopping” show by the Dust Poets, you will be exposed to everything from bluegrass to folk-pop, Ticknor said.

A folk festival that features international artists and world-class talent is something that students should be taking advantage of, he added.

“A long-lasting folk festival shows the music still has something to tell people, and there is still a desire to hear music that’s not on Clear Channel stations,” Ticknor said. “Folk music is all about the song touching people. It’s about having a direct connection with the audience, not the ego-arena-rock thing.”

So much of our culture is disposable and people move from one thing to the next so quickly, Detweiler said. By participating in a festival that has been part of Kent for nearly four decades, you will get a sense of the great historical legacy of folk music, not something that briefly makes a mark in pop culture.

For more information about the concerts, including the Folk Alley ‘Round Town line-up, and the workshops, visit

Contact ALL correspondent Erica Crist at [email protected].