Philly Folk Fest and the Lives of the Underground Campers

Ever year for the last half century the Old Pool Farm in Montgomery County, Schwenksville, PA, has been transformed into a world of its own. Starting on a Wednesday evening in mid August, a trickle of travelers starts to arrive. By Thursday, the trickle turns into a steady stream. Before you know it, throngs of people pour in like an ant colony at a picnic.

Territories are staked out and tents start popping up. In the middle of a field, a city is born. It's not just a city. It is a community. Neighbor helping Neighbor. Unlike many cities, people actually smile and greet each other with open arms.

The make-up of the population is also atypical. There are more minstrels, musicians, philosophers and craftsman than at any other gathering. It is quite common for a musician to strike up a tune and before long an impromptu band is born. A single guitarist turns into 3 guitarists, a percussionist, singers, a bassist and a flutist.

In fact, as I sat there playing a spontaneous jam, a flutist approached me and said, "I like what you are doing. May I join you?"

It turned out he was from France and had been in New York City the previous day. He had help set a world record for the "Largest Flute Ensemble" -- 1,989 flutists.

Friday morning at the National Flute Association Convention in New York City, world-renowned flutist James Galway led a successful challenge to the Guinness Book's world record for the "Largest Flute Ensemble."
-- NPR (National Public Radio)

This sort-of encounter happened all weekend. You never know what to expect in the campground. Each encampment has its own history, lore and traditions. Being allowed in is treated like a privilege not a right. As an example, one such campsite is known as Bob's Country Bunker. On my first night to experience folk fest camping... at about 3 0'clock in the morning... I was led into the Bunker by friends and strangers. It wasn't long before a bartender emerged and greeted us with a smile and drinks. Singing and dancing broke out and before long people that had never met before were exchanging their clothes. The fellow in camouflage was trading his hat, shirt and pants for Beer Girl's Wonder Woman-like garb. By 6:00 A.M. a small crowd had gathered to welcome the new morning.

The following day I had the pleasure of returning to the Bunker. There was a very talented young musician playing the keyboards and singing. We were encouraged to join in. It didn't take long for several musicians to put on a spur of the moment foot-stomping show. One would hand his guitar to another. Multi-instrumentalists would switch seats at the keyboard or trade off on vocals. It was a child's keyboard that was being borrowed. She just sat in a chair... starring in amazement.

When I returned to the Fest the next day, I said, "Let's go the Bunker." I was met with stunned looks of disbelief. "They shut the bunker down!" I couldn't believe it. They shut the Bunker down? Why? How could they? Was it because of any one of the number of questionably activities? No. It was because of the electricity. Apparently you are not allowed to use a generator. The electric ensemble had drawn the attention of security. They packed up the full size bar, swinging saloon doors, light towers, laser show, tents, chairs and cooking facilities. The Bunker was gone.

As you walked through the campground you could hear people shouting out, "Bring back the Bunker." While walking back from the river, we were approached by a young girl that must have been about 12 years old. She held out a tablet and pen asking, "Will you sign the petition?" It was a petition she had started to bring back the Bunker.

Folk Fest gives hope to that spirit that made America the home of the free and the land of the brave.

Philly Folk Fest Photo Gallery

The Rock And Roll Romper Room