After seven years at Edgerton Park, the New Haven Folk Festival moved, this year, into the First Presbyterian Church on the Green. Instead of negotiating spots for blankets on the park’s field, people pressed up against the church’s doors, antsy to get in and find their seats on one of the wooden pews.
“Luckily, we’re a folk crowd. If this were a Limp Bizkit concert, you’d all be dead,” the event emcee said.
But the Festival nevertheless drew a large crowd that seemed satisfied by the concert’s close. The three-day festival featured folk artists Josh White, Jr., Erin McKeown, and John Gorka.
Yale’s folk a cappella group Tangled Up in Blue opened the concert with a short, crowd-pleasing set that included “Trying to Keep the Customer Satisfied.”
White — son of folk great Josh White, Sr. — treated the audience to an eclectic collection of 10 songs sprinkled with humorous anecdotes and tender reminiscences of his father. He encouraged spectator involvement, which the audience obliged most noticeably during Buffalo Springfield’s “What’s Going Down.”
Renowned for incorporating activism into his songs, White seemed to puzzle the audience with an updated verse of “This Little Light of Mine” (“In the face of war / I’m gonna let it shine”). After an encore consisting of a song about the preciousness of children, which he dedicated to “old people,” White retired backstage amid enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation.
“I really liked [his] last song,” said Bill Powers, of Hamden, who was attending his fourth Folk Festival.
Erin McKeown took the stage next. Though McKeown’s deadpan delivery of such lyrics as “And every time I push him away he comes back / like some crazy dealer, pushing me crack” met with weary looks from a few conservative audience members, her refreshing blend of humor and openness was well received overall.
“Erin McKeown’s really got the sizzle,” said the concert emcee.
Kyle Piper-Smyer ’05, who said she came to see McKeown, said that the folk atmosphere was “upbeat and forgiving.”
“It wasn’t very ‘Jump Around,'” she said. “But I do like the generational mixing here. You don’t see enough of that at Yale.”
The concert ended with John Gorka’s “unique blend of sharp, maybe even twisted, humor,” as the emcee dubbed it. Gorka began his set with the amusing but soulful “I Saw a Stranger with your Hair” (“I saw a stranger with your hair / tried to make her give it back”) and played for another hour, pleasing the audience with his trademark blend of lyrical wit and pathos.
The concert ended with furious applause and a promise from the festival coordinator that the event would be moved back to Edgerton Park, where it had taken place before financial troubles befell the New Haven Folk Alliance and necessitated the move to the more-manageable indoor setting.