Siddarth Shankar

Folk music lovers from across Connecticut flocked to Edgerton Park this Saturday for a sunny afternoon of sustainability and song.

For the past 27 years, the CT Folk Festival & Green Expo has combined folk music performances with environmental advocacy to create a unique experience for New Haven residents. This year’s festival featured headline performances from Donna the Buffalo, Birds of Chicago and Ghost of Paul Revere. Businesses from across the Elm City set up booths to promote their products, ranging from massage therapy to dog treats infused with CBD oil. The free festival is hosted by CT Folk, a statewide organization dedicated to local folk music and environmental initiatives.

“This is one of the greatest community events that we have in New Haven. They put on an amazing festival,” said Marissa Gandelman, the owner of Elm City Wellness, which operated a booth at the event.

The day offered two separate schedules, appealing to children and adults alike with a Green Kids Village and CT GROWN Workshop Tent. Gardening and recycling lessons were available for children, while the adults had opportunities to learn about composting and sustainable agriculture. As part of its environmental focus, the festival committed itself to a zero-waste plan this year — which ensures no waste goes to landfills by recycling, composting or repurposing all trash.

On Saturday, climate change activists advocated for changes to public policy on the local level. Elm City resident and Citizens’ Climate Lobby member Eric Fine said that the festival was a good opportunity to inform the public about climate change.

“We’re laserlike focused on a bipartisan solution to climate change,” Fine said while discussing H.R. 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019 — a U.S. House of Representatives bill that proposes a fee on carbon at the point of extraction to encourage market-driven innovation of clean energy technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In an interview with the News, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, said she was committed to exploring all approaches on the issue of climate change — which she referred to as “the biggest crisis of our time.” DeLauro stressed that the festival was critical for raising awareness of environmental problems in this region and noted the cultural value of the festival for the greater region.

“This is part of the rich cultural history of our community … New Haven is a very special city in that context,” DeLauro said. “These kinds of events, they provide a richness to the quality of life for residents of New Haven.”

For folk music enthusiasts, the festival provided an opportunity to share their craft with those who may be unfamiliar with the genre. One prominent group at the festival was Voices Cafe, a Unitarian church-based group in Westport that hosts live folk music shows with an emphasis on social justice and stewardship.

Dave Caplan, the owner of Voices Cafe, highlighted the importance of the festival for struggling artists. Performing at events like the CT Folk Fest “is how they eke out a living,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lisa Kaston, the president of CT Folk’s board of directors, has used her platform to promote diversity and inclusion in the folk music community. Noting the 50th anniversary of Woodstock this year, Kaston reflected on the folk community’s tendency to ally itself with social justice issues and the inevitable challenges that arise when adapting a nearly three-decade-old event for a modern audience.

This year, Kaston reached out to different communities within the city of New Haven, including youth and minority groups.

“Our biggest issue for outreach is the philosophical question too: What comprises folk music? What is the folk tradition?” Kaston said. “Why don’t we look at folk traditions from different countries? People’s backgrounds are so rich and cultured. Why can’t we cross-pollinate and introduce each other to these different traditions?”

Katson pointed to the diversity of the festival’s lineup in recent years, featuring performers of international backgrounds and musical traditions.

The festival also made efforts to reach out to the Yale community. This year, Yale helped fund the festival’s operations, Kaston said. Student performance groups, including Tangled Up in Blue, have previously performed at the event.

Previously, even University President Peter Salovey has performed at the CT Folk Festival & Green Expo as a banjo player of “Professors of Bluegrass.”

Siddarth Shankar | siddarth.shankar@yale.edu

Olivia Tucker | olivia.tucker@yale.edu