Harry Smith Festival

It’s been a couple of weeks since we returned from the Harry Smith Festival – a weekend in Millheim, PA – (Amish-land) and this is the first chance we’ve had to write about it.

To be honest, I haven’t quite known HOW to write about it, so I’ll start with the history here.

For anyone unfamiliar (as I was, before we were invited to this two years ago, and then again this year-) Harry Smith was a kooky artist and ethnographer, credited with basically kickstarting the 60s folk-revival, when he released a bunch of old recordings from the 1920s and 30s on what was basically a big unauthorized mixtape called the Anthology of American Folk Music. These recordings are RAW – and full of gems. Kai Schafft, of the awesomely sweaty and enthusiastic old-time group The Chicken Tractor Deluxe – said “Why don’t we get a bunch of people here to drive out to the middle of PA and play some of this stuff?” Let me tell you, it was a grand idea.

There are so many bands I was introduced to this weekend that I absolutely loved. First of all, our Brooklynite buddies Chris Moore & Sons drove out and back in one day to perform six songs together with Curtis Eller. Watching Eller was kind of like watching a weirder Sid Vicious on the banjo – and they brought the house down. There were the KC Rounders, who were more of the straight ahead traditional style (stand up bass, banjo, guitar and mandolin) and then Marah. There were only two of them. Christine played about every instrument known to man – and well; guitarist Dave was such a compelling player – it was really refreshing to hear these old songs performed by a bona-fide rock and roll band. Catherine Irwin from Louisville, KY was one of the headliners, and she has that real traditional, haunting and somewhat matter-of-fact vocal style that is really how these songs were meant to be heard.

I could go on… and on… but instead, I’ll just say one more thing – the venue, the Elk Creek Cafe – in Millheim, brews all their own beers. And they’re GOOD.  So from 2 – 11pm we were transfixed by band after band – and yes, we performed somewhere in there too (with special guest Ben Shapiro on drums! Ray was marooned in Louisville and couldn’t fit in the trunk of Ms. Irwin’s car) – while we drank microbrews and ate food sourced from the local farms (and when I say local, I mean 3 miles away-). And horses and buggies clopped by all the livelong day.