More Culture:

February 09, 2023

Philadelphia Folk Festival canceled for first time in its 60-year history

The Folksong Society seeks to bring back the event next year, but it must first address its financial hardships

Music Concerts
Philadelphia Folk Festival Canceled G. Widman/Visit Philadelphia™

The 2023 Philadelphia Folk Festival has been canceled due to financial difficulties faced by the Folksong Society. The organization seeks to bring back the event in 2024 after reassessing its scale.

The Philadelphia Folksong Society has canceled its annual festival because it is on the brink of financial collapse. 

The 2023 Philadelphia Folk Festival was expected to take over Old Pool Farm in Harleysville, Montgomery County, on Aug. 17-20. Instead, the Folksong Society will "rethink the size, shape, purpose and funding" of the festival in 2024, according to a letter Miles Thompson, president of the board of directors, sent to supporters Monday. 

The Philadelphia Folk Festival has been the longest continuously run outdoor music festival in the United States. 

"Given our current situation, the Society has two options: we could declare bankruptcy and close," Thompson wrote. "Or, we could take a year to thoughtfully reimagine what PFS and PFF could be, work to reshape the Society and Fest into sustainable operations that meet our organizational mission, while we raise the funds to make that happen." 

Last year's 60th anniversary festival cost the Folksong Society an estimated $1.2 million to produce, Thompson said. Though all but two of the festival's contractors have been paid, a virtual community meeting held Wednesday presented the organization in a dire financial situation

The Folksong Society began 2022 with more than $350,000 in the bank, as a result of the organization's decision to move its 2020 and 2021 festivals online rather than cancelling them entirely, Thompson wrote in the letter. But as of Monday, the Folksong Society had just $30,000 on hand, with $100,000 owed in a line of credit from its bank.

The Folksong Society has decided not to renew the lease on its office and small performance space at 6156 Ridge Ave. in Roxborough, noting its rent is increasing and its concerts are losing money. Because the Folk Festival is the organization's primary fundraiser, pausing the three-day event means the Folksong Society must reconsider its reliance on the event, Thompson wrote.

Thompson noted the live music industry as a whole has struggled to recoup costs lost to the pandemic, pointing to the Firefly Music Festival organizers taking 2023 off. Though that festival, held in Delaware, is set to return next year, fans have speculated on the reason for its hiatus. 

Thompson also acknowledged that the Philly Pops orchestra is searching for a permanent home to house the remainder of its 2022-2023 performance season after being evicted from the Kimmel Cultural Campus. The orchestra is trying to raise $2 million to pay off its debts by July and continue performing through the end of the year. 

Thompson pointed to the increased costs of producing a music festival, including equipment, infrastructure and talent. The folk festival's previous insurer was unable to cover the 2023 festival because it included camping and "would no longer cover events that could possibly increase the spread of air-borne diseases," Thompson wrote.

There also have been violent threats mailed to the Folksong Society's office in recent years, Thompson said. As a result, representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommended that organizers put up fencing and hire armed security. The Folksong Society is unable to cut back on those costs, Thompson said.  

It remains unclear how the Society is looking to rebuild and solve its financial issues. It has been experiencing financial hardships for the last several years, Philadelphia Magazine reported last year. 

The Philadelphia Folksong Society was founded in 1957 by a small group of folk artists and music enthusiasts. Its flagship event, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, began in 1962. 

Last year's festival, held Aug. 18-22 in Upper Salford Township, included performances by Punch Brothers, Michael Franti & Spearhead and The War & Treaty. 

People who want to donate to the Folksong Society can do so online. Folk music fans also can grab last-minute tickets to see the Scottish folk trio Talisk play at Ardmore Music Hall on Sunday, Feb. 19.