The Manchester Riverfolk Festival, held this year on Saturday, August 6, is truly a one-stop folk festival. It offers more than most festivals and also, fortunately, less: more of what you want in a festival, and less of what, if you’re like me, you don’t.
Let’s start with the more. How about nearly a dozen hours of music as varied and high quality as you’ll find anywhere? The performers range from Celtic to Cajun, from songwriters to string bands, from the internationally renowned to local heroes.
Then there is the Festival Art Show, more than twenty artists displaying creations from pottery, painting, and photography to clothing, jewelry, and stained glass. There are workshops teaching songwriting, fiddling, Cajun clogging, contradancing, and more. Plus there are activities for kids, from the familiar stringing beaded necklaces and face painting to the less common sand-castle art, water maze, and making Mardi Gras masks — which come in handy for the festival’s traditional kids’ parade. And there’s a concert with Billy Jonas, who plays “industrial re-percussion” instruments made from found objects. For the young at heart, there is a tent set aside especially for seniors to enjoy Riverfolk in comfort.
Now to the less-is-more part. Riverfolk is only a one-day festival, so on what’s left of the weekend we can either cram more things into our already too busy lives, or simply savor on Sunday what we saw on Saturday. The festival’s Carr Park setting is large enough to comfortably contain all the festivities, but not so huge that you need hiking boots to get from one end to the other. Riverfolk attracts about 3,000 people every year, including hundreds of kids under ten who get in free — not exactly a cozy family reunion, but not huge enough to bother an agoraphobe.
Riverfolk is the brainchild and passion of Mark and Carol Palms, who, along with multi-instrumental wizard David Mosher, form the roots trio the Raisin Pickers. Over the years the Raisin Pickers had performed at many other festivals, and Mark remembers thinking, “I could see this taking place in my community.” And that’s the key word at Riverfolk. Ultimately this is not merely a folk festival but an event that brings together over 300 volunteers, musicians, artists, and teachers to offer a joyous celebration to the entire community and the surrounding area.
[Review published August 2005]