Depending on which music lover you ask, the definition of folk music varies. Is it a centuries-old tune passed down through the rolling hills and small towns of Appalachia? A pacifist’s fervent response to the Vietnam War? A guitarist’s solo acoustic performance at a coffee shop?
Whatever the definition, the earnest, down-to-earth sound of folk music feels right at home in places like Ferdinand, Ind. On Sept. 18, the rural town of 2,300 residents takes its place on the national music scene when it welcomes folk musicians John Flynn, Sarah Siskind, Will Kimbrough, and the Rachael Davis Band for the first annual Ferdinand Folk Festival.
The event is part of a 10-year strategic plan to increase the artistic and cultural opportunities in Ferdinand, says Marc Steczyk, Ferdinand’s town manager. “We’ve made baby steps in the form of community movie nights,” he says, “but we’ve been trying to find a way to make a bigger impact.”
The idea of a folk festival with nationally acclaimed artists seemed to strike the right note. When the festival committee began forming the musical lineup, they wanted to disprove the stereotypes that plague the genre of folk music: that folk musicians wear flowers in their hair and refuse to shave; that they’re rabble-rousing protesters who wield acoustic guitars like axes. Instead, to make the festival appropriate for young patrons, they opted for a lineup with a clean-cut image. (Bull Island, this isn’t.) “The artists that we have,” says Steczyk, “are more of an Americana style of music.”
One performer signed on is Will Kimbrough, who co-wrote four songs for Jimmy Buffett’s 2009 album Buffett Hotel. Five years earlier, the guitar ace was named Instrumentalist of the Year by the Americana Music Association. In winning the title, Kimbrough ousted defending champ Jerry Douglas, a renowned Dobro player and a member of bluegrass group Alison Krauss and Union Station.
Steczyk turned to the Nashville-based Kimbrough for suggestions of other artists. “We asked him, ‘If we had this dollar amount, Will, who do you think we could get to come out of Nashville?’” Steczyk recalls. “One of his first suggestions was Sarah Siskind.”
Siskind’s music has been covered and recorded by the likes of Alison Krauss and Bon Iver. When she performed on NPR last summer, the awestruck reviewer Stephen Thompson called one song “so wrenching, so infused with wounded grace, that it’s essentially untouchable.” Likewise, when Steczyk first listened to Siskind’s wistful single “Falling Stars,” “it was one of those songs that the first time you hear it,” he says, “you know you’re going to spend the next three to four weeks just listening to that song, over and over.”
The Ferdinand Folk Festival kicks off at noon Sept. 18 (that’s Eastern Standard Time, Evansvillians) at 18th Street Park. The free event also includes art booths, pottery demonstrations, nature walks, a songwriters’ workshop, a “jam tent” for musicians, a children’s concert, and more. To see a schedule of events and learn more about the music lineup, visit www.ferdinandfolkfestival.com or see our Guide.