Six stages, more than 50 performers, and a fiercely competitive songwriting contest. Yes, there's a bit more to the South Florida Folk Festival than a bunch of aging hippies sitting around the campfire in their sandals, strumming "Kum Ba Ya" on their guitars.
Now in its eighth year, the two-day affair sponsored by the Broward Folk Club hopes to lure an audience of 2000 to Fort Lauderdale's Easterlin Park. Events such as dancing, drumming, storytelling, and workshops for kiddies and adults (there's food and opportunities for camping, too) may do the trick. But the music is really the main draw. Acts from all over the nation, including flamboyant guitarist Del Rey, a guitar-and-cello duo called the Nudes, multi-instrumentalist Jack Williams, and locals Amy Carol Webb, Magda Hiller, Grant Livingston, Big Blue Sky, Passion Seeds, and many more will provide continuous tunes.
Aside from the chance to play a pleasant, family-oriented outdoor gig, the festival's songwriter competition is an enticement for the musicians. From more than 100 entries, twenty acts will be chosen to perform an up-tempo song and a ballad. First prize is $200, a gift certificate for a duplication contract with Disc Makers, a one-year membership to the independent artists and repertoire company TAXI, and an offer to play at the fest next year.
Amy Carol Webb, last year's winner, attests to the morale-building effect emerging victorious had on her: "It's a big vote of confidence from the people in your community and in the national community because the judges are brought in from all over the country. It's a sign your songs are worthy. For me it said, 'You are on the right track. Keep with it.'"
This year, songwriter-guitarist James London was the only South Florida musician tapped for the final competition. Among the judges are local singer-songwriter and former winner Rod MacDonald; radio personality Michael Stock, who hosts the Folk and Acoustic Music Show on WLRN-FM (91.3); and Rod Kennedy, founder of the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival, the world's biggest folk fest.
For the competitors Amy Carol Webb recommends "turning loose and bringing what's inside outside." For the audience she advises simply getting outside, i.e., showing up. "It's such a warm atmosphere," she reports. "It's a smorgasbord. There's folk music of all kinds, which can go toward Irish tunes, melodic ballads, harmony music, the blues, and a little rock and roll. Folk music is really the root of most of the musical forms we appreciate now. Most songs start with one person on one instrument."
The South Florida Folk Festival takes place 11:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8:30 p.m. Sunday, January 16 and 17, at Easterlin Park, 1000 NW 38th St, Fort Lauderdale. Advance tickets for the weekend cost $16 for adults, $9 for kids age 13 and older, including a $1 per person parking fee. Tickets at the gate cost $20 and $10 and do not include the parking fee. Call 954-922-9885.