Juli is seen at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 2001 with her husband, Don (right), and son, Carson. (Photo by Caryl P. Weiss)

by Nathan Lerner

The Philadelphia Folk Festival is graced with a star-studded line-up, including such performers as Todd Rundgren, Richard Thompson, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Ben Vaughn. Now in its 52nd year, the musical extravaganza is sponsored by the Philadelphia Folksong Society. The organization is based on Emlen Street in Mt. Airy.

One of the key players with the Philadelphia Folksong Society is long-time volunteer, Juli Vitello. The 58-year old music buff lived in Chestnut Hill for a decade before moving to nearby Lafayette Hill. She recounted, “My friend, Caryl P. Weiss, who died last summer, was a member of the Liverpool Judies shanty group. she took me to my first festival in 1978. I never stopped going.”

Currently, Vitello heads up a pair of the Society’s most significant components, the Friends of the Festival program and the Odyssey Program. Under her leadership, the two related activities continue to grow and prosper.

The Friends of the Festival involve a premium attendance option at the event. Vitello recounted, “The Friends of the Philadelphia Folk Festival started in 2005. It was the idea of our current President of the Board, Lisa Schwartz, and then Chairman of the Festival, David Baskin. Friends of the Festival is a sort of golden ticket program that provides creature comforts to our participants such as reserved parking, gourmet lunches, an opportunity to view many acts from the wings of the stage, a chair massage and more

“On the camping side, we help people unload their gear and move it into the campground and give some free shower tickets. After a couple of days, showers become key. People love the Festival, but it is usually hot and dusty and people want to enjoy their big annual event more comfortably.”

To be a “Friend,” a person has to buy a ticket to the Festival plus pay an additional $199. For camping, “Friends” who want to get their weekend started on Wednesday can move in early for $100.

The Odyssey Program was started in 1974 as an outreach activity of the Philadelphia Folksong Society. It sends professional folk musicians to Delaware Valley public, private and parochial schools. These performers work collaboratively with teachers in those schools.

Lifelong Chestnut Hill resident, Jeanette Yanks, founded the Odyssey of American Music in 1974. When Yanks died in July of 2012, Vitello asked the Board of Directors to take over Odyssey. “Jeanette was a force of nature,” said Juli. “It will be hard to fill her shoes, but I am trying my best with help from a newly formed committee.”

The extra $100 from each early camping add-on directly funds the programs of the Philadelphia Folksong Society such as musical events for schools. “With the arts being cut from the cash-strapped schools in our area,” said Juli, “providing music performances for students is more critical this year than ever before.”

Vitello is hoping to carve out some time from all her work to relax and enjoy the music. “I am really looking forward to seeing David Bromberg, Todd Rundgren, and The Carolina Chocolate Drops. I am even considering taking the Ukulele Workshop with Reverend TJ McGlinchey.”

The Philadelphia Folk Festival will take place from Thursday, Aug. 15, though Sunday, Aug. 18, at the Old Poole Farm near Schwenksville. More information: 215-247-1300 or www.pfs.org/folk-festival.

Nathan Lerner welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

  • Tobiar

    Thanks We need to do more things together for the best of the community

  • Tobiar

    But let’s stick together forever to find a way to help keep our schools open.