When Greg and Rosalie Clarke moved to the Capital District from Maine, they were eager to find some cheap ways to entertain their two young daughters.
They heard about the GottaGetGon Folk Festival and decided to check it out, even though they weren’t really into folk music.
Suffice to say, that quickly changed. Forty years later, the Clarkes are still attending the festival, which will be held Friday to Sunday, May 22 to 24, at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds in Ballston Spa. What’s more, their daughters, who are grown now and live in Ohio and Arizona, often come back home to attend GottaGetGon.
It’s an incredible sense of community, Rosalie Clarke said.
That’s a sentiment repeated often by the people who attend GottaGetGon. Yes, the music is great. Camping is fun. But above all else, the weekend forms unbreakable bonds.
Emily Clark, for instance, attended her first GottaGetGon with her mom and dad when she was just 2 months old. Some of her earliest memories are of playing with friends at the festival, drifting asleep surrounded by the sound of folk music.
Today, Clark lives in New York City and is a mother herself. She still comes to GottaGetGon, and she hangs out not just with people her age, but with people she knew as her parents’ friends when she was growing up.
`It’s like a big extended family,` she said.
Organizers are proud of that vibe, which they have cultivated since the first GottaGetGon in 1970. The festival is sponsored by the Pickin’ and Singin’ Gatherin’, a participatory folk music group, and features concerts and workshops.
The formal activities are only part of what makes the weekend special. Long after the sun sets, songs echoes through the fairgrounds as people gather around campfires to sing and socialize.
Bill Kelsey of Berne, a member of the performer selection committee, explained that acts are told, `You come to spend the weekend with us. You sing to us, you sing with us.`
That means that more often than not, performers spend the whole weekend at the campground, eating and sleeping alongside attendees. A crew of attendees provides the performers with snacks and meals throughout the day, and at night, campers take turns hosting the musicians for a meal.
`A big part of what happens is eating and feeding people,` said Clark, who, a week and a half before GottaGetGon, was busy making cookies to bring.
Acts come from all over the country, and even occasionally from other countries, to play at GottaGetGon. Kelsey said that since the festival features only four performers each year, it’s not hard to find talent ` and fresh talent, at that.
`We have pretty much stuck to a policy that we would not bring anyone back for 10 years,` he said.
The performer selection committee is responsible for keeping the new acts coming. Kelsey, who attends a number of folk festivals each year, often brings music by acts he’s heard and liked to committee meetings, and other members do the same. Sitting in one member’s kitchen, they listen to CDs and decide on which performers to pursue.
There are times, too, when musicians contact festival organizers and ask to be considered, including acts who have played GottaGetGon before.
`Their 10 years is up, and they’ll say, ‘We would like to try again,’` Kelsey said.
This year, the lineup includes Alexander Mitchell, a multi-instrumentalist and singer whose repertoire includes bluegrass, Celtic, klezmer, traditional roots dance music and swing; Debra Cowan, who sings traditional and traditional-style songs, a cappella and accompanied by guitar; blues guitarist Del Rey, and duo Jean Rohe and Liam Robertson.
On Friday night, the New Generation Folk Concert will showcase young musicians from the area. Saturday night features a family dance, while Sunday’s highlights include an open stage, where everyone is invited to perform.
Clark, of Malta, counts the open stage as one of her favorite parts of the weekend, especially when some of the younger attendees perform.
`The children are just adorable,` she said.
Kelsey loves seeing the younger set not just taking the stage themselves but appreciating the musicians who sing throughout the weekend. He choked up remembering a girl from a recent New Generation Folk Concert who approached a father and son duo and told them how much she had enjoyed their music.
Similarly, he loves recounting the story of a couple of teenage girls he heard on their cell phones telling friends about GottaGetGon.
`They said, ‘This is a cool place. You’ve got to come up here,’` he said.
It’s a message he hopes reaches people of all ages.
`If you want a place where friendly people enjoy good music, this is it,` he said.
Admission to GottaGetGon is $38 for adults (age 20 and up) and $19 for students (ages 12 to 19). Admission for one day is $20 for adults and $10 for students. Children under 12 are free with a paying adult.
On-site camping is free; electrical hookups are available for $15 per night. Food is not sold on the campgrounds.
For information, visit www.pickingandsinging.org/GGG_festival2x.htm or call 429-7461. “