Thursday, October 03, 2013

Say Goodbye To The Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival

There aren't very many posts on this blog that mostly appeal to the local audience of the Philadelphia area and that's deliberate because this site is part of the "worldwide" web. If I wanted to "narrowcast" only to a defined geographic area there would only be about three readers visiting here regularly and you probably wouldn't be one of them. However, because of the recent news about the demise of my favorite, outdoor, summertime, music event, the Appel Farm Arts & Musical Festival, I'm making an exception today.

In all but one of the last twenty-five years Appel Farm Arts & Music Center, located just about an hour from Philadelphia in the very rural town of Elmer, NJ, held their festival on the first Saturday of June as a fund raiser for their 176 acre, non-profit, arts camp for children. The day usually featured around a dozen artists on two stages.

Beginning in 2000 my wife and I volunteered at every festival except for one. Most years we were assigned a four hour shift. We've sold tickets, parked cars, checked coolers, and even assisted fans with special needs. In exchange for our services we received free passes to the remainder of the one day event.

The headlining act the first year we attended was Mary Chapin Carpenter and because we knew somebody on the Appel Farm board we were allowed to sit on the performer's side of the fence in front of the first row of paying customers when she took the stage. We were so close to Carpenter that we could almost touch her.

In 2001 the announced headliner was Lucinda Williams but she never showed up. Supposedly she got a better gig and stiffed the festival. Legal action followed.

2002 was the best. We were able to sit at the front of the stage again, just like we did for Carpenter, to watch a solo acoustic set by one of my favorites, Jackson Browne. After his show was over we were allowed to go back stage briefly.

In 2009, Livingston Taylor (brother of James for those of you who are unfamiliar with him) didn't arrive at the festival through the performer's entrance. Instead he lined up with the paying customers. I don't know why. Because we didn't immediately recognize Taylor we asked him to open up his back pack so we could search for the usual contraband (mostly weapons, drugs, and booze) that organizers never allowed on the festival grounds. After we realized our mistake we apologized and he just smiled and shook our hands. He didn't seem to mind that we looked through his stuff.

A couple of festivals were ruined because of rain and other years were marred by some premature hot and humid weather but, overall, both paying customers and the volunteers saw some great music. Dawes, The Avett Brothers, Madeleine Peyroux, Los Lonely Boys, The Smithereens, Fountains of Wayne, Josh Ritter, Roseanne Cash, Richard Thompson, Brandi Carlile, The Tedeschi-Trucks Band, The Indigo Girls, Emmylou Harris, Rufus and Loudon Wainwright, The Robert Cray Band, Colin Hay, Little Feat, Toad the Wet Sprocket, John Gorka, Trombone Shorty, and a whole lot more all appeared on the center's stages over the years.

Unfortunately, each of the last few festivals lost money, over a million dollars in total, so the camp decided they needed to pull the plug on their traditional annual event. It's sad, and proof that all good things must come to an end, but I'll always remember the festival very fondly. Thank you, Appel Farm, for all of the good times we had while trying to raise money to promote the arts and enrich the lives of children.

Appel Farm board president, Denise Hayman-Loa, is leaving the door open slightly for continuing the festival should corporate sponsorship be found.

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