ASHLAND, WIS. — For generations, folk artists — known and unknown — have passed on songs about the lives of everyday people. In May, regional folk musicians, including Charlie Parr, Tom Draughon and Jack Klatt & the Cat Swingers, will join in the retelling at the 46th Annual Ashland Folk Festival. The festival will showcase folk music with sounds ranging from bluegrass to Americana and more during the weekend of May 3-5 at Northland College.
The Ashland Folk Festival is part of the tradition of folk music, according to musician Charlie Parr. The Duluth-based folk singer, who has opened for the likes of B.B. King, said few festivals have that feeling of “deep history” like Ashland’s Folk Fest.
“The first time I came to the Ashland Folk Festival, it felt like a big deal for me to be there,” said Parr. “I never really felt like I was eligible to be there…. I was proud to be there.”
Northland College students first organized the festival in 1968, including folk musician Pop Wagner, who has been featured on “Prairie Home Companion.” Ashland folk musician Tom Draughon said the festival drew him to Northland as a student in 1975.
“Part of opening up the catalog and seeing that there was actually a FolkFestival on campus is part of what sold me on coming to Northland,” said Draughon. “For me, it was being able to, as a student, perform at the Folk Fest and be there in the same capacity as these other professional entertainers coming through. Getting to meet them, getting to play music with them, getting to do workshops with them, forming friendships with them — it was just way cool.”
The Ashland Folk Festival has highlighted musicians from across the country throughout the years. For Parr, folk music moves him to create songs in a way that other genres of music never did.
“When I was a kid, the records we had in the house were folk records, old country, old blues,” he said. “I get the same kind of fire in my gut that I got when I listened to the music for the first time when I was six.”
Parr says folk music is important because people get to be a part of it and build on the work of others, which is even more prevalent with the advent of social media.
“All the technology is taking power away from the syndicate and giving it back to the folks,” said Parr.
The Ashland Folk Festival is a place where anyone can put forth his or her idea of folk music, according to Bentley Brehm, a folk musician from Washburn, Wis., playing at this year’s festival.
“Folk music to me is like music of the people in a real basic form,” Brehm said. “That’s what I like about it. Ultimately, for me, it’s what I make. It’s my take on it and the retelling.”
Other musicians performing at this year’s festival include Ashland area musician Lisa Berlage, as well as Grand Marais-based Barbara Jean. In addition, bands from the Midwest, such as Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles and Saint Anyway, will also bring new folk to the forefront. A full listing of acts may be found online at www.ncsanorthland.org<http://www.ncsanorthland.org> or find 46th Annual Ashland Folk Festival on Facebook.
The event is sponsored by the Northland College Student Association. Another offering in the Northland College Community Connections series, the AshlandFolk Festival is free and open to the public.
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