As you might suspect, after 40 years, the Philadelphia Folk Festival has some fine performances in its archives. For those not fortunate enough to attend over the years, this is a musically rich four-CD box set. These discs span the period from 1962 to ’00, but instead of putting the music in chronological order, the cuts are arranged so the CDs are musically cohesive rather than historically sequenced.
Almost every major folk performer from the last 40 years is represented by at least one cut in this box, with only Bob Dylan (who never played on stage) absent; here you’ll find Dave Van Ronk, Doc and Merle Watson, Rev. Gary Davis, Bonnie Raitt, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Tom Paxton, Mississippi Jon Hurt, Pete Seeger, Tom Rush, Steve Goodman, David Bromberg, John Hartford, Odetta, Janis Ian, John Prine, John Gorka, Beausoleil, Taj Mahal, Nickel Creek, Ricky Skaggs, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie, Phil Ochs, Steve Forbert, and Richard Thompson. A majority of the cuts are from the late ’90s, as opposed to the ’60s, ’70s, or ’80s, but recent improvements in live recording equipment make this bias understandable.
A 58-page booklet features essays by Jonathan Takiff, music critic for the Philadelphia Daily News, Michael Coony, performer and master of ceremonies for the festival, and Mark Moss, editor of Sing Out. The booklet also has detailed liner notes about each performance, which include a most welcome listing of accompanists (a feature often missing from live box sets). Sound quality, even on the early selections, is quite good. With seven different live recording engineers over the years, producer Gene Shay, executive producer Carl Apter, and associate producer Chris Thomas should be commended for the sonic consistency of this set. While the sound is not as stellar as some live recordings, like Telluride – Alive at 25, it’s still more than acceptable.
Big box sets like Philadelphia Folk Festival – 40th Anniversary make ideal gifts, so start hinting to those near and dear that this is just the thing you want to find yourself unwrapping sometime in the very near future.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.