(see the end for additional thoughts from readers!)
A (hopefully) Useful and (possibly) Humorous Guide to Survival as a Camper and
Volunteer at The Philadelphia Folk (or just about any) Festival
(6) what GOES IN must COME OUT.
It's not genteel but it's the law of nature. For this reason, the Festival provides the dreaded "spot-a-pot" at strategic
(but somehow never QUITE strategic enough, y'know?) locations in the campgrounds. Up until the past few
years, they were pretty dreadful, despite the best efforts of the companies concerned to keep 'em clean. The last
two years ( which may be an abberation - I hope not) the Festival hired a group called (really...) "Potty-Queen" and
they hit 'em three or four times a day. They were (almost) pleasant! AND they were constantly equipped with "that
essential paper product" at all times,
BUT: another word to the wise: Bring ( in a baggie, of course) your own supply of toilet paper!
Maybe this year these guys will slack off and we'll be back to where we used to was - to be used in times of
Again, depending on how much crap (no pun intended) you wanna lug up and back, a camp-potty is a wonderful
thing when you wake up, 'cos them thar' Spotty-Potty's can be a loooooong ways off first thing in the morning when
you really gotta!
(Gentlemen, you can (with decorum, please,) use an empty half-gallon ice-tea container.)
Ladies should consider their personal needs before leaving home and provide therefore, although there is a sales
booth in the campground run by the FolkSong Society which carries the rudimentary necessities, at a price. It shuts
down at (I believe) 8:00PM and opens at 7:00 AM, so in the interim, you is on you own.
One more extraordinarily unpleasant thought: Immodium
Pack some. You never know, and I can tell you from experience, there are a lot better places to suddenly discover
you need some than at Festival. The Med Tent does have a small supply, but it's far better to bring your own with
I KID YOU NOT!
While we're on the subject of packing things, IF YOU REQUIRE MEDICATION (well, of COURSE you do...
you like Folk Music!) BE SURE YOU BRING IT IN SUFFICIENT QUANTITY TO LAST THE
WEEKEND but DON'T pack the drugstore! A dozen asprin (or ibuprofen or whatever) for headache,
muscle ache or general pain relief), sunscreen, spare glasses or contacts (and solutions!), a couple of bandaids and
something for blisters of the feet (always take something for that no matter where you go!) should get you through
the weekend in style. Your own prescribed medications should be clearly marked with your name and the name of
your doctor, just in case. AND DON'T FORGET TO TAKE THE DAMN THINGS! This is Folk Festival and -
while we'd like it to be and we try hard to make it so -
it is NOT a vacation from reality!
If you have a more serious medical condition which might flare up or incapacitate you, be sure you have your
MedAlert on and let the Med Tent folks know about whatever it is and where you're camped - just in case.
(7) you WILL want to SLEEP.
"Ah, sleep, that knits the ravel'd sleave of care..."
You is gonna need a tent, a sleeping bag, a ground pad/air mattress and a pillow or pillow substitute. (I usually
used a towel - possibly the single most useful thing a traveler can have in his/her possession.)
Depending on your minimum comfort level, anything from a backpacker's puptent (NOT recommended for the
un-initiated!) to (again - what are you willing to lug up and back?) a twelve-man, three-wing, six-room (with
vestibule and common room) Arctic Sno-Queen (about $2,000.00 !) may be seen set up at Festival. The majority
are 2-to-4 person exterior-braced nylon wall "dome" tents with a rain fly on top. These run anywhere from 90 to
150 dollars but - remember - you get what you pay for. Check out what you think you'll be happy with, ask friends
who camp, investigate floor models at camping or outdoors stores, take off your shoes and climb inside. Can you
stand up? Can you hang an electric lantern from the pole or wherever? This is NOT something that you want to buy
on-line unless you know what you're looking for, and if you do, then why are you wasting your time here?
Remember that your whole life is gonna be in there with you while you're using it and that you should always leave
enough room so that nothing is leaning on the side of the tent (condensation), and that it's really waterproof (just in
case [HAH!] it rains). Be sure the tent is vented with a rain cover on it, otherwise you get condensation inside just
from respiration and sometmes that's even wetter than a leak! Nylon is better than canvas ( lighter, easier to set
up, easier to air out, less likely to mildew) and GoreTex is better than nylon. (but who, I ask you, could afford a
tent made of GoreTex ??? )
"How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"....."Practice, Kid, practice!"
Set up your tent at least three times before coming to Festival.... find out about and replace any missing stakes,
poles, ropes, etc.: repair any snags or rips: get a few extra tent stakes and BRING A REAL HAMMER.
A tip on setting up your site: park wherever they tell you and bring in your tent and sleeping bag first. Find a spot
and set up (follow the directions on the tent to the letter!) then look around for one of the myriad of kids with a
wagon, pay them a couple of bucks and let them drag the rest of the crap in on the wagon! Don't (unless you
REALLY want to) try to lug all that crap in yourself! Whaddyathinkyouis? Paul Effin' Bunyan?
Sleeping bags come in as many variations as campers, but: you are NOT going to spend six months with
Amundsen discovering the pole, so buying a -20 degree rated bag is more than a little overkill. You'll probably be
quite happy with a summer-weight ( 40 degree rated) bag and something to put under it ( a backpacker's pad or
the dreaded air mattress).
On the subject of air mattresses: get a small single mattress designed to fit into the back pocket of the sleeping bag
( you say your bag doesn't have a back mattress pocket? Get another one.) or, if you don't want to take the bag
back and go thru the hassle, then get a mattress with a 'flocked' surface. (All right, stop giggling!) The standard
slick vinyl mattresses allow you and the bag to slide off in the middle of the night - a most disorienting experience, I
If you get too cold in the night, put on jeans and a t-shirt and climb back in... that should do the trick. (Or, see (8)
If you're really serious about comfort, then check out a modern folding cot dealie to put your bag on. More to
carry, but better sleeping. BE SURE IT FITS IN THE TENT!
Also speaking of comfort, those blue folding chairs originally designed for bass fishing can be had for less than
$20.00 and are a great thing to have for just sitting around, not to mention being easily portable.
They be's comfy, too!
(8) There WILL be SINGLE Members of THE OPPOSITE SEX.
This being the era that it is, all the usual cautions and advisories are DEFINITELY in place! BE SAFE, NOT
That said, the other word I wanted to mention was: deodorant. Don't forget it. (heh, heh, heh.)
Also, look for 'coleman' Sun-Showers at your camping store or on the web. These are 2-1/2 gallon plastic sacks (
black on one side and clear on the other with a shower nozzle) which you fill up with cold water and hang in the sun
for a few hours. They have sufficient water for a "submarine" shower (wet down, lather up and rinse off) and there
is no feeling in the world like being freshly washed and shampooed at the Festival. If you have your own
sun-shower, a neighbor who has set up a shower stall will usually be more than happy to let you borrow it for a
splash-down! Also a great way to meet people for next year's camping!
Incidentally, shower stalls have to be one of the more impressive areas of jerry-rig-architecture that appears at
Festival. They range from a simple "four-poles-wrapped-in-an-old-shower-curtain" to a two-level contraption with
a trap floor and windows, to the ultimate shower at "The Flids" (next to Azzoles): a ten by twenty room with
seperate stalls fed by a black plastic fifty-gallon drum suspended atop the building frame.
THAT was MOST impressive!
AN ADDENDUM FROM 2002's Festival!!! A PORTABLE PROPANE SHOWER IS NOW
AVAILABLE AT MOST CAMPING SUPPLY STORES AND IT'S SLICKER THAN DEER
GUTS ON A DOORKNOB!
A FURTHER ADDENDUM: ACCORDING TO THE 2006 WEBSITE THERE WILL BE
SHOWERS AVAILABLE IN THE CAMPGROUNDS! I'M NOT SURE JUST HOW THIS
WILL BE SET UP, BUT IT WOULD BEHOOVE EVERYONE TO CHECK THIS OUT AT
CAMPING HEADQUARTERS AT THEIR EARLIEST CONVENIENCE.
(WERE THERE??? I didn't go and haven't been since 2005... I'm getting too old for this shit!)
Ladies, by all means, do bring some cosmetics but remember, this ain't the debutantes ball... most of the people at
Festival think 'makeup' is something you do on Monday to your tentsite before leaving.
There is a strong tradition of "dressing up" on Saturday night, but please don't bring anything you'd hate to have
muddied or soaked! (For me, dressing up was a vest and a tie over the white shirt with my Stetson...that was more
than adequate and more than a lot of folks do!) We must have had a dozen "Fairies" one year ( with white gowns,
lighted magic wands and Clare Dane wings), or maybe they were angels, or maybe I should go back and read my
own advice on drinking again... I dunno, but they were... startling.
(9) there WILL be MUSIC you can 'JAM' with, SING with or listen to.
And you will be astounded at the variety and variance in quality thereof. One year I happened onto a small enclave
in the middle of light (tent) camping where there were three folkies sittin' and a-pickin' bluegrass. I stood back until I
ascertained that I could play with them, unlimbered the mandolin, broke out my falsetto and we played some of the
hardest-driving bluegrass I've ever been involved in. What a joy that was. By the time we broke up there must
have been a hundred or so people gathered around just listening.
The general rule is listen to what's happening first... if it's 'way over your head, maybe you wanna just listen,
although no-one ever gets rejected from a 'jam'... that's the whole idea of 'jamming'. Be inventive, play to your best
level and watch how much you improve over the weekend. I usually pick up at least one if not two notches each
Festival, just by trying to keep up, and I'm a pro!
There are large jams going on every night during and especially after the concerts.
On the road to Dulcimer Grove about 3/4 up the hill you will find John Fuhr and "The AZZOLES" which host a
nightly jam from after concert untill (a la Bubbleheads) the last person is standing. (John may be the acknowleged
'leader' of the site, but I think it's Queen Bethie-Pie that REALLY makes it work! ALL HAIL!) They specialize in
Blue-grass, Irish, old-timey and dance tunes and usualy have John on guitar, George HUNE (simply a dynamite
fiddler), Terry McGrath (one of the Campfire leaders emeritus and leader of The Greystone Ramblers) on
hammered dulcimer, DOCTOR (Mommy) Wendy Fuhr (Queen Bethie-Pie's daughter and fiddler/singer with Full
Frontal Folk) and an odd lot of reprobates playing various instruments at break-neck speed.
Great bunch of folks and a lot of fun to get to know. Watch yourself if Possum and Mushrat from Psych-A-Billies
show up...things will really escalate then!
Stop by Saturday night around One AM for "THE AZZOLE OLYMPICS"
Un - Effin' - Believable!
OK That's about it for a surface gloss. If you have specific questions I missed or did not hit in sufficient depth,
please feel free to email me and I'll be glad to further confuse the livin' you-know-what outta you.
Happy Festing and Happy Camping!
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Sept 19, 2000 The "Newbie" referred to at the beginning of this missive has checked out the pages, korekted my
speling (Quelle Chutzpah!) and has a few observations of her own!
Take it away, Andrea!
Just a few suggestions.... thanks for recognizing a newbie! It's very helpful!
I recommend a handkerchief or two to bring along. I kept mine soaked and around my neck most of the day. It's a
great item to have.
Things I Learned:
Remember to check to see if your cot fits in your tent. Mine just barely did, diagonally. Also to really tap those
legs well in before you go to bed.
I had lousy sleep (sleep? who sleeps?) the whole weekend...one thing that might have been great would have been
a big thick blanket to catch some zzzs in Dulcimer Grove.
I brought some extras I didn't really need. Also left my soap in the tent (in a soap container) which promptly
became liquid by nightfall.
Can't sleep in the tent after 8 am if it's a nice day - too hot. (Agreed!)
It's great as a volunteer to have food provided, but I brought peanut butter and crackers and some apples as well to
hold me over between when I didn't want to shell out more money.
A rug outside the tent would have been helpful (what? no jaccuzzi?).
I brought a wind-up alarm clock for getting up at 4 am shifts...feel like I never slept...noise levels even in quiet areas
were high...earplugs are useful as well.
I learned that as a volunteer you must arrange your 4 hour a day work schedule around events and sleep. For me
the best shifts would have been morning every day. I could sleep in afternoons and then see performances, party
late, sleep again late at night and get up early before the heat.
But that's me.
I found (that) a cot was not a good choice for me although I can imagine it would keep one dry in wet weather. The
side bars were uncomfortable and encasing-like.
I wished I had brought a low chair. I did bring a padded backed seat that was very low, but not the best for
If you plan to attend the evening concerts, bring waterproof covers for the ground under the blankets/chairs etc. It
is always wetter than you expect in the evenings. (VERY good suggestion!)
Patti Davis, who camps near the AZZOLES (the which are referred to earlier, but acquitted of all charges due to the
Judge being too drunk to stand up) has seconded a REAL good piece of advice for light sleepers:
One suggestion that makes the difference between a good time and insanity for me at the festival, given that I camp
next to the Azzoles and you know how it goes with the "If I hear 'I Know You Rider' one more time,
I'm going to get out of my tent with a chainsaw and mow 'em all down" feeling in the middle of the night, is this:
I've tried wax and foam, and prefer wax myself, but whatever, it takes the edge off the really loud noise and makes it
possible for a light sleeper like me to get some sleep.
Patti, I feel your pain... earplugs are a super idea for those who can tolerate them and they WILL help deaden
some of the chazzerai from the mischegoyim!
If anyone else would like to contribute his/her/their/(whatever) suggestions, observations, comments,
recommendations, or hat-sizes, I'll either put 'em here or start a whole new page!
Just email me!
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