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Forever Festival – Seems that way after 48 years
By Janice Hanson
Posted on 9/2/2019 4:59 PM
Guest blog by Allen Hopkins

It was sometime during the summer of 1971; dinosaurs roamed the earth, continents were all smushed together into Pangaea, the atmosphere was a mix of methane and chloroform – well, not THAT long ago, but Richard Nixon was president, John Denver had a hit with Country Roads, and a new Dodge Dart cost $2800 (I know, ‘cause we bought one). A small group of folky types in Rochester had just gotten together, with the intention of forming a “folk club,” singing songs with each other, maybe staging a few concerts or whatever. 

As I recall, the group was just in the process of changing its name from “The Folk Music Club” to “Golden Link Folk Singing Society.” Richard Sauvain, still a noted English country dance caller around these parts, invited fellow club members to his house for a picnic; two ex-pat Brit Cornell grad students – and a cappella trad folk singers, with a brand-new LP coming out – John Roberts and Tony Barrand, also showed up, and a fine time was had by all. John told me I was mis-chording Streets of London, but I’ve stubbornly kept my “version” intact ever since…

Out of this modest beginning, emerged the Turtle Hill Folk Festival, coming up next weekend, September 6-8, 2019, at the Rotary Sunshine Campus in Rush.

Golden Link stayed together and grew, and in July 1972 staged a day-and-a-half music event at Russ & Sue Sciandra’s Turtle Hill Farm, in Clarendon just over the Orleans County border. John & Tony reprised their appearance of the year before, there was a “members’ mini-concert,” a pot-luck supper, an evening concert in the barn with our two (paid, this time) featured performers, many members tent-camped, and the club bought donuts for Sunday breakfast. Facilities were, frankly, pretty basic that first year; it wasn’t until 1973 that the club built an outhouse, stored on the farm, for which a pit had to be dug annually – and which was, for years, Golden Link’s major tangible asset.

Time marched on, the Sciandras divorced, the farm got sold, and around 1980 the festival moved to the JCC’s Markus Park summer camp, and to early September to avoid the JCC camp season. Programming grew from a single feature act, to full two evenings of concerts, with a varied schedule of day workshops led by club members and touring performers. Campfire sings vied with country dancing to see who’d last longer on Saturday night, chickens were barbecued, tents sprang up in the Markus meadows, and there were real bathrooms and showers. But the name, copped from the Clarendon farm and early-’70s experience, stayed (well, with a few years’ exception), and followed the festival when it relocated a few years ago to the Rotary Sunshine Campus.

This year’s Turtle Hill has a really stellar musical lineup, with Jay Ungar & Molly Mason headlining Friday night, and the nouveau-old timey duo Richie & Rosie on Saturday; other acts include Albany’s Annie & the Hedonists, who mix folk with blues, jazz, country etc.; Debra Cowan, a first-rate traditional and contemporary singer; the Heather Pearson Acoustic Trio; and songwriter Scott Cook

There’s a full schedule of workshops, led by a mix of touring performers and local musicians, teaching instrumental techniques and styles, songwriting, and musical genres, from “pub songs” to blues. You can join a contra dance – or learn how to play for one.  

I’ll be pitching in, as I have since those early-’70s festivals, leading the Friday night after-concert sing-around, and teaching introductory harmonica on Saturday – plus MC-ing the main stage Sunday morning. Festival-goers can commute, camp on-site, or stay in a bunkhouse for a modest fee; there’ll be food by Mama Napoli, lots of informal music, craft and music vendors, souvenir T-shirts, pro sound, and everything “inside” so weather’s not an issue.

Can’t do better than that – and 48 years’ survival testifies to the soundness of the original concept. “See ya there,” as they say.

– Local musician Allen Hopkins a founding member of the Golden Link Folk Singing Society.