Members of Glitter Fox sit and pose for a group photo in the crowd after their set. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard

Portland folk community comes together for annual festival

The difference between a folk festival and a farmer’s market may seem distinguishable on the surface, but the third annual Portland Folk Festival raised objections.

The festival—put on by local folk legends Fox and Bones—took the intimate nature of a market and combined it with a talent saturated lineup, creating an event tailored for its location. “I mean this is a great farmer’s market—let’s party,” said musician Nick Delff before launching into his final song. 

Delff was one of 19 performers on the lineup of this year’s festival, which took place on Jan. 10 and 11 at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom. 

Nick Delffs, one of the opening acts of the night, brought a mixture of hometown folk and Portland energy to the stage on January 10th, 2020. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard Alex Wittwer

The function was a Portlander’s wonderland. Fedoras dotted the top of the crowd, craft beers were close at hand and blankets and benches became the seats of choice as the festival drew into the later hours of Friday evening. 

The lineup, the majority being local talent, also gave a handful of musicians a chance to return home to the city where their careers started. 

Delff, who moved from Portland to Boise, Idaho five years ago, said, “Portland always feels different than everywhere else. People really love music here.”

Justin Ringle of Horse Feathers, who also used to call Portland home, had similar remarks, saying, “It feels like I’m coming to a hometown show, even though I’m not in my hometown anymore.” 

Despite both moving away from Portland, Delff and Ringle uttered similar sentiments about the supportive community they found in the city at the start of their careers. “I can’t really imagine trying to start out anywhere else,” Delff said, and Ringles’ words carried similar conviction. He described the impact the city has had on his music saying, “It was such a rich place to start off in—there was a really large community.” 

On the first night of the festival, the abounding and supportive community that Delff and Ringle both gratefully reminisced on showed no signs of disintegration. Audience members stomped and danced through the native Oregonian band Cedar Teeth’s rugged Pacific Northwest-inspired set, and lead singer Dylan Martell bestowed praise on the performers saying, “If you’re glutting for good stuff, this is a good night for that.”

Up-and-coming Glitter Fox, who describe themselves as lesbian glam folk, played a set swirled with powerful, convincing vocals and dynamically percussive arrangements early in Friday’s lineup. After the set, they could be seen dancing, catching up with friends and actively being a part of that same community their musical peers talked about so fondly.

Glitter Fox was not alone in joining in the action. Multiple acts brought friends up to sing, and all the talents could be spotted in the crowd before and after their performances, chatting, dancing and visiting the booths set up around the boundaries of the venue. 

Attendants also gave a warm send-off to Haley Johnsen, a returning member of the lineup from the first annual festival, before she embarked on a six-week headline tour of Europe to support her debut album Golden Days

Following the festival, many of the musicians, like Johnsen, will head off on tour or work on upcoming projects. Ringle is working on a project of old favorites he has rearranged, and Delff excitedly described an idea for a pop opera, inspired by the short songs on side B of The Beatles album Abbey Road.  

The lives of the musicians on the festival’s lineup are inherently dynamic. However, Friday night, with its fedoras, audience stomping, soaring banjo melodies and extensive social connections, seemed to demonstrate stability. The Portland Folk Festival had another wildly successful year and demonstrated the Portland folk community will—no doubt—remain strong until next year’s festivities.