Turtle Hill Folk Festival goes online

This year's fest, featuring six performers over three days, will be streamed Sept. 11-13 with no fee

L. David Wheeler
Pete's Posse.

For nearly five decades, members of the Golden Link Folk Singing Society have been getting together to take part in the communal act of music, to share songs and harmonize as well as bring musicians with a national or global profile to the Rochester area.

For the past several months, since the advent of the coronavirus and associated restrictions on gatherings, the society has had to become a virtual folk community, learning a new way to keep the music, and the sharing, going. Rather than gathering at the 12 Corners Presbyterian Church in Brighton every Tuesday evening, they’ve taken their weekly “sing-around” to the online platform Zoom. And it’s been well-attended, with around 30 to 36 people or so taking part Tuesday evenings — including some from the other side of the country or abroad. It’s working out well enough that there’s thought of continuing the online version maybe once a month even when the in-person sing-arounds return, noted Janice Hanson, Golden Link’s concert chair.

“We have performers from southern England, middle England, Vancouver, British Columbia …” as well as Americans from California to Boston, for the sing-arounds, noted Val Fowler, Golden Link president. “We’ve got a breadth that we did not have in the room at 12 Corners that I thought was pretty cool.”

As the state went into pause and Golden Link canceled its concert schedule for 2020, the question remained as to what to do about the society’s showcase event: the Turtle Hill Folk Festival, a weekend of concerts, workshops, a contra dance, night jamming, camping and more held in recent years at the Rotary Sunshine campus in Rush. Over the years, the festival has hosted such artists as John Gorka, Carrie Rodriguez, Christine Lavin and Robin & Linda Williams.

Eventually the decision was made to go online, with six concerts over three days, Sept. 11-13, live-streamed on Golden Link’s Facebook page, with the performers from each day joining in on a Zoom reception after the shows. They're good-naturedly labeling it as "virtually the best festival you couldn't attend."

“The first thought was to cancel the festival — it would be the first festival in 49 years that has had to be cancelled in any way,” Fowler said. Then, “we made the decision to see what we could do to hold the festival in some fashion.” Since Turtle Hill is one of the later events in the Rochester area’s festival calendar — and since there was hope all around in the early days of the pause that things might be back to normal by fall — there was initially the possibility of continuing as planned. But as the virus and efforts to contain it continued, it became clear that would not be possible — but an online version, with the featured performers presented live on Golden Link’s Facebook page, could work.

“The decision itself was unanimous — but after the discussion it was also un-’animus,’ in that there was no animus in the decision,” Fowler said, praising the cooperative attitude among the society board members.

They also decided to make the festival free of charge — as much of the Turtle Hill experience (workshops, contra dancing, informal night jams) is not available — but to still guarantee the performers at least a quarter of the proceeds they would normally receive. An online “tip jar” will be present, and promoted, throughout the festival, and the society will make up for any shortfall. For those who can’t tune in during the broadcasts — at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday — the video will remain on the society’s Facebook page.

In addition to streaming on Facebook, the concerts will be broadcast on Folk Music Network, a 24/7 streaming internet radio station that has broadcast other festivals this year including the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival usually held in Hillsdale, Columbia County.

This year’s lineup is characteristically diverse:

FRIDAY, SEPT. 11, 7-10:15 p.m.

• Singer-songwriter Cosy Sheridan plays in a percussive bluesy style and has won songwriting contests at such prestigious fests as the Kerrville Folk Festival and Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Joining her is bassist Charlie Koch, offering strong rhythms and harmonies.

• Pete’s Posse, based in Vermont and including Pete Sutherland, Oliver Scanlon, and Tristan Henderson, give a high-energy take on many musical traditions with twin fiddles and multiple instruments — guitar, mandolin, clawhammer banjo, jaw harp and more.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 12, 7-10:15 p.m.

• Brendan Taaffe is versed in Irish and American traditions and who blends old-time ballads with traditional Zimbabwean rhythms, using the mbira, an instrument more than 1,000 years old.

• Magpie is the musical partnership of Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner, who for decades have played everything from traditional songs to vintage blues, swing and country to folk classics to original compositions on guitars, mandolin, harmonica, dulcimer, and concertina.

SUNDAY, SEPT. 13, 3-6:15 p.m.

• Jack Williams, a singer-songwriter and guitarist shaped by a 60-plus year career of playing folk, rock, jazz, R&B, classical, and the popular music of the 1930s-’50s.

• The Cadleys, based in Syracuse, offer the voices of John and Cathy Cadley in harmonies reminiscent of the great country duos — George and Tammy, Emmylou and Gram, Dolly and Porter — playing original songs, traditional mountain ballads and bluegrass classics. Their band also includes bassist John Dancks and virtuoso Perry Cleaveland on mandolin and vocals.

Hanson said video footage from previous festivals and Golden Link events would be shown in the brief periods between acts.

For more information about the festival, and about Golden Link, go to goldenlink.org.