Kimya Dawson, 10 String Symphony Among Folk Fest Headliners

Sam Rueckert, Staff Writer

“It’s going to be a jampacked weekend,” said double-degree junior Kirk Pearson of the Annual Oberlin Spring Folk Festival, which will occur for the 17th time this weekend. Pearson, one of the organizers and performers of the festival, said that on May 1 and 2, national and local acts will play at Tappan Square, the Cat in the Cream and Finney Chapel. “The festival really celebrates the Oberlin community. …The vast majority of acts are student or community members,” Pearson said.

The Folk Festival, which is the biggest of its kind in Northeast Ohio, is expected to draw a total of 3,500 to 4,000 people this year. A committee consisting of Oberlin Folk Club members, Student Union Associate Director Tom Reid and two senior community members has been planning the festival since September. The students on the committee were responsible for booking local and national artists. “We tried to make the acts as eclectic and diverse as possible, even if they’re not necessarily the best-known acts,” Pearson said.


The festival will kick off at the Cat in the Cream on Friday. Student and local performers will open the festival, followed by headliners Rushad Eggleston, the Jeremy Kittel Band and Kimya Dawson. Rob Jamner, a College sophomore and one of the student performers for the Cat set, said the event is a great opportunity “to play for a new audience and get to know some new people. … It gives so many people the chance to share their music.”


The festival will continue on Saturday in Tappan Square with more student and community performers immediately following the annual Big Parade. “At some point [the festival] sort of merged with the Big Parade,” said Tom Reid, faculty advisor for the Oberlin Folk Club. He explained that this benefits both events.


Pearson will open up the Saturday set along with Jamner. “[We will] try to get people from the Big Parade hyped up about Folk Fest,” Jamner said. The Tappan Square portion of the festival should be a busy scene, with food stands from various organizations.


After the day of student and local acts in Tappan, the festival will move to Finney Chapel with three more headliners: 10 String Symphony, Tom Paxton and Front Country. After the headliners finish their sets, the festival will conclude with a jam session in the Tappan Square bandstand, to which all are welcome.


Reid said that the now world-famous Josh Ritter, OC ’99, and his classmate Ellen Stanley, OC ’01, first organized the event. The event started out small, featuring only one headliner, with very little equipment and money going into the planning of the event. However, it quickly rose to prominence in the community with the success of the first event. College and community members have offered various resources such as equipment and venues to help the festival run more smoothly. Over the years the festival has featured several student and local acts and famous national acts including Ritter, Richie Havens, Richard Thompson and The Lumineers.

The music represented in the festival is “mostly American folk,” according to Reid. “[This] has to do with logistical hurdles of hiring international performers,” he said. “[But] we do try to present a range of styles.” Both Reid and Pearson are interested in the topic of what kind of folk music should be brought to campus and, furthermore, what folk music is to begin with. Pearson watched auditions and selected acts. “[I had] no idea how to define folk [by the end of the selection process],” he said.

One of the perks that Pearson and Reid both mentioned is that that event is completely free. “Nothing is ticketed and everyone is welcome,” Pearson said. Reid saw this as one of the ways that the event is for the Oberlin community as a whole, rather than just for the College. “The student committee has always been mindful of trying to present this program to the wider community and not just the campus,” he said. “For all of the folks living below the poverty line in Oberlin, this is an event they can partake in. … It certainly doesn’t hurt anybody’s pocketbook.”