HILLSDALE, N.Y. -- Indie folk band Darlingside appeared at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival's emerging artist showcase last year at a crossroads. They were just beginning to move from a five-piece to a four-piece, and away from a rock sound to a more folk one.
"We felt so at home there, and the people were so nice to us," said David Senft, the band's bassist and singer. "It validated to us that the folk world is a wonderful place."
It went well, and the band received the most votes from the audience to return and play this year in the festival's "Most Wanted Song Swap," one of the featured events at the annual three-day festival, which includes more than 60 performers spread out over four stages, but also a vibrant circuit of self-organized performances around the festival's camping areas.
"It's very much a community," said Anne Saunders, the festival's artistic director. She expects anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 music lovers to descend on the farm along Route 22, a figure that can vary somewhat depending on the weather.
In the Falcon Ridge / Grassy Hill Emerging Artist Showcase, two dozen new groups and performers play on the Main Stage for about 10 minutes, or for two songs. In the end the audience votes, and the top vote-getters earn slots at the next year's festival.
The Boxcar Lilies, a trio based in the Pioneer Valley, were in a sense born at Falcon Ridge. In 2009, Jenny Goodspeed had been invited to perform in the emerging artist showcase, and she asked friends she'd met at a music co-op, Stephanie Marshall and Katie Clark, to join her.
"We had such a good time," Goodspeed recalled. "We came off and thought, ‘We've got something here.'"
Through the years they've returned to the festival as fans, and they have played regularly at the less formal campground showcases, finding and building their audience one small show at a time.
"Falcon Ridge is the most like coming home," she said. "It's such a community. Everyone is so warm and welcoming, and you make friends through the years.
Playing Falcon Ridge has paid off for the band, which released an album, "Sugar Shack," and was again invited to perform at the Emerging Artist showcase. They were voted to appear at this year's Most Wanted event as well.
Senft from Darlingside said that kind of access to the big stage is a daunting but extremely rewarding part of performing at Falcon Ridge. He said at some festivals, showcase shows feel more like ways to fill time while the audience settles in.
"Falcon Ridge is different, in that people really celebrate that aspect of it," he said. "People want to get excited about new, upcoming acts."
Their appearance last year marked a turning point for the band, which came together when the members were at Williams College in the late 2000s and is now based in and around Boston.
The biggest change is deciding to go ahead without a drummer, he said, which has reshaped their approach to songs and to stagecraft. With the volume of a full drum kit, they relied on monitors, and that made them feel "slightly disconnected" to one another.
"We're now standing around one microphone," Senft said. "We're really hearing each other sing in real life and not through speakers."
They've spent the past year touring and finding their sound, and they released a well-received EP with singer Heather Maloney in March.
"We've spent a year coming into our new skin as a folk band," he said, and they hope to get back in the studio this winter.
Along with newer acts in the spotlight, Falcon Ridge has many familiar traditions. Saunders mentioned the Friday Night Summer's Eve Song Swap, which this year has a multi-generational theme. The line-up includes folk legend Tom Paxton, who is 76 years old and hasn't appeared at Falcon Ridge in several years, as well as John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler and highly-regarded newcomer Seth Glier, who is 24 years old.
Along with the Main Stage, the festival runs a workshop
stage, a family stage and a dance stage for people interested in contradancing. Saunders said other highlights include a performance by Aoife O'Donovan, who had been the lead singer of renowned folk band Crooked Still and has recently released a solo album. Saunders was also pleased they were able to bring for the first time Canadian band The Duhks, and Ronny Cox, an actor and musician perhaps best known for his role in the film Deliverance.
Campers can begin arriving on Wednesday, and on Thursday they a preview event will give workshops on using social media, similar to the music business workshops in previous years.
Now in its 26th year, Falcon Ridge began at the Catamount ski area and moved a few years later to a farm in Hillsdale, NY. They moved to their current location, Dodd's Farm, in 2006.
Saunders estimates about a quarter of the crowd will come from within a three-hour drive of the event. Many come from the rest of the Northeast, many from California, a few from Canada, and a small band from Norway, Denmark and Germany. She knows of one family who has brought their teenage son since he was a baby, and he has festival friends he only sees here.
Saunders began her involvement as one of the hundreds of volunteers who make the festival work. She began when she was a graduate student in molecular biology, but by the mid-90s she had become the festival's full-time artistic director.
"It began as a hobby, and became my actual job," she said.
The festival also includes food and craft vendors, and she said it has something for everyone.
"For people who say they don't like folk music, there's a good chance they don't know what it encompasses," she said.
If you go ...
What: Falcon Ridge Folk Festival -- music and dancing on oudoor stages, camping, food
Dance Tent with all day and into the night dancing and workshops
Emerging Artist Showcase Noon-4:30 p.m. Friday
Friday Night Summer's Eve Song Swap 10:30 p.m.-midnight
Most Wanted Song Swap 1:00-2:00 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Dodds Farm, 44 County Route 7D, Hillsdale, NY
When: Aug. 1 to Aug. 3
Gates open for campers Wednesday, July 30
Admission: Three day festival ticket with camping: $165
Three day festival ticket: $135
Friday ticket: $45
Saturday ticket: $50
Sunday ticket: $40
Free for children 12 and under
Three day festival ticket with camping age 13 - 18: $65
Three day festival ticket without camping age 13 - 18: $45
Day tickets for ollege students and seniors over 65 are $10 off.