Folk Fest Beats The Heat, Brings The Vibes

Danielle Campbell | September 14th, 2023

Folk Fest Beats The Heat, Brings The Vibes

CT Folk Festival  |  Culture & Community  |  Edgerton Park  |  Arts & Culture  |  Arts & Anti-racism



Top: Headliner Southern Avenue. Bottom: Dom Flemons. 

Dressed in dark blue jeans, a green plaid shirt, and black suspenders, Dom Flemons floated onto the stage in Edgerton Park with his banjo, harmonica, and guitar in tow. Crooning his tune “Slow Dance With You” as the crowd swayed, Flemons welcomed in the waning heat of the afternoon, smiling in the bright sunshine. He stood with his instruments and the microphone, serenading the audience.

That was the scene and sound at the annual CT Folk Fest and Green Expo, held last Saturday in Edgerton Park. From the first performances to the final headliner of the day, the music- and art-filled fest conjured merriment, community, and connection, bringing in over 1,000 listeners of all ages throughout the day. 

Like last year, it reflected the organization's overdue move toward a notion of "folk" that encompasses the broad and often whitewashed history of American folk music, including its roots in West African and Afro-Caribbean traditions. Centuries ago, those musical traditions and folkways traveled to the U.S. through a history of forced migration and enslavement. 


"Our 30th year was incredible,” said Event Director Nicole Heriot-Mikula. “We were surrounded by past board members, volunteers, attendees, presenters, and artists who were so gracious and filled with excitement to be there. This day is about community; creating a music lineup that showcases diverse genres and styles; connecting with community partners to build a vast range of programming and to shine a light on the work we are committed to."

The festival has also been working to intentionally grow its footprint, she and other organizers added. In the weeks before the festival began, CT Folk set up free shuttles from several New Haven and Hamden locations, including the Newhallville Learning Corridor, Dixwell Community Q House, Keefe Center, and Fair Haven Branch Library. 

Saturday, that spirit of community flowed through the park, from raucous kids’ activities to poetry readings and puppet shows from local arts luminaries like Sun Queen and Isaac Bloodworth. On stage, musician Jeiris Cook got the crowd ready for the day with his unique renditions of popular songs and performances of original material. Guitar in hand, he welcomed in the festival, priming the crowd for what was to come. 

“I think music is one of the few things in life that sort of bridges so many divides, especially in today's world,” he said. “The general message is coming together and lifting people up and celebrating culture and diversity.”



As music floated over the grass, vendor and artist tents popped up in the park offering everything from jewelry to natural soaps and candles to programs for seniors. Beneath her tent, Lois Branch showed off a display for The Recording Den, an audio and video production studio where she is the chief financial officer and a producer. 

This year, the den was one of the sponsors of the CT Folk Festival, and helped the organization promote its flagship event. Prior to the sunny September Saturday of the festival, the Recording Den turned out severa; crisp and clear videos, helping CT Folk with its social media presence. 

Nearby, designer Melanie Rivera promoted her brand, hte Norwich-based creation MelRose Denim. Starting with a love for denim, Rivera creates jackets and vests that are new, repurposed, reused, and reclaimed. What she calls her “little masterpieces”—upcycled and recycled vintage materials and fabrics—always seem to find their way to those who need them.

Sitting with her, friend Pati Vertefeuille showed off a custom-made Janis Joplin denim jacket. “Each item kind of has its own person waiting for him to pick it up,” she said, soaking in the music as the two caught up.



At a second “Brewster Stage” down the hill, the Afro-Semitic Experience dipped into longtime favorites from their repertoire, which marries Hebrew and Yiddish lyrics, Klezmer, spiritual, and Black diasporic traditions, and rich instrumentation and percussion drenched in the African continent and diaspora. 

Audience members such as Noam Savion and her husband Amit, there with their two daughters Rona and Alon, found themselves pleasantly surprised by the music.The four, who are Israeli, moved to New Haven just a month ago, and are still settling into the city’s East Rock neighborhood. They said the music helped them feel at home.

“That's very surprising because that's a song in Hebrew,” Noam said. “And that's surprising that they're singing it. We just moved here and we're just getting to know the neighborhood and this event is very nice for us.”

Those good vibes radiated through a performance from soft-spoken performer Lizzie No, highlighted again in Flemons’ ability to shift easily between instruments. During a harmonica solo, he left the audience spellbound, some of its youngest members swaying in the front row as they were mesmerized by the sound. When he reached “Slow Dance With You,” the sound of warbling harmonica and loping guitar surrounded the grassy park in sound. By the time the lyrics kicked in, it felt like a waltz.  


Lizzie No.

“One of the things that constantly brings me back to doing my music is that it helps invigorate and enliven,” he said after performing. “And it also reinvigorates the history that I'm singing about. Because in some ways, a lot of the history if it's just in books, it may not make its way out to the general public but through a song, there's a lot that can be told.”

The night seemed like it was just getting started, even as dark fell across the park and the festival’s end drew near. Jumping onto the stage, Southern Avenue frontwoman Tierinii Jackson got the crowd on its feet, insisting that the music was to be danced to, not just heard. She set the tone: Jackson belted out lyrics, while dancing around, jumping, swinging her red locs, and shaking the rhinestone fringe on her orange crop top. 

Commanding the crowd to clap, repeat, and just groove, the six-member band ended the night with fiery southern Memphis Blues, leaving the audience with a reminder that if they want to talk about folk, they have to acknowledge the history of Black people and Black music in this country. It was a sweet, danceable end to a day filled with music and storytelling, with community everywhere a listener turned. 

Listen to more from the fest above.