The 36th Annual North Georgia Folk Festival is going to be held virtually this year. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the festival moved from its usual venue in the hills of Athens to a new cyber space for this year’s festivities.
The festival will be shown as a three-episode series on YouTube for free. The first episode will air on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. and the following episode will air Saturday, Oct. 3 at 8.pm. Both of these installments will feature a wide array of music, art and storytelling performed by the festival’s lineup of artists.
The final episode will air on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. and will feature a special showing of Neil Rosenbaum’s documentary, “Sing My Troubles By.” This film follows the lives of Georgia women who have spent their lives treasuring and performing “gospel, blues, mountain music and ballad traditions,” according to the festival’s website
Tommy Jordan has served as the director of the North Georgia Folk Festival for 12 years. After participating in many virtual workshops during the onstart of the pandemic, Jordan said he had the idea to transition the festival to an online format as he presumed live events would not be safe by the festival’s set date.
“We’ve held this [festival] for 35 years now, and it just didn’t feel right to cancel it altogether,” Jordan said. “So I thought, why don't we try to put it together as a virtual conference.”
Despite the festival’s new format, Jordan said he has high hopes for this year’s festivities. He is excited to have the opportunity to broadcast the festival to those outside of the Athens area since the performances will be held virtually, Jordan said.
“I would love to have somebody from Australia watching [the festival] and people in Germany, and in England and just anyone who would have never been able to come to the festival in person,” Jordan said. “This is their opportunity to kind of see what we’re all about.”
Jordan said he collected nearly six hours of material for the festival’s three-episode series. He is most excited to show viewers a performance by one of his musical heroes, John McCutcheon, as well as performances by Caroline Aiken, MrJordanMrTonks and more.
Though viewers can watch the festival for free, Jordan and his team will ask for tips for performers who have contributed music for the event and will also provide links to the artists so watchers can follow up with them after the festival.
Also included in the festival’s long lineup of performers is artist Art Rosenbaum, who has contributed to the North Georgia Folk Festival since its inception. After participating in the festival for over 30 years, Rosenbaum said he is looking forward to seeing how this year’s virtual festivities come together.
“Of course the ambiance of the in-person festival is wonderful and can’t be replaced virtually,” Rosenbaum said. “But this year’s festival can give a different insight and a closer person-to-person look at someone telling a story or singing a song.”
For his performance, Rosenbaum will be storytelling as well as putting on a solo musical performance with a banjo and vocals. He also designed the festival’s T-shirt.
The shirt showcases a drawing of the group Hawk Proof Rooster performing while wearing face masks. Shirts and bandanas can be pre-ordered on the North Georgia Folk Festival webstore until Sept. 13.