In its 4th year, The Folk Revival Festival returned to Rainbow Lagoon Park this last Saturday to bring down-home spirit to Downtown Long Beach while sporting its biggest lineup to date. Artists included were some of the most legendary, along with up-and-coming talent in the spirit of Americana, country, blues, folk and bluegrass, like The White Buffalo, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, JD McPherson, Chuck Ragan, and Jonny Fritz.
Fritz already took the Main Stage by the time we checked in at the front entrance gate. We followed the path through merchant booths filled with craft and vintage jewelry, clothing, and other various oddities. Once we came to the end of the merchant loop, we discovered the square dancing in full-effect, with an older gentleman calling dance instructions like an auctioneer. We had missed the pie-eating contest at 12:30, so we headed to grab a brisket atop waffle fries, a vegan kale salad, and a Nitro cold coffee to share. After a quick fuel-up, we found a shady spot in the trees at The Hillside Stage near the lagoon and enjoyed the indie-folk songstress Pearl Charles as she played the mini amphitheater.
Across the water, we could see that Chuck Ragan, lead singer of Hot Water Music, was about to perform to a crowd that was already starting to quickly form at The Lagoon Stage. After Charles’ set ended, we charged over to get a good spot for Ragan, and settled on the cool green grass hidden in the shade of palm trees. The entire crowd was transfixed at his voice, his words, and his energy. Beside him were a fiddle player and pedal-steel guitarist, both of which were haunting and beautiful as accompaniment. Veins popped from Ragan’s neck as he strummed his acoustic guitar heavily and forced out gravely vocal melody that made the crowd stop everything and stare.
As the sun began to set, Ragan finished his performance, so we headed back to the Main Stage to witness the 50th Anniversary performance from the original Long Beach locals, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. At the front of the audience, kids and adults alike began dancing to the folk, bluegrass and country. The members went through their full catalog, playing the tracks from their new live release, which includes songs from 1966 up until present day. The fiddle, the banjo, the mandolin, guitar, keys, bass, drums harmonica were all top notch, played by some of the best in the business. As night finally fell, JD McPherson was set up back on the Lagoon Stage, so we wandered over early to beat the crowd and secure a spot. The groove, the vintage gear, and croon of McPherson’s octane-filled vocals got the crowd riled up and dancing all the way through his set.
The White Buffalo closed out the evening at the Main Stage with his bold vocals carrying just the right amount of grit, hypnotizing and intimidating at the same time. We sat on a rock off to the side of the stage and watched fans clamor at the front, while kids ran around and adults finished their beverages. Overall, the festival was clean and organized with a mellow ambiance, plenty of activity, and great performances. It was clear that the crew running the festival is dedicated to keeping the spirit of American Roots music alive in Southern California, and who knew it would fit so well in Downtown Long Beach.