WOODSTOCK – About 800 people gathered to hear acts from all over the country perform Sunday at the 32nd annual Woodstock Folk Festival on the Square.
Amy Beth co-founded the festival when it started in 1986. She said it began after she and another co-founder wanted to create something as an extension of a weekly open mic night.
Beth said some of the first-time performers at the festival were friends of hers and played about a half-hour set each.
“We didn’t have a lot of money,” Beth said. “We had a little bit, but we didn’t have a lot, so we paid them a pittance – you know, a nominal fee; just something to say, ‘Thanks for coming. Maybe this will pay for your dinner. Maybe it’ll buy your gas.’ ”
And after that first year, Beth said, the festival continued – even after a monsoon rendered the Square unusable one year, and it had to be held on the second floor of the old McHenry County Courthouse.
Carol Obertubbesing, the president for the festival’s board of directors since 1993, said the festival is meant to bring together both well-known acts in the genre and up-and-coming artists, as well. She said she thinks the location helps with attendance.
“It adds a certain ambiance to it, and I think people love coming because of the venue,” Obertubbesing said.
Stephanie Bettman and Luke Halpin – otherwise known as the folk duo Bettman and Halpin – were one of the acts this year. Bettman said it was the first time both of them have performed at the festival.
Bettman said she met Obertubbesing in February at the Folk Alliance International conference, located in Kansas City, Missouri, and that’s how she and Halpin ended up performing in the festival this year.
Bettman said festivals are amazing because they draw people who are seeking folk music.
“It soothes their souls – it’s a touchstone for connecting,” Bettman said. “It’s moving, it’s gentle, and the harmonies are gorgeous.”
Julie Gibson of Woodstock said that’s why she has come to the festival a few times in five years.
“I just love folk music,” Gibson said. “I’m a singer-songwriter myself, and I love to hear other people.”
Gibson said she sees parallels between present day and the time that a lot of the folk music performed during the festival was written.
“I just think music is a uniting kind of experience,” Gibson said. “It’s a bit of a trippy time in the world right now, so it’s nice to just share the music.”