New summer festival showcases folk music, York and regional artists

The Wild Hymns perform during Oyster Festival Heritage Celebration at the Agricultural & Industrial Museum in York City, Pa. on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015. Dawn J. Sagert -

A new festival is coming to the York area this summer — and it's giving a platform to local artists.

One of those artists is a York-based band, The Wild Hymns.

"It takes a while to emerge sometimes," said the band's singer-songwriter and guitarist, Megan Woodland Donley. "We were super stoked to get that opportunity."

Donley's band has been together since 2014 — the current lineup for the last couple years — but she and her husband have been playing together for about 10 years.

They will play a stripped-down set as a four-piece in the acoustic Emerging Artist Showcase at the Susquehanna Folk Festival on Saturday, July 28, at Roundtop Mountain Resort in Warrington Township.

It's the inaugural year for the festival — a new venture by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society, which has been organizing concerts, dances, workshops, jams and coffeehouses in Harrisburg, York and Lancaster for close to 30 years.

Wild Hymns bass player Cindy David was familiar with the society, and encouraged her band to apply for a spot in the showcase.

Currently finishing up recording and mixing their third album, the band will play a few new songs with some old favorites. Donley said they often play in different formats, such as duos and trios, but will "keep it sweet and simple," for the set.

A dream project: The society's executive director and festival director, Jess Hayden, said many of the organizers had been going to folk festivals their whole lives, so it was a dream to put together one of their own.

That dream became reality with a grant from the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau for two editions of the festival — one this year and one next.

"Music is important to our community," said bureau president, Anne Druck, in a video on the festival's website.

She called the Susquehanna Folk Festival  "a crown jewel" in the summer lineup — and she said she believes it will draw visitors from all ages and walks of life to the county.

Other local sponsors also helped fund the project, including the York County Community Foundation and the York County Cultural Alliance.

Hayden said a planning committee of 37 people worked for the past six months to put the festival together, each with their own areas of expertise — some organizing activities such as folk, contra or square dancing, some selling ads, some handling emerging artists, some managing volunteers.

"Everybody is doing something," she said.

The group is also working with Roundtop, which is providing site management, ticketing, medics and a shuttle to and from parking lots.

"When I went to the grant workshop, it said, 'dream big'" Hayden said. "We're dreaming big, and we're just putting together the best festival we can think of — taking bits and pieces of experiences that people enjoy and putting it into one big event."

Headliners: One goal was to bring a high level of professional touring musicians to the stage.

Among this year's artists are guitar legend David Bromberg, who's played with greats such as Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Jerry Garcia; four-time Grammy winner David Holt, acoustic blues master Rory Block and Texas Swing fiddlers and singers The Quebe Sisters.

The festival will also feature two All-Ireland champions in Trian and a six-time International Bluegrass Music Association award winner, Claire Lynch.

Hayden says the society hopes to showcase a variety of genres — and music will stretch across four stages.

The inaugural Susquehanna Folk Festival, on July 28-29, will introduce the community to many different genres of music and dance, including African drumming, hip hop, contra dance, clogging, swing and Irish step.

To do: In addition to performances, there will also be music and dance workshops —including contra dance, waltz, clogging, a community barn dance, swing, Irish step, African dance and hip hop.

Festivalgoers can learn techniques such as slide guitar, harmony singing, African drums and ukelele, and watch storytelling performances and circles.

And there's plenty for families to do, including juggling, crafts from York County Libraries, and music lessons — blues on the ukelele and non-traditional instruments such as spoons, washboards, Native American "whammy-diddles" and Chinese "gao" bead drums with the the Sunnyland Band.

Holt will also interview four participants of the York County Oral History Project — veteran musicians or music lovers sharing meaningful experiences from their lives.

Food will be provided by The Altland House, and 35 regional craft vendors will be selling traditional and modern handmade products.

Harrisburg-area band, Indian Summer Jars, will compete in the Emerging Artist Showcase Saturday, July 28, at the Susquehanna Folk Festival, in Warrington Township.

Emerging artists: Along with The Wild Hymns, five regional finalists were chosen to participate in the Emerging Artist Showcase.

The Harrisburg-area Indian Summer Jars, Lancaster singer-songwriters Mackenzie Paige and Hannah Bingman, Lancaster duo Olds & the Absolution and Marietta singer-songwriter Justin Angelo will join them for 20-minute acoustic sets to compete for a spot on the main stage.

At 4:15 p.m. Saturday, the winner will play a 45-minute set and be awarded eight hours of professional recording time at Think Loud Studios, in York City.

Founded by members of multi-platinum York-based rock band Live, it was opened to the public at the beginning of the year, according to a news release.

Think Loud is one of the best recording studios on the entire East Coast, said festival performer Shane Speal, in the release. “To have them support the regional music scene like this really shows their commitment in the area.”

Donley is looking forward to playing with some familiar faces, and seeing independent up-and-comers who aren't well-known have a chance to take the stage.

She was surprised to find an opportunity like this "happening in our backyard."

When and where: The Susquehanna Folk Music Festival will run from Saturday to Sunday, July 28-29, with a schedule of events on

Children 12 and under enter for free, and adult tickets are $60 for the weekend, $45 for Saturday or $35 for Sunday — each price reduced by $5 for society members.

Hayden says she is hoping the festival can draw at least 1,500 this summer, and Roundtop's indoor space will allow for the event to take place rain or shine.

"It's gonna be colorful and fun," she said.