Folk Fest balances live music with COVID safety

Sashinka Poor/The Miscellany News.

With COVID-19 precautions in the back of everyone’s minds, it’s hard to imagine that a music festival could be very successful, but Folk Fest, organized by the Vassar Outing Club, exceeded all expectations. The concert featured a lineup of 11 performers, with music ranging from traditional folk to pop to some electronic tunes, and a combination of covers and originals.

Needless to say, Alex Koester ’23, one of the main organizers of Folk Fest, had COVID in mind when planning the event. He wanted to take advantage of Vassar’s unique position to host an enjoyable event where students could relax and appreciate the many talented performers, while still feeling safe. “I feel like it’s been hard to get people outside, even now that it’s been warm, like to get people together,” he explained. “But there are lots of safe ways to do it. And so my idea was…to just have an event where people can be outside and feel good about seeing other people in a safe way, listening to dope music.”

The organizers used the Outing Club budget to arrange the event, funding fun additions like a glitter station and Twisted Soul catering.

Folk Fest also provided an opportunity for several new groups to perform. Fowlmouth and Delia are both bands whose members are all first-years, something that Koester said he hasn’t seen much of this year and was excited to see. “I know last year I got here and I was just immediately welcomed into the music community, and played a lot of cool shows in houses and THs and like, that’s not a reality anymore,” Koester said. “But I don’t know, there hasn’t been a lot of platforms for music…especially with first-years. I think I’m really excited about tomorrow [Folk Fest], because there’s gonna be a lot of bands that I haven’t heard before.”

Miles Bader ’24, who performed as part of the duo Sound Check, revealed that this was his first time ever performing in front of an audience. He particularly appreciated the chance to share his music in a relaxed space. “I definitely have always wanted to play music in college, and Vassar has created such a supportive environment to do that,” he said. “And this seemed like an amazing first opportunity to play for an audience that’s excited to have music be back and excited to enjoy the nice warm weather.”

It was also a new experience for Fowlmouth (@fowlmouth.band). Although the band had performed before the festival, this felt closer to a new normal where anyone could drop in and enjoy the music without a crowd limit or pre-registration requirements. “[T]his was our first show, where the audience wasn’t limited to people who knew about it beforehand, who had signed up, who had gotten tickets. So it was our first time playing where anyone who’s walking by could just stop and listen,” Rachel Ostrowski ’24, a member of Fowlmouth, said. 

Their performance at Folk Fest introduced their music to new people who didn’t already know the band. “I felt like it was a good amalgamation of people from…school that I hadn’t necessarily interacted with before,” Lauren Pacheco ’24, another member of Fowlmouth, continued.

Even some older students appreciated this event as an opportunity to play. Alouette Batteau ’23, who performed toward the end of Folk Fest, said this was her first performance of the semester. “We haven’t gotten to play a live show this semester yet,” she said. “And I just remember how hard it is to be up there and get people dancing and stuff, but it’s nice to see people just having fun outside, you know.”

Despite the name, Folk Fest featured a variety of genres, marking a fresh change from Vassar’s usual DJ dance events. “[T]here were so many different kinds of music, and it wasn’t just the big like dance bands,” Batteau explained. “VC Trad [Vassar College Traditional, a group of musicians who learn and share traditional music] played, which was really cool, and there were tons of like smaller groups and stuff. I think it was just such a beautiful day to have all this different kind of music.”

The event was not only an opportunity for performers to share their music, but also to enjoy the talent of their peers. Performing bands could stick around after their performance and listen to the other groups, fostering a sense of community amongst the musicians. “It was the perfect mix of social event and music event. Because of the bigger space you don’t have the pressure of feeling like you have to focus on this the entire time because otherwise, you’re distracting the musicians.” Julia Maisel-Berick ’24, who plays in both Fowlmouth and Delia, said.

Musicians and audience members alike hope that this event will mark the beginning of a new normal, where good weather and student planning will allow people to enjoy music together. “I think events like this, especially ones that are put together by students, are really important right now, showing people that we can still have safe good COVID-safe events that are still really fun,” Batteau added. “And like I think live music is really important to a lot of people … At the end of the night a bunch of people were dancing up front and…it’s just really nice to see people together again.”

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