Thousands gather for folksy time
By Charlie Breitrose / Daily News Staff
Monday, April 11, 2005

NATICK -- Normally dormant on weekends, the sounds of music and dancing flowed through the hallways of Natick High School this weekend during the 61st annual New England Folk Festival.

More than 1,000 performers and many more spectators descended on Natick High School to enjoy some folk music, traditional dancing and even join in a singalong or jam session.

The school's gym was filled with stomping square dancers, while in the hallway an Irish folk group fiddled out some tunes. The festival moved to Natick about 30 years ago, but started back when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.

"It started as a goodwill thing in the '40s," said Shelagh Ellman-Pearl, of Southborough, a member of the festival's executive board.

Although most of those attending the festival hail from New England, Ellman-Pearl said some people come from as far as the West Coast and Europe. "Lots of people come here year after year," Ellman-Pearl said. "It's almost like a folk performers conference."

Toby Balivet ventured down from his home near Danville, Vt., to sing with with the Pumpkin Hill Singers, an modern folk a capella group. "This is our first time here," Balivet said. "We're really enjoying it."

Attendees could choose from five concert venues and three dancing areas, plus dancers performed on a grassy area in front of the school. When not attending a performance, people could look at some of the hundreds of tables set up by artisans.

Kait Peck, 15, of Framingham, checked out some clothing with her friends.

"It is so cool. The crafts area is amazing," Peck said. "It's fun to go around trying on clothing and headdresses. Everyone is really nice."

This was Peck's first time at the festival, but some of her friends have attended for years.

"My mom takes me every year," said Molly Wexler-Romig, 15, of Framingham.

Leah Boylin, 15, of Holliston, was so young when she started coming to the festival she cannot even remember her first time. She watched one of the dancing groups Saturday morning.

"We went to the contra dancing," Boylin said. "It comes from all over -- a mix of different kinds of dancing."

Kim Perez of Hanover, N.H., traveled down with her daughter who performed with a Morris dancing group, which does traditional English numbers. "I'm having a great time," Perez said.

She particularly liked the events which invited participation.

"There are different music and dance sessions where people can bring along their instrument and play along," Perez said. "We were participating in an Irish singalong for families."

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