This year’s Spruce Peak Folk Festival, Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 10 and 11, has a lineup that spans the scope of contemporary folk music from veteran performer Shawn Colvin, to a duo with a growing following, The Milk Carton Kids, and newer acts who you will probably meet for the first time. Organizers have included two Vermont artists, Francesca Blanchard and Lowell Thompson, to complement the more nationally known performers.
Headlining the two-day, six-act festival is Shawn Colvin. The Milk Carton Kids are perhaps the best known of the three bands, with Mipso and Parsonsfield, two talented bands that will be new to many attendees.
What is refreshing about this festival is that it lacks the frenzy of a typical festival. With just three acts per day, spaced 90 minutes apart, and a closing act that takes the stage at 7 p.m., attendees won’t have to rush between stages, nor worry that they’ll be stuck in a post-concert traffic jam well past bedtime. The evening performance ends just around sundown.
Saturday begins with the Vermonter, Blanchard. Her singing has evolved a bit since the release of her 2015 debut album “deux visions,” a folky bilingual homage to her bicultural upbringing. She grew up in France in a bilingual home, later moving to Vermont. She’s moved from French-American folk to indie-pop. An attractive performer, her first album was well received by Vermont reviewers and she has become a frequent performer at local concerts.
Mipso follows Blanchard. This quartet hails from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, which has fostered this indie Americana quartet. The band has five albums to its credit. According to its website, Mipso has been “influenced by the contradiction of its progressive home and the surrounding rural southern landscapes.” It has been hailed as “hewing surprisingly close to gospel and folk while still sounding modern and secular” (Acoustic Guitar), and was recently recognized by Rolling Stone as an “Artist You Need to Know.” The band has taken its string-band origins and Appalachian traditions into classic folk-rock and modern alt-country sounds.
Saturday’s headliners are The Milk Carton Kids, the duo of Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale. These two singer-songwriter-guitarists have been twice nominated for a Grammy in the indie-folk duo category. In listening to them one is struck by their resemblance to the early Simon and Garfunkel. Their harmonies are tight and their songs emotive and intelligent. Their two acoustic guitars complement each other with Ryan an excellent lead player. With three albums to their credit, their second Grammy nomination was for best American roots performance for “The City of Our Lady” in 2016. Their first album, “The Ash & Clay,” received the 2014 Grammy nomination for best folk album, the same year that The Milk Carton Kids were named the Americana Music Association’s duo/group of the year.
Sunday’s lineup starts with Burlington’s Lowell Thompson. Seven Days calls him “a young tunesmith transformed into a true artistic force.” Big Heavy World says Thompson is, “the most genuine sort of musician out there.” Rolling Stone magazine calls his music “inspired alt-country.” He has appeared with Graham Parker, Justin Townes Earle and Dawes. His latest effort, titled “Stranger’s Advice,” is being met with critical acclaim. “Tom Petty-ish rock and Americana with a fondness for the sounds of acts such as Nick Lowe or Big Star,” wrote the Burlington Free Press.
Parsonsfield, praised for making “the most jubilant and danceable indie roots music this side of the Carolinas” (NPR), is a folk-rock outfit known for its rich harmonies, vibrant songwriting and energetic live performances. They perform at 5 p.m.
The band hails from western Massachusetts and is known for “their rowdy live performances,” “(that) give you rich five-part harmonies one minute … then rock you over the head with unbearably cool and raucous Celtic rhythms.”
Their second album, “Blooming Through The Black,” got raves from American Songwriter, which wrote that the album captures “the live energy the band has come to be known for.” WNYC Radio says, “Parsonsfield’s music draws on the string bands of Appalachia. They also like to crank up the amps and pin your ears to the wall.”
The final set of the festival, at 7 p.m., will feature Colvin, the veteran singer-songwriter. In the nearly 30 years since the release of her debut album, Colvin has won three Grammy Awards, released 12 albums, maintained a non-stop national and international touring schedule. Her first album, Steady On, won the Grammy Award for best contemporary folk recording.
Colvin came to New York City to join The Buddy Miller Band in 1980. In 1997 she reached the Top 10 at Top 40 radio and won the top honors of Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 1998 Grammy Awards with “Sunny Came Home,” from her breakthrough, platinum-selling album “A Few Small Repairs.”