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GottaGetGon remains a local folk festival staple in Ballston Spa

GottaGetGon remains a local folk festival staple in Ballston Spa

"Don't let theory feel like something you have to know," said bluegrass artist Colin McCaffrey
GottaGetGon remains a local folk festival staple in Ballston Spa
Campers converge under a tent to play music at the 2019 GottaGetGon Folk Music Festival in Ballston Spa.
Photographer: Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

Folk music fans made their way into a shady warehouse on a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon, some even dragging their own lawn chairs, to claim a spot for an intimate concert with bluegrass artist Colin McCaffrey.  

"I think this is a good venue and a good weekend to do this song," McCaffrey said as he started playing to the audience that had gathered for his performance at this year's GottaGetGon folk music festival in held at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds in Ballston Spa.

The festival, a popular staple in the local folk community since 1970, is hosted by the Pickin' & Singin' Gatherin', a folk music club near Albany.

Organized by volunteers, the annual festival offers a variety of activities including camping, concerts, workshops and open mic performances from Friday through Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.

This year's festival featured a showcase for emerging artists on Friday, workshops that focused on harmony singing, tour life, gospel music and songwriting on Saturday and Sunday, and some a capella concerts at night on the camp grounds.

Along with McCaffrey, Patti Casey, duo William Pint and Felicia Dale, and the Piedmont Melody Makers, featuring Grammy nominee Alice Gerrard, served as headlining acts.

Festival attendance is not limited by age — older adults, young adults and families with children of varying ages could be seen spread across the campsite and festival grounds Sunday afternoon.

Nick Johnston of Albany, just one of many loyal festival attendees who attends year after year, was there with his parents and sister Sunday. He did more than just attend; he also volunteered, tasked with serving as one of the day's emcees. 

For him, the best part of the festival is not only hearing all the professional and impromptu performances, but being able to reconnect with people.

"It's seeing old friends, and meeting new friends too," he said. "Of course, all of the music is great, too."

Johnston's description of the festival being a tight-knit affair filled with folk experts was easily seen all over the campgrounds.

During McCaffrey's concert, people sat with groups of friends. Some attendees were knitting or doing other crafts while listening to McCaffrey. Yet, they would stop to sing along with the words of a song without having to stop to think about it. Parents listened to music as some of their kids rode bicycles around the camp grounds while other young friends braided each other's hair.

"You often see people just sitting around and playing," one festival goer sporting an older iteration of a GottaGetGon shirt said while waiting for a round of workshops to begin.

During the late afternoon on Sunday, Pint and Dale faced a smaller crowd of people in another warehouse on the campsite for their harmony singing workshop. The two started out by singing a rendition of the Irish emigration song "Green Fields of America," before addressing questions from the audience.

McCaffrey was involved in that workshop as well, and the three focused on showing that, even if someone lacks a musical education, making music is still possible. Folk music should be accessible to everyone, they said.

"How do you learn your part?" one audience member asked Dale, who was harmonizing with Pint throughout the song.

"I listen to him rehearse for hours," Dale said, gesturing to Pint. "Then I get a feeling for my part. It really depends on the emotional content of the song."

"Don't let theory feel like something you have to know," McCaffrey added.

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