Old Songs fest back with music, art, learning

— Photo from Old Songs

Musician Reggie Harris will hold a workshop on the code songs that once helped runaway slaves navigate the Underground Railroad.

ALTAMONT — The Helderbergs will be alive with the sound of music this weekend, as the Old Songs Festival brings together a wide variety of musicians, artists, and crafters at the Altamont fairgrounds to celebrate folk art in all its forms.

From June 28 through 30, attendees will be able to enjoy live performances from artists around the world and participate in workshops that involve different artists collaborating together on a theme or teaching a particular skill, like rope or broom-making. 

“This year, we have someone who’s making cigar-box ukuleles, and for the cost of the material, you can make your own ukulele,” festival director Joy Bennett told The Enterprise this week. 

But what really distinguishes the festival is the community atmosphere that develops out of this collaboration, and is sustained in part by the shared living space of the many attendees who camp on the grounds for the weekend. 

“This is not the huge, gigantic, 20,000-people festival,” Bennett said. With attendance usually somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500, it has “more of a family feel.” 

“There are pockets of the fairgrounds where people just gather and jam,” she said. 

The festival has a dedicated space for particular kinds of jams — whether it be a cappella or Quebecois music — that are led by performers, but some will happen in “little nooks and crannies” on the grounds, Bennett said. Some campers have even coordinated their bookings so that they can be close together and have “little jam parties.” 

In a world that can feel very exclusive, Bennett said, the festival is an oasis of acceptance. 

“There really is something for everyone here,” she said, “from the very young to the very old — or the young at heart, as we like to say.” 

There’s a dedicated family stage and children’s activity area where kids can do lots of different arts and crafts. 

Musician Reggie Harris, who is holding a workshop on the code songs that once helped runaway slaves navigate the Underground Railroad, told The Enterprise that the way the festival is organized makes it easy for attendees to drift from one workshop to another and pick up on lots of different offerings. 

“It’s really quite unique to festivals around the country in the way that the whole program is presented, and also the size,” he said. “It’s not a huge area.” 

For those who may want some help getting around, Bennett said that there’s a six-seat golf cart that makes its way around the festival so people can hop on. 

A week out, the weather forecast shows moderately high temperatures with a chance of rain on Saturday. Bennett said that much of the programming is inside and that outdoor performances will be moved inside if necessary. 

Although there will be water stations and the option to buy bottled water from vendors, Bennett advises attendees to bring their own for convenience. 

And cash is always handy, she said, but most vendors accept card payments. 

Bennett said it’s important to her that the experience for attendees is low-stress and enjoyable all the way through so that they — as she has — become lifelong attendees.

“My personal thing is I want people who come here for the first time to never miss coming back, because of the way they’re treated, because of the feel of the atmosphere, because they feel their kids are safe here,” she said. 


The Old Songs Festival will be held Friday, June 28, through Sunday, June 30.  Events start at 1 p.m. on Friday and end at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

Tickets can be single-day, combo days, or all-festival, and with or without camping. Without camping, the adult ticket options range from $60 to $175. Children, seniors, and students receive a discount. Tickets may be bought at the gate, online at festival.oldsongs.org/tickets, or by phone at 518-765-2815.

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