Arcadia Folk Festival strives to be a model of environmentally friendly musical events


If there was ever a suitable year for a music festival designed to raise awareness of environmental issues such as climate change, 2022 is it.

After months of weather-related disasters all over the world, the Arcadia Folk Festivalwhich takes place on September 17 in Easthampton, aims not only to bring people together to listen to a variety of acoustic music, but also to serve as a model to show how a festival – an event that typically generates piles of trash and uses tons of energy – can be managed along sustainable lines.

The festival, a co-production of Signature Sounds and Mass Audubon now in its fourth year, will take place at Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. As in previous years, the lineup includes a mix of regional music musicians and others from elsewhere, plus a range of environmental and nature education activities, including craft projects for children.

This year’s festival is punctuated by a new folk group, Bonny Light Horseman, whose self-titled debut album was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2020. Members Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson and Josh Kaufman have all enjoyed success , including Mitchell, a Vermont native who turned her 2010 album “Hadestown” into an award-winning musical of the same name. Mitchell, who also performed at the 2019 Arcadia Festival, won a Tony Award that year for Best Original Score.

For his part, Kaufman, a multi-instrumentalist, has played with musicians including Taylor Swift, Josh Ritter and Bob Weir and produced albums with some of them. Johnson, another multi-instrumentalist, is a singer-songwriter and the founder of the folk-rock group Fruit Bats.

Bonny Light Horseman’s music, a mix of traditional British folk arrangements plus a few originals, “is hauntingly beautiful,” says Peter Hamelin, Music Director of Signature Sounds and Producer of Arcadia Festival. “Their album really got me through this first year of the pandemic.”

Also on the lineup this year are local heroes Cloudbelly, Kimaya Diggs, Heather Maloney and Carrie Ferguson, along with a number of other artists with ties to Signature Sounds: the multifaceted string band from New England Twisted Pine, rising soul singer Ali McGuirk and Californian singer-songwriter Sunny War.

McQuirk will soon be releasing his debut album with Signature, “Til It’s Gone,” and Maloney released his first live record earlier this summer on the label “No Shortcuts | Live at the Academy,” a record recorded at the Academy of Music in Northampton a few years ago, and Bonny Light Horseman will release their second album in October.

“We catch some of these artists at an exciting time in their careers,” Hamelin said.

Hamelin also says the festival likes to feature musicians who share concerns about climate change and other environmental issues and are trying to find ways to reduce their own impact on the environment. “We like working with artists who appreciate what we’re trying to do with the festival, and I think we’ve done pretty well,” he said.

Music and sustainability

Jonah Keane, director of Connecticut River Valley Shrines for Mass Audubon, notes that the Arcadia Festival “is not just an opportunity to hear great music in a beautiful setting, it’s also a way to show that we can organize an event like this in a sustainable way.”

For example, power for the sound system comes from on-site solar panels that Arcadia uses to generate electricity for its own buildings and programs. If bad weather limits the amount of electricity that can be drawn from these panels, Keane notes, electricity can be drawn from other renewable sources through the Green Energy Consumers Alliance.

Solar power has been a component of past Arcadian folk festivals, but this year other green components have been added to further reduce the event’s footprint – and to address the larger issues of climate change.

For example, food vendors are only selling plant-based products this year, Keane says, an acknowledgment that meat production is a big producer of greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

“We’re not trying to say you have to say goodbye to meat or cheese,” he said. “We just want to give an example of things that can be done at a grassroots level to reduce our emissions.”

Additionally, to make the festival a “zero waste” event, food vendors will serve their produce with compostable or reusable utensils and tableware, and no bottled water or pre-packaged food will be sold. Tap water will be available and participants are advised to bring their own water bottles and take away any litter they may generate, such as hikers in a wilderness area.

Keane says the Wildlife Sanctuary and Signature Sounds are also encouraging people to bike to the festival if they can (Arcadia is located near the Manhan Rail Trail), in part by providing free valet parking. from the festival to the music stages about half a mile away. About 200 attendees cycled at last year’s festival, Keane said, and organizers hope to increase that number to 300 this year.

The festival started in 2018 in part to mark Arcadia’s 75th anniversary and to draw attention to the work it does year-round as a wildlife sanctuary and center for environmental education. Hamelin says it was unclear at the time if the festival would become an annual event, but its popularity has since convinced Signature Sounds “that we’ve really struck a chord with this – we want this to continue”.

The festival also served as an important fundraiser for the Arcadian Sanctuary. Last year’s festival drew 1,500 people and raised $25,000 for the center, Hamelin noted, “and this year we’re hoping to increase that to $35,000.”

Participants are encouraged to walk the trails of the sanctuary, and this year there will be another incentive to do so. In addition to the two main stages of the event, a third, smaller one has been added in the woods along a path, and the artists and the program will be announced there at the start of the festival.

Another thing: the Arcadia Festival 2022 passes the torch to a young generation of musicians. One of the performers is Louie Phipps, 10, from Northampton, a singer and songwriter who plays ukulele and guitar. In early 2021, Phipps released a album which, with the help of his father, he recorded with input from a range of professional players here in the valley and elsewhere.

Phipps, a fifth year pupil at Bridge Street School in Northampton, will perform at Arcadia with support from Valley musicians Anand Nayak and JJ O’Connell.

“Louie is the real deal,” Hamelin said. “I think he has a great musical future ahead of him.”

For more information on the Arcadia Folk Festival, visit

Steve Pfarrer can be contacted at [email protected]


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