Margaret Milano, organizer of the Elm City Folk Festival, apologized if she seemed a little tired on Thursday night. She hadn’t had any coffee and was still at work. “I’m just getting excited for the weekend and hoping I get through that Cafe Nine 11-hour day.”
Milano was talking about the second day of the second annual Elm City Folk Festival, which takes place this weekend downtown and in Westville.
Saturday, April 16, features a full night of music starting at 5 p.m. at Lyric Hall, featuring Elison Jackson, Kindred Queer, Chris Bousquet, Rob Carlson and Benefit Street, Belle of the Fall, and Jon Schlesinger of No Line North. The front room of Lyric Hall will exhibit art by Emerson Milo, Jo Kremer, and Addison Thompson, and a performance by Chris Kiley and others.
Sunday, April 17, moves the festival over to Cafe Nine for a bursting roster that starts at 1 p.m. and goes until 11 p.m. Swamp Yankee, Olive Tiger, The Backyard Committee, Lines West, Podunk Throwbacks, Dudley Farm String Band, Michael Hunton, Frank Critelli, Glenn Roth, Anne Marie Menta, D.W. Ditty, and Bill Benson will all take the stage.
“There’s a lot of new faces on there — out-of-towners,” Milano said, along with well-known New Haven acts. “I tried to branch out more and bring people from farther away in. This year it’s more about trying to bring the community together, open minds up to the newer folks, diversify.”
Milano has found the umbrella of folk, as a term, to be big enough to handle it. “Folk is the original and things stem from it, so it’s all one root system,” she said. So while Elison Jackson, for instance, might call itself “stoner soul,” or a garage-rock outfit, Milano hears a “deep connection to folk. Their musical parents might not be folk, but their grandparents are.”
The year between the first and second Elm City Folk Festival marks some changes, including a bit of a shift in New Haven’s music scene toward shows that feature lots of artists on one bill, from the Elm City Noise Festival to the weekend-long marathon gigs to save the Space last summer to the Wobbling Roof Revue that took over March’s four Fridays at Never Ending Books. Milano welcomes the change. Aside from the fact that “the turnout tends to be higher,” she said, “it’s good to get everybody together.”
And Milano is slowly expanding the sense of what “everybody” means — and how often they get together. The first Elm City Folk Festival produced a bit of momentum that fed into Milano’s booking shows throughout the year. “Someone’s always looking for somewhere to play, and I’m always keeping my eye out,” Milano said. “A lot of people have reached out through the Facebook page, and even if it doesn’t work out, that’s not the end of the story. It’s more, ‘good to meet you, let’s see what we can do together.’” She booked 15 shows in March alone. “I don’t why I did it to myself,” she said.
With more out-of-towners knocking on the door, there’s a chance Milano will think about growing the Elm City Folk Festival in the future. But for now, a day and a half of constant music across two venues will do. The 11-hour day at Cafe Nine is “ambitious, but we can make it work. As long as you get the gear in and out at certain times, we should be comfortable.”
Milano will probably be having coffee that day, though. “I really do try to stay away from it,” she said. “But it helps.”
The Elm City Folk Festival takes place April 16 at Lyric Hall, starting at 5 p.m., and April 17 at Cafe Nine, starting at 1 p.m. Tickets are $5 for each day.