The Sorcerer raised up the two shining silver rings. He spoke softly, but we could still hear him above the rhythmic pounding of the drums through the trees:
“Everything in our world may appear to be separate and disconnected,” he told us, “but a wizard’s ancient secret is that everything is —”
As if by magic, the two silver rings were suddenly interlinked —
The kids gaped at Cyril the Sorcerer, the returning fan-favorite at the children’s corner, as he continued to use magic tricks to educate them about the delicate balance between humans and the earth, and especially the necessity of preserving our water supply. A wizard teaching children about environmental stewardship might be an unusual sight for some, but it was not out of place at this year’s annual Connecticut Folk Fest and Green Expo.
Sep. 13, marked New Haven’s 26th Folk Fest and 14th Green Expo, a large annual event where people gathered from noon to evening to enjoy Folk, Roots, Americana and other genres of music, as well as to learn about and support local nonprofits and organizations that promote environmental sustainability. The festival is organized by CT Folk, a nonprofit dedicated to furthering music and environmental initiatives in Connecticut and the surrounding region. It supports new talent and developing work and celebrates those who make meaningful contributions to their community or environment.
“The mission of CT Folk is to … educate, entertain and inspire a diverse audience through music and conversation, and we also would like to create a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable community,” said the festival director of CT Folk Fest and Green Expo, Nicole Mikula.
These converging desires led to the marriage of Folk Music and Green Expo, a pairing that may not seem intuitive to some, but “seems so seamlessly hand in hand when you’re in it,” Mikula added.
The festival was held in the beautiful Edgerton Park, a little over a mile north of Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin colleges. It is perhaps unfamiliar to Yale students who more often venture up to East Rock or down to the New Haven Green, but Edgerton Park is well worth a brief bike ride up Science Hill. The park is a fitting example of the natural beauty that the Green Expo seeks to celebrate and protect. Even as summer draws to a close, the park’s landscape shines lush green grass, shady trees and a greenhouse bursting with plants. A large stage dominated one end of the field where a colorful array of local and visiting musicians performed their sets before a crowd of people who had brought blankets, lawn chairs and children who jumped and danced to the music. The other side was covered with dozens of tents housing every kind of craft and initiative.
Thalia Pitti, an assistant at the festival, said that “part of folk music’s history, especially recently, includes activism.” She was pleased that the festival preserves the connection to environmentalism.
Jesse Terry of the Jesse Terry Trio, a musical performance group at the festival, agreed that the combination makes sense because many artists and singer-songwriters are concerned about the environment and change, and playing music is a way of bringing people of different backgrounds together.
“I hope that people come away from it more educated, more involved — including myself,” he said.
Harry D’Agostino of the band, Upstate, another performer at the festival, said that he hoped that the Folk Fest and Green Expo would encourage understanding and respect between the attendees and in the community: “Musical events at their best foster that sort of solidarity among the broadest mix of people.”
Along with Jesse Terry Trio and Upstate, the festival also featured performances from the Grassy Hill Songwriting Competition, Plywood Cowboy, Open Book, Auguste & Alden, Goodnight Blue Moon, Alternate Routes and headliner Martin Sexton, who was given the Artist of the Year Award by the National Academy of Songwriters in 1994. The festival was a stop on his tour that will take him to multiple European countries later in the year.
Opening the festival was Professors of Bluegrass, featuring Yale’s very own President Peter Salovey on the upright bass. The band, formed in 1990, is composed of Yale faculty members and other members of the Yale community who love Bluegrass music, a form of American Roots music. According to Salovey, Professors of Bluegrass had performed at the Connecticut Folk Fest five or six times. Salovey himself, in fact, used to serve on the advisory board for CT Folk.
“We really love the combination of Folk music, the Green Expo and highlighting ways to be more friendly to the environment,” Salovey said.
He explained that the festival is a fun way for lovers of Bluegrass to reaffirm and energize their passions, but even those who are not ardent fans will probably hear something they will enjoy.
Apart from music, the festival also featured 10 food trucks and over 40 exhibitors and artisans. Several of New Haven’s favorites, including Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant, Libby’s Italian Ice, Elm City Kettle Corn and P&M Fine Foods Neapolitan Pizza with its own fiery, portable brick oven, were represented. People lined up for a treat starting early in the morning of the festival.
Despite the crowds of people and vast array of food trucks, the organizers, true to their mission, prided themselves on being zero-waste. Visitors were encouraged to carpool and bring their own bottles to fill at water stations. Mikula said that last year’s 12-hour festival left behind only two bags of garbage, with everything else separated into compostable or recyclable material.
Vendors from all over the area participated in the festival. Their tents purveyed a dazzling array of items: pottery, wood carvings, skin-care, solar energy solutions, festival t-shirts, henna body art, clothing, scented candles, jewelry, organic and fair-trade coffee and artworks. An apron hanging near the front of a tent was emblazoned with the slogan “Eat More Kale” and many signs declared that their products were homemade, small batch or organic.
Multiple vendors came to raise awareness for various initiatives, including an animal welfare organization, Connecticut Votes for Animals, which makes it its mission to support animal welfare through political choices and works to pass pro-animal legislation. Another company, called Metamorphoses, repurposes and decorates thrifted objects with mod-podged ephemera to promote recycling goods.
The festival also highlighted Homebound Publications, an independent publisher that strives “to ensure that the mainstream is not the only stream” and “to preserve contemplative storytelling.” It is also committed to ecological stewardship and prints on paper with chain of custody certification.
A highly popular sector of the festival was the Green Kids Village. Children were invited to play music, work with local singer-songwriters in the Acoustic Corner or take part in a drumming circle. They embraced their artistic selves by learning to paint on canvas, creating innovative art with squirts of paint and acting with shadow puppets. Kids practiced their “downward dog” with Full of Joy Yoga & Mindful Yoga Breaks and spun around in hula hoops with Bring the Hoopla, an educational fitness organization that makes its own hoops by hand.
Cyril the Sorcerer, a wizard complete with hat and robe, delighted children with his environmental magic. Cyril is the alter-ego of CJ May FES ’89, a Silliman College fellow. He planned, implemented and coordinated Yale’s recycling efforts for over 20 years, creating the position of recycling coordinator in the process.
“Humans and water — they are connected. And it is a very, very close connection indeed. But people, they often forget. People forget that we need clean water to drink, to raise our crops, to grow our animals, to run our factories and our power plants and to keep each of us healthy,” he said.
The Connecticut Folk Fest and Green Expo as a whole was a celebration of everyday magic — the magic of nature and music and the hope that the combination of the two might create something special.
“The goal overall,” Mikula said, “is ultimately igniting positive change, and that’s through music and through sustainable living and through our community.”
Claire Zalla | firstname.lastname@example.org