‘Handmade and homemade’: Brooklyn Folk Festival returns

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BROOKLYN HEIGHTS, Brooklyn — It’s the longest running folk festival in Brooklyn history and it’s back this weekend after a pandemic pause in 2020. 

One of the headliners was Nora Brown. She’s only 16-years-old, but Brown’s been performing at the Brooklyn Folk Festival for four years — a quarter of her life.

The Crown Heights eleventh grader already has two albums out, and she’s obsessed with playing old-time and traditional American music on her claw-hammer banjo. 

“It’s a community, this folk festival,” Brown told PIX11 News. “This community introduced me to the old-time music that helped me become the musician I am today.”

More than 24 musical acts are performing at the 13th Annual Brooklyn Folk Festival at Saint Ann’s Church. It’s a wildly eclectic mix, from poets to Ukrainian Village Voices to Klezmer music.

“Folk music is something that always existed and always will exist,” festival organizer Eli Smith said. “It’s the music of people, of communities. It’s homemade and handmade.”

Last year’s folk festival went virtual and this year’s return is a scaled back version. There’s smaller crowds and no dancing, but the same infectious energy. 

“I think we have the nicest people,” Lynette Wiley, executive director of Jalopy Theatre, said. “They come here because they want to connect with something real. It’s different. We’ve always had very little space between the audience and performers and there’s a real warmth.”

A new — and somewhat bizarre — event returning to the weekend-long festival is the banjo toss into the Gowanus Canal.

Last year, because of COVID-19, it was turned into a video game — but now it’s be back with real live people doing the tossing. The world-famous event takes place Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Gowanus Boat House.

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