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Appel Farm Arts and Music Festival:: Music and The Spirit of New Jersey

Recap and photos by Richard Uznanski and Louise Uznanski for Ontapblog.

A partial John Gorka rendition of his song about being a ‘New Jerseyan.’


Driving through the green fields of Salem County on the way to the Appel Farm Arts and Music Festival in Elmer, New Jersey, one does not expect to find a music venue gem like Appel Farms amongst the bales of hay and newly plowed fields that are found in the deep southern part of the state. It’s a wide open glen with art and sculpture covered buildings that belie its location. Entering its twenty fourth year of operation, and sponsored in part by the University of Pennsylvania based radio station WXPN, Appel Farms Festival combines the best examples of art, music, food, arts education and friendship hosted by a tight knit group of tireless volunteers.

The music stands by itself. Presenting the artistry of the greats in years gone by, the two stages, The Grove and The Meadow, vibrate with overwhelmingly good talent and performances that touch all ages who for twenty four years have come together to meet the first Saturday in June for a New Jersey tradition.

Thankfully the weather made all the pieces fall into a perfect day. High temperatures and humidity did not dampen the exhilaration of moving from stage to stage for each performance and grabbing a gyro, a handmade craft or seeing a sheep shearing. It was the best of New Jersey in a single spot for a single day.

Standing in the line waiting to enter the festival, we spoke with a man who attends several WXPN festivals throughout the summer. He gave us his opinions on the artists we would see. He told us to not miss Caravan of Thieves, John Gorka and Colin Hay. And, he was right.

Caravan of Thieves was a surprising musical find.  Comprised of four pieces, the band brings their gypsy-jazz music and their animated stories to the stage. Trading in their regular instruments to play plastic and metal buckets with kitchen utensils such as wire whisks, the band exudes joy and it’s all about having a party . The group had a large and enthusiastic crowd early in the day. Songs from their albums Mischief Night and The Funhouse brought a communal feeling and their personalities set the tone for the rest of the festival. Our new friend was dead-on with this tip.

Brandi Carlile was this year’s festival headliner. Brandi is a talent who should not be underestimated. Her following of loyal fans was in full force during her set and made for a rousing close to the festival. She is a talented singer, guitar and piano player and a formidable leader of her three piece band. Her fellow band members, who look like pillars or tall bookends around the lead singer, are identical twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth. Their 2012 album Bear Creek landed in the Billboard Top 200 Album chart with a Top 10 ranking. Brandi’s set was a performance that stole the show. Saturday was Brandi’s birthday and she was presented with a special flute of champagne to which she asked, “Is there a bottle that goes with this?”

Colin Hay was a member of the successful Australian group Men at Work who had big hits with Down Under and Who Can It Be Now? in the ’80’s. Credited with eleven solo albums since the band broke up, Hay is known for his songwriting and storytelling around the world. His voice is strong as he changes up some of the band’s hits. His guitar playing was on par with the strength of his voice. He delighted the lawn full of admirers and stayed and played to a packed house well over his allotted time. We know we enjoyed his performance but his stories in between each song were more than worthwhile as well.

John Gorka is a musical troubadour and icon of folk music with many years and many words of wisdom that flow from his songs. Performing alone with a few simple guitars, Mr. Gorka strummed and sang to a fully engaged audience who seemed to have heard him many, many times before. These were four of our  favorites of the festival, for sure, and rounding out the festival was the following:

Delta Spirit, a hard working rock band whose 2012 self-titled album reached number 1 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart, provided the diversion from folk music the younger fans who clung to the barrier by the stage were seeking. Delta Rae released an album a year ago titled Carry The Fire and have been touring their American pop/Gospel/bluegrass sound and writing in the studio with Lindsey Buckingham. Low Cut Connie features New Jersey’s Adam Weiner who plays piano often while standing up or crouching on the piano stool. Bringing to mind a young Jerry Lee Lewis, Weiner and his band mates bring real rock-and-roll to their audiences. Joe Crookston is a folk artist who says he hates folk music unless it is Joe Crookston’s folk music. Pleasant and entertaining, Crookston was accompanied by Peter Glanville, a local musician. Completing the bill was Iris Dement, a traditional country music singer-songwriter; Aoife O’Donovan, who has just recently gone solo and is known for her strong vocal ability; Brother Joscephus and the Love Revolution, combines the sounds of New Orleans, rock-and-roll and classic rock.

Individually, the festival had music for everyone.  As a whole, the festival goers found music they would not have considered before and found that there was nothing they did not enjoy. That is what being in the farmlands of southern New Jersey does to you especially when you go to Appel Farm Arts and Music Festival. You are filled with a spirit and music is the driving force. All are accepted and enjoyed. All are greeted with reverence and joy. And the gyros and sheep shearing add that extra special touch. Looking forward to more next year and hoping for another perfect day of music and sunshine.

Festival Photo Gallery includes 24 images of the artists, the audience and the day!

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. ontapblog #

    Love it, Louise! Thanks so much for sharing the fun. I’m still chuckling over the New Jersey song, “It’s like Ohio, but even more so, imagine that!” Too, too funny, and if you’ve traveled the New Jersey Turnpike, then you can totally relate to some of these lyrics.

    I truly appreciate all the work that you put into capturing and then sharing the memories, the music and the photos. Thank you!

    June 5, 2013
    • ontapblog #

      Our pleasure. It was a fun, fun day. Next year will be my third festival. Looking forward to seeing who is performing and what great food I can eat.

      June 5, 2013

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