In spite of the cold and the rain, the first Brown University Folk Festival brought an eclectic mix of musicians, Brown students and Providence locals to Sayles Hall on Saturday. The all-day music festival was organized by a group of folk fans in collaboration with the 2012 Class Board, the Creative Arts Council and the Brown Department of Music.
After shaking out their umbrellas, visitors to the festival bought samosas and baked goods from local food vendors — regulars at the Wriston Farmers' Market — and sat in on or joined a jam session with local musicians. Others took part in the live music contra dance in the main hall or ventured over to Wilson Hall to hear a series of local singer-songwriters and bands.
After attending a Connecticut folk festival organized by a friend, Providence resident Jonathan Cannon '08, who put together Saturday's program, realized he could create a similar event at Brown to share his love of folk music.
"I got hooked on contra dancing, like, four months ago, and it's tremendous amounts of fun," Cannon said. "It's music that's incredibly varied, participatory, and (it) builds community better than a lot of music."
Building a community around folk music was an important part of the day for Cannon and many of the other artists, organizers and attendees.
"Brown students are mostly unaware of the what kind of folk music is around us in Providence, or Rhode Island or even in New England. It's really great that we've made this vibrant culture of music more accessible to Brown's campus," said Gail Rosen '09, a member of the group behind the festival.
Even though there is a thriving and diverse music scene in the area, many of the attendees were thrilled to be a part of the community the festival created on Saturday.
"Providence has a lot of good music, but you really have to look for it," said Daisy Frabell '11, who attends contra dances at Brown but has been looking for a way to get more involved in the folk scene. "So I think it's good to bring them all together in a venue like this so that you can hear things and find things you might not otherwise."
Cannon is currently taking a year off to teach music at the Wheeler School before entering a Ph.D. program at Boston University because, he said, he wanted "to commit some time to music" before starting graduate school.
After working with friends still at Brown, Cannon created a group and the Student Activities Office connected him with the 2012 Class Board, which was looking to collaborate on an event that would bring the Brown and Providence communities together, said Imani Tisdale '12, the board president.
As the day went on, the number of Brown students increased, but the main audience throughout the event seemed to be mostly local musicians and local families.
Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies and Anthropology Marcy Brink-Danan came with her two young children.
"We all like music, dancing and moving, and this was a perfect place to come as a family to do that," she said.
With his banjo on his back, lifetime Little Compton resident Ralph Bodington said he heard of the festival "though the grapevine" and came hoping to play some old-time American music.
"The folk scene in Rhode Island is a little insular," he said. "I think an event like this will be really great in expanding and diversifying the entire music scene in Rhode Island."
This influx of enthusiasts from the community was one of the exciting aspects of the day for some Brown students.
"I like dancing, but there's only so much frat-party dancing you can do," said Rosen, who also attends Brown contra dances. She said she hopes events organized by the folk festival group will improve connections with the greater Providence community.
"I like that, even though it brings in members from the Rhode Island and Providence community, you can still go by yourself or with friends and join right in with a kind of dancing that's non-sexualized and very welcoming," she said.
Frabell thought the Folk Festival was "a great counter to the upcoming Spring Weekend stuff. (It) helps students remember you are part of a world outside of Brown."
On Saturday, this outside world was represented by 13 bands, with local singer-songwriters sharing space with successful bands from Vermont, Maine and New York.
Hannah Devine, the 2008 winner of the "Rhode Island Idol" competition, was invited to perform after meeting Cannon through a mutual musician friend. She played a series of indie folk songs accompanied by local musician Alan Bradbury. After traveling around Ireland last year, Devine is back in Rhode Island playing a monthly cabaret show at AS220 and hoping to put a band together.
"This venue is great because a lot of people I wouldn't normally perform for are here," she said.