Inaugurated in 1998 as “a way to fill a bad booking weekend,” according to the Club Passim website, the twice-annual campfire. festival has become a flagship offering for the Cambridge folk-music institution. Presented on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, the festival takes a new approach to a perennial problem. Instead of trying to book conventional shows, Passim mounts a homey assemblage of acts — both durable draws and emerging talent — while blurring the lines between participants and audience members. Performers swap and share material, and bystanders inevitably get pulled up onstage to participate.
The result is surely one of the best illustrations of a communitarian spirit that’s still alive and well in the contemporary roots-music scene. But while campfire. is meant to be an immersive experience, the notion of sifting through more than 50 acts over the span of four days might prove daunting for some. To help the cause, we’ve picked 10 acts worth seeking out during this year’s Labor Day campfire., which starts on Friday night, then runs from noon to late-night hours on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
The Suitcase Junket
Friday, 7:45 p.m.
Not everyone can pull off the one-man-band gambit without lapsing into shtick, but Amherst’s Matt Lorenz has it all down to an art: He accompanies his soulful vocals and earthy guitar with rattletrap percussion and throat-singing flourishes, but the songs are what you remember.
Friday, 8:30 p.m.
A fixture on New York City’s Lower East Side indie-rock scene, Cambridge native Noam Weinstein matches a patient observer’s keen eye to the sharp ear of a classic songwriter, recalling celebrated troubadours like Cat Stevens and Harry Nilsson.
The Meadows Brothers
Saturday, 1:15 p.m.
Hailing from Chester, Conn., singing guitarists Dustin and Ian Meadows prove that roots music is an unending resource, turning early influences gleaned from the Band and Gillian Welch into an engagingly twangy sibling sound all their own.
Sunday, 3 p.m.
An award-winning singer who rose from a calamitous injury to claim her creative life, Kate Callahan has garnered an appreciative audience with her easygoing vibe and inspirational, at times mystical lyrics.
Sunday, 5:15 p.m.
One of Boston’s best-loved contemporary-folk treasures, Jennifer Kimball made her mark initially as half of the Story; on her own for a decade now, Kimball has upheld the standards of elegance and heartfelt emotion that initially charmed her many admirers.
Sunday, 5:15 p.m.
A fine clarinetist known for his work with Miss Tess, Alec Spiegelman boasts an enviable range: On any given night you might hear him gutting ’80s pop with sax duo Ronald Reagan, blowing brainy jazz with the Bebop Trio, or singing originals with the avant-folk orchestra Cuddle Magic.
Sunday, 8:15 p.m.
Dietrich Strause is a Passim favorite, a singer-songwriter whose roots dig deep into Americana’s loamy soil, and are fed with thoroughly contemporary supplements. The results, as heard on his latest album, “Little Stones to Break the Giant’s Heart,” are both timely and timeless.
Sunday, 9 p.m.
Originally trained in opera but numbering Carole King and Ani DiFranco among her influences, this fast-rising Cape Ann native plies her plush, well-supported pipes in songs that cut to the heart, her bell-clear tone breaking into a growl over roiling guitars and drums.
A sublime instrumentalist who plays the acoustic blues on a 1929 National steel guitar laid flat on his lap, Lloyd Thayer complements his estimable instrumental skills with a gritty, lived-in voice and an eclectic taste that extends from Delta blues to modern hip-hop.
The Sea the Sea
Monday, 9 p.m.
It’s fortunate that the Sea the Sea, the duo of Chuck e. Costa and Mira Stanley, is playing close to the end of campfire. You get to go home blissed out by the combo’s rich, sweet harmonies, with songs from its recent debut LP, “Love We Are We Love,” stuck in your head.Steve Smith can be reached at email@example.com.