After a two-year pandemic hiatus, New Bedford Folk Festival looks to celebrate the big 2-5 with a standout lineup this weekend. The 25th annual New Bedford Folk Fest brings all facets of folk — contemporary to traditional, blues to Celtic — to seven stages throughout 11 downtown blocks Saturday and Sunday. Venues range from the 1,200-seat Zeiterion Theatre to intimate shows in Seaman’s Bethel. If you go, you’ll find food, drink, musician workshops, dozens of artisan vendors — and these five acts you shouldn’t miss.
Rush — a Harvard graduate who almost didn’t, thanks to the amount of time he spent at Club 47 — cut his teeth on the ‘60s Cambridge folk scene. A native of Portsmouth, N.H., “back when it was just sailors and hookers,” as he says, today the 81-year-old is a folk icon, pre-vaccine COVID survivor, and consummate performer. Cry during “Circle Game” but laugh during his stage banter. He might even tell you about the time he ate a pot brownie and saw Clint Eastwood get tackled.
A powerful new voice on the burgeoning Gen Z folk scene, Amador won NPR’s 2022 Tiny Desk Contest for her song “Milonga accidental.” Amador, 26, and her twin were born in Boston to Rosi and Brian Amador, lead members of Sol y Canto. Her recent EP “Narratives” features songs about “turning negative cultural narratives on their head . . . What if we created a world where rape culture and toxic masculinity didn’t exist? What if we envisioned a bilingual or multilingual life as a natural American story?”
They coined the term joie de vivre for people like Gambetta. The Italian is charming, funny, and a major bluegrass guitar talent. A native of Genova, what’s so wonderful here is his palpable and genuine love for traditional American roots. He’s played stages from Merlefest to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. His website sums it up nicely: “With America in his heart and his roots in the sun and the olive trees of the Mediterranean sea,” Gambetta “bridges the shores.”
Another live act who can make you laugh and cry. A poignant songwriter with a razor wit, Wheeler got her New England folk footing at Newport’s Salt, opening for Rush, Jesse Winchester, Jonathan Edwards, and she earned a cult following thanks in part to Boston folk radio. Her other claim-to-fame? She and wife Cathleen were one of the first gay couples to marry in Fall River.
A Gilbert show can feel like watching a comic do stand-up. He’s that funny (maybe performing 150 shows with George Carlin has something to do with it). The Philadelphia native cut his teeth on the ‘90 Boston folk scene. Then Shawn Colvin tapped the ex-multicultural arts teacher for her national tour. Since then, he’s shared stages with icons like Aretha Franklin and Arlo Guthrie. For a taste of his smooth vocals and songwriting chops, listen to two classics: “Old White Men” and “Unfamiliar Moon.”
NEW BEDFORD FOLK FEST
July 9-10, downtown New Bedford, various locations. $40 single-day pass, $50 weekend pass, children under 12 admitted free. For a complete schedule, go to www.newbedfordfolkfestival.org.