MANSFIELD - Throughout the corridors of Mansfield High School, lively jam sessions and snatches of acapella music could be seen and heard during the 73rd annual New England Folk Festival on Saturday, the second day of the beloved event bringing people far and near for a groovy community spirit.
While the festival may not have been held outside in the chilly, damp weather, the warmth of the ambiance indoors seemed to permeate every area of the building, whether it was in the gymnasium, where square dancing lessons were held, or in the cafeteria with the craft show. Everywhere one could look, amid the kaleidoscope of colorful clothes and more than one pair of bare feet, musicians performed together in lively harmony and longtime friends happily greeted one another while making new acquaintances. Here and there, little celebrations of life, love and music took place.
"Wherever life takes us, we always come back to NEFFA," said Amy Cann of Westminster West, Vt. "I depend on this."
Cann was celebrating her "once a year friendship" with Jane Rothfield of Philadelphia, Pa., with a jamming session in a corner of the cafeteria. Both women brought their fiddles and created their own musical conversation with "Walker Street," a traditional folk tune, and "Long Dry Spell," which Cann wrote herself.
"There are so many traditions here that are personal to the people," Cann said. "I get to see people that I haven't seen for ages."
Many of those in attendance had driven upwards of two hours to play an hour set - without pay. The three members of T-Acadie, Jim Joseph, Pam Weeks and Bill Olsen, all came from Maine.
"At this festival, no matter who you are, you come here and play your set for free like everyone else," Weeks said. "We're all on the same level. A lot of (the festival) is about community."
Down the hallway from Joseph, Weeks and Olsen, Steve Friedman of South Hadley munched an apple while taking a quick break from the festivities. One particular aspect of NEFFA that Friedman enjoyed was the dancing, whether it was a tango, intermediate swing, or an English country routine.
"You could dance all day if you wanted to," Friedman said.
In one classroom, where the bistro was set up, Pat Cannon and Ted Rooney of Brunswick, Me. also took a moment to eat and relax.
Rooney claimed he loved "everything" about NEFFA.
"The people are great; they're nurturing, and there's no judgement here," Rooney said. "You certainly feel welcome here."
The couple, who have been married over a decade, both had their own favorite aspects of the festival, such as the dancing for Rooney and the music workshops for Cannon.
"It's a really accepting community, because all kinds of people show up," Cannon said. "And that doesn't always happen in our culture."