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Feature: Fall Folk Fest 2015, the Finale

By Devon Hannan, Contributor

“Incredible. This is the testament of the power that music brings,” Haden DeRoberts said after a quick conversation about one of our favorite places, Bonnaroo. After reflecting upon my interview with the creator of Athens’ own Fall Folk Fest, I wondered if he knew that he was doing exactly the same thing as the beloved 500 acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee--bringing people together for a common cause. His own festival has served as a metaphor for the “power that music brings.” Not only has Folk Fest featured and supported many talented local bands, but it has also raised thousands of dollars for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, a cause that DeRoberts has been supporting since his own battle of Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Uniting people who share a love of music isn’t as easy as it seems. Much time and preparation go into creating a festival of this size and success. Fall Folk Fest originated in a small backyard in the not-so-small town of Columbus, Ohio. DeRoberts started the festival when he was still in high school. It stayed in Columbus for his freshman and sophomore years in college, but it eventually found its permanent home in our very own Athens.

DeRoberts was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Lymphoma in late 2011 and was told that the only chance of recovery was a vital bone marrow transplant. One of his favorite bands, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, was touring in Columbus and paid him a visit and played an entire set in his hospital room. It was after receiving an anonymous bone marrow transplant on that same day as his visit from the band that he decided to bring his festival to Athens.

“This is where it gets weird,” DeRoberts said. “I went to Bonnaroo the following year and saw their set. During the final song, Alex was handing the mic to random people to tell their story. He didn’t know it was me at first, but then there was a moment of recognition. I was lucky enough to be pulled on stage and tell my story to 30,000 people.”

He is currently in his final year at Ohio University as a part of the BSS program. He has been creating a major called “Nonprofit Music Festival Management.” Pretty fitting, right?

Folk Fest is done completely “DIY” and relies on donations and support from the community to continually put forth an awesome experience. In only one month, Fall Folk Fest’s GoFundMe has raised over $1,100. After costs of production, DeRoberts plans to donate the rest to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. All of the proceeds raised from t-shirts will go directly to the cause. DeRoberts also works with Love Hope Strength, another nonprofit that gives people a chance to become marrow donors and ultimately save lives. Love Hope Strength works with many concerts and festivals, as well as individual artists, to try and find matches for donors by swabbing.

Since Fall Folk Fest’s original installment, the number of contributors and attendees has grown dramatically. This year it is expected to be the largest turnout yet. When asked how Folk Fest has gotten so popular in Athens, DeRoberts replied, “We tend to reach out to Facebook and maybe post a few flyers at Jackie O’s a week or two in advance. There is almost a demand for it. At this point it almost promotes itself!”

Returning band Near Hills said, “Haden knows what type of festival he wants since he created it, so he has planned for the type of acts he wants to perform. In addition, he understands what people want to hear from the fest, thus attracting the largest amount of people.” The band also salutes DeRoberts for his strategic organizational skills. “This is perhaps the most uplifting, benefitting, and responsible festival this campus sees each year. Haden is essentially organizing everything and we are just excited to be a part of it.”

Attendees from far and wide with different majors alike flock to the fest’s scene each and every year. A long-time friend of DeRoberts, Francie Taylor, made her first appearance at Fall Folk Fest on its debut in Columbus. “It’s so funny to think about,” she said. Taylor is now the mastermind behind the 2015 t-shirt design, a very important aspect as the t-shirts generate most of the money donated to the causes DeRoberts chooses.

The 2015 lineup for Fall Folk Fest includes a few reoccurring acts, such as Beluga Whale Rescue Team, Blond, Near Hills and many more, as well as new acts. Much of the lineup features local, acoustic-based bands and acts, hence Fall “Folk” Fest. The full lineup can be found on the fest’s Facebook page. These acts are known to evoke a love for twang among the audience and bring friends together over harmonic chords.

To folk-lovers delight, DeRoberts will be extending the fun of folk fest to the Friday (Oct. 16) before the official Fest as well. The preshow will be held at 52 Franklin at 8 p.m. and feature five more acts. The additional night of Folk Fest is bittersweet, however, because DeRoberts is graduating from Ohio University this year.

DeRoberts has been claiming that the 2015 Fall Folk Fest is on its last legs with his departure. Six years of music and hard work may have to come to an end. Despite his claims, when asked about the final incarnation he replied, “We’ll see.”

Along with many fans, bands have also expressed their sorrow for the possible ending to the incredible event. “I may get a little emotional,” Jamie from Near Hills says, “But I am also excited for how much energy will be stirring in the backyard of the Smithsonian; so much energy that I (hopefully) won’t even think about anything heartbreaking.”

With that being said, fans, acts and even DeRoberts himself plan to make the most of Fall Folk Fest’s final endeavor. “This has been huge. It’s definitely the mark that I’ve left on Athens, and, in turn, it has left a mark on me.”

This year Folk Fest will take place Saturday, Oct. 17 at 28 Smith Street at noon.

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