What is The Great Groove Band?

Old Songs Festival director Andy Spence has supported the program from the start: “Fiddle tunes provide an opportunity for the players to share the thrill of making music with friends, playing for dancing and just for fun! In the relaxed atmosphere of the Festival, Groove Band members keep the traditions alive, meet new friends from distant places, and begin the process of passing the music on.”

Donna Hébert developed this long-running performance program with Andy Spence at the Old Songs Festival in 1998. Mary Lou Troy and Fred Kaiser added the program to the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 2006, where it has its own distinct personality.

School-age musicians (ages 4-17) bring acoustic instruments and voices to both festivals. In six hours of focused rehearsal over three days, they experience the joy of music – learning, arranging, and performing fiddle tunes and folk songs by ear.

Working cooperatively as a band, they prepare three numbers for a Sunday afternoon performance on the main stage. The band’s transformation from chaos to harmony is both remarkable and predictable, proving that music truly is our birthright!

“One of the most emotional moments in the 50th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival for me came when a crowd sang along to the only real national anthem this country ever deserved, Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” performed by a group of children whose parents were longtime festival goers.” John Swenson: Music on My Mind, 8/24/11.

Who plays in the Great Groove Band?

Singers and players aged four to seventeen are welcome. The group averages 40 participants at each festival and many members come back for years, often with friends in tow. ALL ACOUSTIC instruments (we mean all – voice to violin to xylophone, harp to horn) are welcome. All levels are also welcome, so if you’re coming to the festival with a friend, bring them, too! Every single child, regardless of skill level, has a part to play. Even if it’s the simplest part, we’ll help them find it.

Sight-reading music is optional. We post the year’s program online in the spring with audio files for ear-learners, song lyrics and music notation. But even if you miss these, we teach everything at the festival, so don’t let that stop you from joining the band. We don’t use sheet music on the performance stage, though the rhythm section sometimes tapes their chord charts on the floor like the pros.

We want them to be a band, have eye contact, communicate with each other and the audience. This is not a recital. Teachers play with them onstage and our rhythm players support the performance. We all played with our mentors as young people – that’s how we developed the traditional repertoire and styles that we teach.