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Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton
Photograph: Julia Williford

The best acts to see at Brooklyn Folk Festival 2016

Here's what to look out for—including flying banjos—at this year's always-fun Brooklyn Folk Festival

Written by
Tolly Wright

The three-day Brooklyn Folk Festival, happening Friday, April 8, to Sunday, April 10, at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity church in Brooklyn Heights, hosts 30 bands representing American genres including bluegrass, ragtime, jazz, country, gospel and blues music, as well as traditional styles from all over the world, like Arabic maqams, flamenco and music for Afro-Colombian percussion and Ethiopian krar (a type of lyre). Between afternoon and evening sets, attendees can join in on the fun with activities like square and swing dancing, and workshops to learn to play ukulele, banjo and fiddle. Those who already know a few licks can try their luck in the harmonica-playing contest. And no musical training is required for the banjo toss, wherein participants throw the stringed instrument, tethered to a rope, as far as they can into the Gowanus Canal. If you’re worried about canal goo, don’t—tossers are given plastic gloves to stave off any communicable diseases, and the winner gets their very own non–canal-drenched banjo to take home! As you prep your banjo-tossing arm, here are the acts you won’t want to miss at the festival.

RECOMMENDED: See our full guide to the Brooklyn Folk Festival

Best acts at Brooklyn Folk Festival 2016

Michael Hurley
Photograph: Sarah Taft

1. Michael Hurley

A legend in the folk world, self-taught singer-songwriter Hurley has been spinning yarns with his cracked, seductive voice since the early ’60s. The septuagenarian can play the guitar, fiddle and banjo, but you can best hear the complexities of his storied life in his haunting yodels and howls. Friday, April 8, at 9:30pm
Spirit Family Reunion
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

2. Spirit Family Reunion

When this young Brooklyn outfit comes together, it’s nearly impossible to stop your feet from stamping. The sextet’s fiddle, banjo, guitar, washboard and twangy harmonies combine for an earthy, transporting sound that avoids the mass-produced feel of some other neofolk bands. Saturday, April 9, at 9:15pm
Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton
Photograph: Julia Williford

3. Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton

It seems impossible that Paxton’s soulful, deliberate renditions of bluegrass and early jazz tunes are the product of a 27-year-old Los Angeles native. Even at his young age, the talented multi-instrumentalist—who is legally blind—seems destined to make a name for himself as a modern interpreter of old-time styles. Saturday, April 9, at 10pm
Radio Jarocho
Photograph: Courtesy the artist

4. Radio Jarocho

Though the band may be based in New York, Radio Jarocho’s sounds are authentic to the rural towns and countryside of Veracruz, Mexico. Playing traditional son jarocho music, which blends Spanish, Afro-Caribbean and indigenous Mexican sounds, the group skillfully utilizes uncommon regional instruments such as the jarana jarocha (a ukulele-like guitar with eight strings) and the marímbula (a type of wooden thumb piano with metal plucks). Saturday, April 9, at 11:30pm

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