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The Dartmouth
May 23, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Singer-songwriters in the Upper Valley and beyond take the stage at Riverfolk Festival

Here In The Valley organized the second Riverfolk festival variety show on July 17 at Northern Stage in White River Junction, VT, co-hosted by Tommy Crawford and Jakob Breitbach.

riverfolk by chloe park

Where the White River pours into the Connecticut, in the valley between the Green and White Mountains, local artists Jakob Breitbach and Tommy Crawford came together for the second year to host the Riverfolk festival variety show. Held in the Courtyard Theater at Northern Stage in White River Junction, Vermont on July 17, the night featured local artists such as Breitbach and his wife, Jes Raymond, in a duo called Beecharmer. Other performers included two Dartmouth students comprising the band Ramblers & Co and traveling artists, including Guy Davis and the House Band. Presented by Here In The Valley, a music collective by Breitbach described on their website as a “home for live acoustic music and arts in the Upper Valley,” the show sold out both their 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. performances. 

The first production of Riverfolk occurred last year as a culmination of the idea by Crawford and Breitbach, along with the production and operational help from Raymond and Chris Billiau. 

“2022 was a big success. So we decided to come back for two shows in 2023,” Crawford said. “This year we got some community partners involved, and it feels like it got that much bigger and is growing.”

Crawford added that Breitbach noticed the audience was fractured and disconnected when he started hosting a few live outdoor events in his backyard at the tail-end of the pandemic. Breitbach’s initial goal with Here In The Valley was to begin building an audience for live music. Together with Breitbach’s strong network of musicians in the Upper Valley and beyond, Raymond’s visuals, Billiau’s operational skills and Crawford and his wife’s connections to Northern Stage as an actor and associate artistic director, Riverfolk was born.

The mission of Riverfolk is “a celebration of music and community…[featuring] Americana artists from the Upper Valley and beyond,” according to its website. 

“I think on the one hand, it's about giving local artists a platform to reach audiences,” Crawford said. “It’s also about building that audience… Can the relationship between the performers and the audience be symbiotic? Where the audience feeds off the music and the music grows with that audience?”

Andrew Brozek ’25 and Elijah Smith ’25 performed at Riverfolk as part of their band Ramblers & Co with Andrew Brancato ’26. Brozek said the students first connected with Jakob Breitbach through a Wednesday night acoustic jam session hosted by Here In The Valley in White River Junction. He added that Ramblers & Co had already performed at a few more casual shows with Breitbach before doing so at Riverfolk.

Similar to Crawford, Brozek said he doesn’t believe local musicians have a designated stage in the Upper Valley. He felt that it was especially tough for singer-songwriters, as the audience does not pay attention to unfamiliar songs.

“The point is that people hear your lyrics, and they listen, and that’s where the power of [original songwriting] comes from,” Brozek said. “So when you have these really talented songwriters like [Allison Fay Brown] and [Crawford] and put them in an environment where everyone is paying attention … it is beneficial for these community members to see that there is talent here and that there is beauty in … this style of music, which is very much alive in the Upper Valley.”

Dartmouth musicians, such as Brozek, inspire and excite Crawford, who hopes that venues and events like Riverfolk can bridge  Dartmouth and the community of musicians in the Upper Valley.

“Dartmouth has a huge population of people who listen to and go out to see music,” Crawford said. “The student body can be an integral part of the music scene in the Upper Valley, and it’s exciting that there is already a connection there. I’d love to continue and broaden that connection.”

Having enjoyed artists of the folk genre and taken MUS 3.03, “American Music: Roots and Revolutionaries,” Surina Prabhu ’24 bought her ticket for Riverfolk after seeing a roadside advertisement on a drive home.  

“The audience’s engagement with the artists’ songs felt very home-like and very safe,” Prabhu said, referring to sing-a-longs and call and response elements of some of the performances. “That speaks to the community of the Upper Valley and the value of live music as such a communal experience.”

Jamie Gregory, a White River Junction resident, walked five minutes to watch the festival as a “lover of live music” and as a live musician himself who has played with Breitbach and his community of musicians in the Upper Valley. 

“[Riverfolk] is a community of musicians playing in that community, which makes it so special,” Gregory said. “There’s a lot that this community [of musicians] has started … they planted the seed with last year’s festival, and they’re building on that momentum. You can tell how much they love playing together, and it’s infectious.”

Looking ahead, Crawford and his team hope to bring back Riverfolk again next year, and to continue to grow both in the short and long term. Community members might expect a multi-day festival in a few years, if not next year.

Crawford and Brozek highlighted playing with all the other musicians throughout the night, mentioning the big group number at the end of the show as one of their favorite moments. With some folks dancing in the aisles and others standing up and clapping along, both said they felt energized by the apparent love for live music. 

“[It] made me feel like we were doing the thing that we set out to do,” Crawford said.