READY TO TAKE a bite of the Appel? The Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival, that is.
For headliners, it has the hottest rock 'n' soul/jazz 'n' blues-tinged jam band on the road this summer: the 11-piece-strong Tedeschi Trucks Band, fronted by the amazing belter Susan Tedeschi and the drop-dead-great guitar jamming of hubby Derek Trucks.
Also on tap Saturday: the funkiest old timey ragtime trio on the planet, Carolina Chocolate Drops, as well as the most harmonious and bittersweet California folk-rock ensemble. Dawes (think a young Crosby, Stills and Nash crossed with Jackson Browne) and the punchy piano pop of Philly's own Jukebox the Ghost will warm the day.
You can also anticipate a slew of smart acoustic strummers — including country star Rodney Crowell, Cheryl Wheeler and Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek fame).
Yeah, all will be on hand (plus more) on Saturday for the Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival — the best little one-day summer music festival in the Delaware Valley.
Gotta drive a bit off the beaten track to get there, but really not that far — over the Walt Whitman Bridge to New Jersey then a half-hour into the farmlands of Elmer. Or, if there's still a seat left, you might be able to get there on a chartered bus, leaving from (and returning to) Fergie's Pub on Sansom Street. There's ample free parking close by, and easy strolling through the mostly flat, 176-acre spread, also used for a couple of months each summer as the esteemed Appel Farm Arts Camp.
The first festival was staged to celebrate the overnight camp's 30th anniversary, recalled festival chief Sean Timmons. He got in on the ground floor, helping to plan the first fest, after landing at Appel Farm as a visiting camp counselor from Dublin, teaching photography. "This will be festival [No.] 23. We took off one year in 2009, at the onset of the recession, when people were cutting back and there were some questions about arts funding. But since we've been back, attendance has steadily been on the rise, and advance sales for this year's festival are running ahead of the last."
Apart from its good-music-for-everybody mind-set, the Appel fest's charm lies in its manageable scale — not too big, not too small, just right. If not easily distracted, a day-tripper can move from the shadier Grove Stage (this year exclusively hosting acoustic acts) to the open-fielded main stage in five minutes.
But be forewarned: On the way you'll be strolling past an expanded children's crafts and entertainment area (underscoring Appel's now-year-round commitment to arts education) and through a field of booths devoted to a juried craft show and food vendors. The latter also includes a beer-and-wine tent, a welcome and profitable addition to the fest three years ago, focused on the craft work of the Flying Fish Brewery in Cherry Hill and the Salem County-based Auburn Road Vineyard and Winery.
"We've thought about expanding the festival to multiple days," said Timmons, "and other promoters have inquired about leasing the site for a bigger festival. There's no shortage of space here, if we wanted to let people camp out. But then we'd have to create amenities to take care of them and change our relationship with our neighbors, who have always been very welcoming to the festival as we have it set up. The headliner act [Tedeschi Trucks] goes on at 6:30 p.m. and will be done by 8:30 p.m. So people get back to their cars and out safely before it's dark. And there's never been trouble with the crowd we attract."
Which is not to say that the Appel team doesn't have ambitions to grow, in other ways. At the beginning of April, a nonprofit group running the Landis Theater in Vineland, signed a deal for the Appel Farm staff to take over management and programming of the 700-seat Landis, renovated to the tune of $10 million two years ago. "They'd been struggling to make it all work," said Timmons. "There's also a 250-seat ballroom and a full restaurant [Morey's] in the complex. Instead of hiring an executive director and marketing staff, they're essentially outsourcing the operation to Appel. We officially take over in September and start programming in October."
All those singer-songwriter and jazz shows normally at the Appel Farm theater (usually twice a month, year-round) will be relocated to the Landis, said Timmons, "and we'll also bring in other kinds of music and touring theater, to make it more of a performing-arts center."