This year marks the 64th annual Kutztown Folk Festival - the oldest, continuously operated folklife festival in America. Held at the Kutztown Fairgrounds June 29 to July 7, this week-long festival continues to draw visitors from all over the world, entertaining families while providing insight and understanding of the traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch and their fascinating way of life.
In the summer of 1950, three of America’s leading folklorists presented the first of the Kutztown Folk Festivals, using a unique hands-on approach to let “outsiders” experience firsthand what it means to be a part of a Pennsylvania Dutch family. Key to the event’s success was the ability of the “Festivals Founding Fathers” to organize the area’s local citizens and coordinate their participation in the Festival. It was not actors, but the actual Pennsylvania Dutch natives that were demonstrating their everyday way of life.
Nearly 25,000 people descended on Kutztown that first year. What started as a four day showcase during the 4th of July week, quickly grew to nine days drawing well over 130,000 attendees. Not only do multiple generations of the same families continue to present and participate at the Festival, likewise, multiple generations of attendees visit the Festival each year.
Today at the Festival one can still find traditional craftsman demonstrating their skills and tools that helped build this great country. Farming and folklife demonstrations abound throughout the grounds. The phrase “eat till ya ouch” still has great meaning as fabulous examples of Pennsylvania Dutch foods continue to tempt the visitors. The sounds of square dancing jiggers and folk music fill the air, while children try their hand at many of the activities geared just to them. Of course, the pageantry and symbols of the Pennsylvania Dutch culture such as quilts and barn stars still continue to catch the eye of all who attend.
Through the years, the Kutztown Folklife Festival has had to change and adapt to the changes in society. Today, children’s activities abound and admission is free for children 12 and under. For the ladies, the Festival now houses the largest quilt sale in America and has an internationally attended Quilt Auction of its top prize winning quilts. Today a visitor experiences more music, more entertainment, more fun and far less work than they would experience in a Pennsylvania Dutch household. But the purpose of the Festival is still fulfilled, as evidenced by the blend of continued participation by the local Pennsylvania Dutch community, as well as many of the foremost experts and scholars of this fascinating microcosm community of America. This unusual nine-day festival had been featured twice in National Geographic, and has been called “one of the most unique Festivals on the East coast” by the Washington Post, and with good reason.
The Festival takes place June 29 through July 7. Visit the website at www.kutztownfestival.com or on Facebook - www.facebook.com/kutztownfolkfestival.