The 65th annual Kutztown Folk Festival opened Saturday, immersing visitors into the Pennsylvania Dutch culture.
At the seminar stage, Dr. Bill Donner, Kutztown Folk Festival Cultural Director, said in 1950 Dr. Alfred Shoemaker, Dr. Don Yoder, and Dr. William Fry wanted to have a way to display their culture, show their culture, and have someone display what it was that they knew.
“First of all, in 1950 it was actually an innovative idea to have a folklife festival like this,” said Donner. “In 1950, there were a lot of people who still had worked in a traditional farming system. People who knew about plowing with horses, people who still made fences, people who did traditional cooking techniques, people who still did traditional kinds of activities around the farm and they got these people to come to Kutztown and display what it was that they did.”
Donner said the Folk Festival became the model for other places around the country including the Smithsonian Institution when it wanted to establish a folklife ceremony.
The Kutztown Folk Festival, held at the Kutztown Fairgrounds, runs until July 6 with new extended hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The festival will close at 5 p.m. on the final day. The festival drew crowds to Kutztown on opening day for a variety of reasons.
Barry Helverson and his wife, Rebecca, Lenhartsville, said they come for the food, the atmosphere, the people, and things for their kids such as the petting zoo and the crafts.
Ryan Woodruff brought his family from Allentown to the festival for the first time.
“We’re looking forward to having a good time, something for the kids to experience and see, the pony rides the kids are looking forward to and good food and entertainment,” said Woodruff.
Generations of the Miller family from the Kutztown area square danced around the hoedown stage entertaining for all ages.
Abigail Pitman, 11, danced in the kids group called, schnickelfritzes (Pennsylvania Dutch for mischievous child).
“It’s really fun. I just love to dance,” said Pitman. “We do it every day four times a day.”
The Miller family has been entertaining audiences with fast steps and twirls for 50 years. According to Marge Miller, some of the members competed and won ribbons in state competition. Some of the dancers started when they were still in diapers.
“22 great grandchildren and 15 grandchildren is what he [Lester Miller] has,” said Linda Rutherford, Lester Miller’s daughter. “So he’s been starting all those and then their siblings, their children, their children’s children have all started dancing.”
Rutherford said Lester has been involved with the festival committee from the very beginning.
“I thought it was interesting how they moved so fast to the music,” said 9-year-old Julia Blake.
Julia’s mom, Pamela Blake, said, “We love watching the crafters when they actually do their craft so you can watch them and learn how they’re doing it. They’re always eager to tell you how they’re doing it.”
Pamela particularly liked the sawdust dolls, while Julia liked the wool weaving.
Stephen and Danielle Beyers, New Jersey, have been coming to the festival for 14 years and each time go back with arms loaded with purchases. They were sampling different wines from Pinnacle Ridge Winery, Kutztown.
“It’s all the homemade stuff and the quality of everything that everyone makes whether it’s wine or home goods,” said Danielle Beyers.
They planned on taking back Christmas ornaments, statues, wine, popcorn, food, a quilt, and something from the meat market.
Attendees tried to take in as much as possible from food to crafts to entertainment. If they missed any of the day segments, they were sure to catch a variety of acts during the new evening hours when the performances put on throughout the day culminated to a Grand Ole Opry of sorts. Dave Kline organized a series of performances to bring back memories of traditional old-time favorites such as Hee-Haw’s well-known song, Where O Where Are You Tonight? PFFT You Were Gone.
“We had presidents of the United States singing this song, and movie stars and big shot people so don’t be shy,” said Dave Kline. “If you think you’re going to be embarrassed, just close your eyes and don’t look at the people staring at ya. Even amazing people like Roy Clark did this song. Your part in this song is, PFFT.”
“The Grand Ole Opry is a whole bunch of various types of acts in short segments instead of one or two acts for an hour or hour and a half. We’re going to have a lot of different people here, different kinds of comedians, dancers, singers, and so on all in short segments kind of like a variety show,” said Keith Brintzenhoff, Kutztown storyteller and musician.
Brintzenhoff performed for all ages at the festival. He had kids joining in on sing-along-songs, and laughter at his anecdotes in between songs on the Opry stage.
“At one time in my life, believe it or not, I was also a child,” said Brintzenhoff.
Brintzenhoff said that kids love the audience participation.
“We just love the entertainment. I’m 51 and we’ve been coming since I was knee-high,” said Josette Chaffier, Roseto, Pa.
Leroy Brown along with Bill Meck did a segment of Pennsylvania Dutch dialect humor. Brown also gave an account of his life during a seminar at the festival. Having graduated from Kutztown High School, Brown spent 10 years in the Navy during WWII and the Korean War. After his discharge, he settled down to a routine life of marriage, work, and raising kids, but he said he is the kind of person who likes to be busy and so began to teach about Pennsylvania Dutch at no charge.
“All my teachings, I do for nothing,” said Brown. “Nobody pays to teach Pennsylvania Dutch. We run about six schools in the area. We used to run about 12 of them, but the problem is we can’t get teachers that want to work for nothing. Everybody wants to get paid. We just don’t do that in the Pennsylvania Dutch teaching.”
According to the festival’s website, key to the event’s success was the ability of the festival’s “founding fathers” to organize the area’s local citizens and coordinate their participation in the festival. These were not actors, but actual Pennsylvania Dutch natives demonstrating their everyday way of life. Donner said one of the ideas that Shoemaker and Yoder had was to be proud of your heritage, to be proud of being Pennsylvania German.
For more information about the Kutztown Folk Festival, go to http://www.kutztownfestival.com.