A LOOK BACK IN HISTORY: The Kutztown Folk Festival is right around the corner, literally

At right is Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker, the founder of the Kutztown Folk festival. at left is  Hex Sign artist is Milt Hill.
At right is Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker, the founder of the Kutztown Folk festival. at left is Hex Sign artist is Milt Hill.
Lester Miller calls the hoedown, note the Mennonite girls viewing from front row.
Lester Miller calls the hoedown, note the Mennonite girls viewing from front row.

Our Kutztown Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Festival has long portrayed regional folkways that were always called “Deitsch” (Dutch), not German. A vernacular transferred here by ethnic sub-cultures living in the 18th Century Rhine Valley, though their actual ethnic lineage was German, Swiss, or French, regardless of the Rhenish tongue they spoke; but collectively and accurately known as the Pennsylvania Dutch and proudly! Us, these, native PA Dutch are a very religious lot and extremely principled people. They were among the nation’s first defenders in the American Revolution and Civil War, but strikingly, as Americans during World War I and II, they fought against Motherland Germany as a distinguishingly separate people sticking with their American ideas over and doing away with elitist Germanic ethnocentrisms.

Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker, the founder of this highly celebrated and attended Kutztown Folk Festival (in 1950), steadfast in our Americana PA Dutch Culture, also enlisted in the United States Army as a Counter-Intelligence Agent combating Adolf Hitler during World War II. In doing so, he realized like many Americans of shared lineage how different our 17th Century Rhineland natives were, from those living in the horrific period of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Shoemaker was captured and became a Prisoner of War, but remained sympathetic of all parties involved, and never carried a loaded gun during the entire war. Instead, Alfred vowed to himself to celebrate the humanitarian folklife society of our ethnic Rhineland immigrants who had fled to America to avoid inhumane ethnic cleansing, as he witnessed in World War II, under Adolf Hitler.

Manifested by the hundreds of thousands of native PA Dutch descendants living in the peace loving PA Dutch Country today are examples of our deep-seated frontier belief in the modern principles of the United States Constitution, where their successful farming skills have long continued to prosper and support the nation and World Peace. And as the mass media began informing the American public-at large in these mid decades of the 1900s about our region and the unique, delectable, contemporary Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and age-old ethnic folk practices still followed, it became apparent that the bilingual Pennsylvania Dutch were still practicing their folklife within the confines of modern society, thus drawing tourists to our “PA Dutch Country” to experience for themselves our rich cultural heritage. And in those summer months when nuclear families travelled more together in experiencing America, it was perhaps the yearning for simpler times and the spirit and allure of country folk dancing in farming regions of America that once bound our nation together, calling out to those desperate to unwind from the stresses of work in an advancing society.

Here in the Dutch Country, meanwhile, it was with the utmost pride that native Plain farming Peoples of this rural countryside expressed their inner joy of living in America by vigorous hoe downing. During this time in the 1970’s, at the height of a more traditional PA Dutch festival when the Kutztown Folk Festival fame had become a household term in our modern nation, this folk dancing captivated sophisticated urbanites. Metropolitans from New York City and other urban centers crowded the Kutztown Fairgrounds to experience for themselves hoedown demonstrations and “free for all” folk dancing on the Kutztown Folk Festival Commons in these years, continuing well into the 1980s. As a hectic New York business world, where competition was on the edge, a diversion such as folk dancing at Kutztown’s Festival was a therapeutic answer to this anxiety. Today, however, and since the 1990s, only hoe downing demonstrations are witnessed at the annual event with occasionally a volunteer asked to participate.

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But perhaps the most unique treat for the Auslander (outsider) remains and even the local, hard-working farm hand is in the Dialect, “Drechter Kuhca,” or affectionately known as Funnel Cake. For both groups- locals and tourists, Viola Miller introduced us all to this regional treat at the historic Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Festival held at Kutztown since 1950, and continues to be one of the most sought after foods at the festival in addition to authentic birch beer and sarsaparilla specialty drinks. The Kutztown Folk Festival remains one of the nation’s biggest draws boasting crowds of 120,000 visitors annually eager to partake and celebrate with us locals in our unique cultural heritage.