KUTZTOWN — The 70th Annual Kutztown Folk Festival, held June 29 to July 7 at the Kutztown Fairgrounds, promotes and celebrates PA Dutch culture, food and entertainment.
“I think it’s one of the most wholesome, organic, unique festivals in the country. The authenticity of it, the Pennsylvania Dutch culture on display, all of the artists, all of the participants are all real folks doing what they love and that just shines through to our visitors and that is why we get so many repeat visitors year after year,” said festival director Steve Sharadin.
An average of 130,000 people visit the festival each year and attendance is estimated to either reach that number or more this year.
Carol and Terry Schwartz from Pleasant Mount, Pa., brought their grandkids Brody Rickard, 2, and Parker Fontain, 3, to the festival, traveling two hours to get there. For the kids, their favorite part was playing in the hay bales.
“We like everything about the festival, the food, the people, the atmosphere; it’s just a nice festival,” said Carol.
USA Today ranked the Kutztown Folk Festival second in the country as one of the top two cultural festivals in the country.
“A real big honor for us,” said Sharadin. “I think that is truly an example of 70 years of dedicated people — all of the participants, all the organizers, all the different organizations that are involved, entertainers. It takes a family to put this festival on and that certainly shows through.”
The Kutztown Folk Festival is known for its Pa Dutch food, such as dried apples and ham in sweet gravy at Oma’s Kitchen, pickled fruits and vegetables and smoked meats at the Farmers Market, Dutch Fries at the Kutztown Lions Club food stand, and blooming onions at the KASMA stand, as well as sausage sandwiches, bratwurst, chicken and waffles, and, of course, funnel cakes.
“We always say eat until you ouch and a lot of folks take us up on that,” said Sharadin.
Another big part of the event is the entertainment.
“This year we stepped out of the box with our entertainment,” said Sharadin.
On the Main Stage, Philly Brass Band opened the festival performing upbeat tunes complete with their 10-foot-long alpine horn. Daily performances by Germany’s own New Platz band made an appearance at the festival on their trek across the Atlantic as part of the cultural exchange “Wunderbar Together, Germany and the U.S.”
Also performing is swing band favorite Crash Gorden & Debra Dynamite on Friday night and country band Steel Creek on Sunday.
Toad Creek Duo performed on the Hoedown Stage with Keith Brintzenhoff from Kutztown on autoharp and Ken Gehret on the fiddle. Brintzenhoff also provided musical entertainment at the Children’s Stage. Both included Dutch humor.
“We try to do a lot of local tunes. One, the Kutztown Reel, is from the 1800s so it’s an old song,” said Brintzenhoff. “One of my favorite parts (of the festival), because I’ve been doing this over 30 years, is seeing friends I only see once a year because they come from all over the place.”
Brintzenhoff said one of the reasons the festival was voted 2nd in the country is because there is a lot of activities, a lot of demonstrations and educational presentations. He noted that the terms PA German and PA Dutch are both correct, explaining that Dutch is historically correct and PA German is linguistically correct.
Crowds filled the Hoedown Stage multiple times a day to see the Miller Family dancers. The dancers are all relations of hoedown caller Lester Miller of Kutztown who has been calling at the festival since the 1970s. Lester’s grandmother sold the first funnel cake at the Kutztown festival in 1950.
“The kids are energetic … everybody enjoys it,” said Lester.
Some come just to see the hoedown, “They come year after year to see it.”
Educational programs happen all throughout the week.
Patrick Donmoyer, director of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University, gives a presentation daily on barn art and hex signs of the PA Dutch.
“At the Seminar Stage, you’ll hear different speakers from a variety of backgrounds talking about the arts, the culture… offering a little bit about the Pennsylvania Dutch culture, their little slice of the culture,” said Donmoyer.
Several PA Dutch writers presented their poems, prose and stories, reading their work aloud at the Seminar Stage.
“This is to highlight the fact that we still have around 40,000 people in this area who still use PA Dutch as a day-to-day language. There are about 400,000 all throughout the United States using the language. We’re just a small part of that,” said Donmoyer. “We’re very happy to be here and we’re very happy to be able to share this information with the public.”
Donmoyer said the demonstrations and artisans are very important as a way of putting the traditions on display but the presentations also give the educational background.
“It’s a real important way of being able to engage the folks who are coming to the festival, who want to see the culture but they also want to learn more,” said Donmoyer.
“The festival was founded 70 years ago and one of the key aspects was promoting the culture,” said Sharadin, who personally has been involved with the festival since childhood. “Throughout the festival you’re going to see different folklife displays, educational displays. We have the seminar stage going throughout the day. There’s so much to do here and the cultural aspect, the educational aspect is still alive today here at the festival.”