The National Folk Festival
An exuberant traveling festival that celebrates the diverse cultural expressions of 21st-century Americans, the National Folk Festival is produced by the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) in partnership with communities around the country. In 2019, the National celebrated its 79th year in Salisbury, Maryland.
Since it was first presented in St. Louis in 1934, the National has celebrated the roots, richness, and variety of American culture. Championed in its early years by Eleanor Roosevelt, the Festival was the first event of national stature to present the arts of many nations, races, and languages on equal footing. Some of the artists presented at the first festival are now legendary and the recordings and other documentation made possible by the National are precious. “Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy’s first performance on a desegregated stage was at the 1938 National. It was also the first to present to the public musical forms such as the blues, Cajun music, polka bands, Tex-Mex conjunto, Peking Opera, and many others.
The National’s three-year stay in each host city is intended to lay the groundwork for a sustainable, locally produced festival that continues after it moves on. Including Salisbury—where the Festival will be in residence from 2018 through 2020 (postponed to 2021)—the National Folk Festival has been presented in 29 cities. Musicians and craftspeople from every state and most U.S. territories have participated in this “moveable feast of deeply traditional folk arts.” Presented to audiences free of charge over three days, National Folk Festivals have drawn audiences of 100,000 to 175,000 annually since 1987.