Updated: Sep 17, 2019
The National Folk Festival returned to Salisbury for the second year in a row, drawing in crowds from all over the state and country.
The festival, which lasted a total of three days (Sept. 6-8), celebrated different cultures with music performances across seven different stages, food stalls including American classics, fair specialties and dishes from around the world. The weekend brought in a marketplace for traditional crafts, local businesses and more.
Salisbury hosted the 79th year of the National Folk Festival, which is the oldest celebration of traditional culture and diversity in America. Salisbury will host the National Folk Festival for one more year before a new host city is chosen, after which Salisbury will hopefully carry on the tradition without the support of the National Council for the Traditional Arts.
The buzz from the festival filled Salisbury’s streets with busy traffic and crowds all weekend, to the point where empty parking spaces around the festival area were far and few between.
As international students who have only been in the United States for a matter of weeks, the Salisbury Folk Festival was the first time we got to experience such a wide variety of American culture in one busy place. The scale of the event seemed to bring the entire community together into the quaint area of Downtown Salisbury. Among American cuisines, such as smoked turkey legs, deep-fried Oreos and deep-fried everything else, were dishes and vendors seemingly from all over the country, and even further.
Richard Bearman, coordinator for information booths, described Salisbury and the Lower Shore as “fantastically fortunate that they chose us for this incredible community builder because it impacts our community in a stunning way.”
The folk festival has become an incredible source of revenue, highlighted by the fact that this year, the information booths had pamphlets featuring local businesses. This incredible marketing opportunity did not exist the previous year, as Bearman explained.
The seven stages were placed logically across Downtown Salisbury, all within safe walking distance of one another. They hosted a variety of music from American country and Gospel performers, Mexican mariachi bands to traditional ethnic music all the way from Croatia and China. There was no lack of variety among all seven stages, including a family area and stage, a community stage, a Maryland Folklife stage and more.
With festivals as large as these, there is always the question of waste management and safety, something which seemed to be addressed quite adequately by the organizers. One of the first things that caught our eye was the more-than-abundant numbers of police officers moving around the event. They seemed to fill the role of both security and guides, answering any and all questions that the festivalgoers might have.
Despite a large number of visitors both last year and this year, Sgt. Tyler confirmed that most incidents are “minor medical problems, usually not police related.” He agreed the festival had “great economic impact for Salisbury and the surrounding area by bringing in a lot of people.”
Scattered all around the festival area were several groups of enthusiastic volunteers that could be easily identified by their bright orange shirts. Many of the volunteers were in charge of the environmental aspects of the event, giving advice to people on what to recycle, what to toss into compost and what goes to general waste. As was expected, a number of the volunteers were Salisbury University students.
We spoke to a group of passionate environmental majors from SU who were volunteering at the festival and were in charge of just that — guiding people on sorting their waste. “It’s really important to separate things the right way, because there really is no ‘away’ when you throw something away, it always ends up somewhere,” said sophomore Michael Caldarola.
Salisbury has a large number of university students who brought even more fun and variety to the crowds. “It gets students to go out, see new things, try new foods, listen to different music we aren't listening to at parties. It really broadens your horizons and gets you out in the community,” said SU sophomore Annie Geitner. She continued to explain, “It brings attention to the area and brings everyone together.”
As another successful year of the folk festival passes, the community is impacted in a positive way economically and culturally. Bearman spoke ambitiously on behalf of the volunteers at the event regarding years to come, saying, “We will be on our own, and I think it’ll be wonderful.”
By ABBEY MCKENZIE and JOONAS ALLIKSAAR
Featured photo from Edwin Remsberg.