Kutztown Folk Festival Now Welcomes the Next Generations of Visitors
From a few hundred curious visitors more than a half century ago to an annual attendance of well over 100,000, this is part of the story of the Kutztown Folk Festival, recognized as the longest continuing folklife festival in America as well as one of the finest anywhere.
The folk festival’s colorful history dates back to the summer of 1950 and since that time it has grown tremendously in the number of programs and events that are offered as well as in attendance.
It’s a fact that generations of families have attended the festival - the children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren of persons who attended in the 1950's are now among our visitors! Today’s visitors come from far and wide - from all over the United States and from several foreign countries as well, thanks to the favorable publicity about the Festival in national media.
But let’s get back to our beginnings. In 1950 life was a lot simpler. Television was a novelty and computers were unheard of. Locally, an automobile ride into the country might be family entertainment on a Sunday afternoon. This could mean going just beyond the Reading or Allentown city limits, perhaps taking a drive to Kutztown. It was in Kutztown that a group of local farmers and educators banded together to produce an event that was unlike anything done before – a festival that would explain the life and customs of the Pennsylvania Germans (“Pennsylvania Dutch”) and also provide some wholesome entertainment for visitors.
They chose the fairgrounds in Kutztown, PA as the site for their festival – then a modest size show with just four tents of basically agricultural and Pennsylvania Dutch cultural exhibits and held over a period of five days. It was small, but visitors sensed that it was special - educational as well as entertaining and they began to return year after year.
As attendance grew, the festival expanded and new programs were added. For instance, the festival’s display and sale of fine hand-made Pennsylvania Dutch quilts is now the largest of its kind anywhere, and our quilt sale is one of the largest of any type to be found in the nation. The quilt auction on the second Saturday of the Festival is attended by hundreds of bidders from throughout the northeastern states.
Our craft exhibitions represent the expertise of the nation’s finest folk artists specializing in early American and Pennsylvania Dutch creations, some of which are available only at the Festival and all of our craftsmen demonstrate their skills in front of their audiences.
Our music, clog and hoedown dancing, and six stages of entertainment set the tone for good times. Our children’s programs have become bigger and better – with unique old-fashioned rides, puppet shows, and an animal barnyard that kids just love.
But we keep close to our roots. We have kept the spirit and the meaning of the first festival held over a half century ago. Sheep shearing, a community quilt on which everyone can sew a patch and the wonderful 4th of July parade are still Festival staples. Our distinctive seminars on Pennsylvania Dutch folklife, the reenactments of legends and historical drama, our authentic 19th century summer kitchen, presentations on Mennonite life and worship, and the large displays of antique farming equipment hark back to the earliest festivals on the Kutztown Fairgrounds.
The Pennsylvania Dutch food is just as tasty as it was decades ago - and today there are lots more of it! We’re proud to say that Pennsylvania German is still a living language at the Festival. It’s widely spoken here. So, try out your “Dutch” at the exhibit area of the Grundsau Lodges.
It’s true. We intend to keep getting better and also in all important respects to stay the way we are. Our mission statement says that the Festival is “dedicated to promoting and preserving the Pennsylvania German customs of eastern Pennsylvania and to providing programs, exhibits, and wholesome entertainment that reflect these and other related early American traditions”. That is why we are here and that’s why, at the Kutztown Folk Festival, the best remains the same!