As the Kutztown Folk Festival marked its 70th anniversary in 2019, we marveled at how the event has enjoyed enduring popularity for decades in a rapidly changing world.
Little did we know that summer that in just a few short months the world would undergo a cataclysmic shift that would put this beloved event on hold for two years, at least as something that could be experienced in person.
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the event from taking place at the Kutztown fairgrounds in 2020 and 2021. It was replaced by virtual offerings which proved to be very popular, including an online quilt auction and a quilt shop, competitions, recorded musicians and artisan demonstrations. . It was a huge effort, but it couldn’t replace the sights, sounds and tastes that can only be experienced properly in person.
We are delighted to see that the festival has endured the enormous challenges posed by the pandemic and is fully back in action. The event kicked off this weekend and continues daily until July 10.
With its return, the festival continues to engage in the essential balancing act of making a few changes to meet changing tastes without compromising the attributes that have made the event successful since 1950.
For example, visitors will still find the hearty Pennsylvania Dutch comfort food the event is famous for, but those looking for something different can try the new Fresh Market. It was created in response to requests for healthier foods and organic options. Vendors offer culinary specialties, local craft beers, farm produce and craft cocktails with local ingredients.
Festival director Heather Zimmerman, in office since 2021 and the festival’s first female director, makes it clear that she understands the task at hand.
“I am extremely humbled and honored to know that I can help play a role in preserving this beloved event,” Zimmerman said. “I hope to bring a renewed celebration of our Pennsylvania Dutch culture that future generations will enjoy as well.”
The approach is symbolized by a new festival logo, created by Patrick Donmoyer, director of the German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania. It combines the classic geometry of the local eight-pointed barn star and the six-petalled flower of life, punctuated by the image of the tulip. Its sprouting leaves and mature flowers show the potential for growth and importance in every phase of the life cycle, inviting young and old to join the festival family and explore the traditions of the region, organizers say.
We’re sure big crowds will be back in northeast Berks this week to enjoy the combination of brilliant artisans, educational programs, music and dance performances, children’s activities and more. Again. People are still yearning for a taste of tradition, perhaps more than ever in these troubled times, and Kutztown delivers it at a location that’s easily accessible by car from several major metropolitan areas.
History is on the side of the event. The festival was started in 1950 by three folklorists from Pennsylvania. In the decades since, the festival has grown steadily, eventually attracting annual crowds of over 130,000 visitors. This happened even though the festival fell on hard times, most notably when a dispute in the 1990s led to two Pennsylvania Dutch folk festivals being held at different locations in the region at the same time.
It is so exciting to see visitors returning to the area for this and other events. The festival is a classic example of something that keeps people coming back year after year, generation after generation in keeping with tradition.
Even those who live here can appreciate the appeal. Traditional Pennsylvania German culture is no longer as much a part of everyday life as it once was. It’s great to have the chance to embrace traditions so familiar to many of us growing up and to our parents or grandparents. We are blessed to have this opportunity again.