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What Is a Folk Festival?

A folk festival features traditional music from a country or region.
Folk fesivals often display folk art like wood burnings or carvings.
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  • Written By: J. Barnes
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2014
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A folk festival is a cultural and entertainment event that celebrates folk music and might take place in a regional, national or international setting. In addition to music, folk festivals might also include dancing, storytelling, arts and crafts displays, workshops and food. The term “folk music” was coined in the 19th century and was used to describe songs of anonymous origins that were passed on from generation to generation, usually by members of the lower classes.

A contemporary folk festival generally is all-inclusive and often serves as a venue for a variety of musical genres. These include traditional and contemporary folk music, blues, Cajun and a genre known as roots music or world music. It is not unusual to find folk musicians sharing the stage with classical, jazz and rock artists.

Traditional folk music differs from other types of popular music in that the lyrics and the tunes traditionally have been transmitted by word of mouth rather than by way of the printed page. This is music that has been “made up” rather than composed, and it typically reflects the distinctive speech patterns and musical preferences of an indigenous group of people. During the 1960s, the terms “contemporary folk music” or “folk revival music” were used to identify musicians whose narrative, vocal and instrumental styles represented the evolution of a common musical heritage.

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The types of works on display at a folk festival typically includes quilts, ceramics, jewelry, woodcarvings, baskets and artisan clothing. Unlike professionally trained fine artists, folk artists frequently are self-taught or have learned their craft through an apprenticeship. As opposed to fine art, folk art is decorative and utilitarian, and it serves as an expression of an area’s cultural identity.

A folk festival gives participants and attendees an opportunity to express their differences and celebrate their unity. National folk festivals are held annually in many countries, and scores of regional festivals take place every year. These festivals are most common in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia.

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