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New Jersey Folk Festival facts for kids

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New Jersey Folk Festival
2007 New Jersey Folk Festival, New Brunswick, NJ.jpg
Festival on April 27, 2007
Date(s) Last Saturday in April, Rain or Shine
Begins 10 am
Ends 6 pm
Frequency Annual
Location(s) New Brunswick, NJ
Inaugurated 1975
Participants Folk musicians, folk dancers

The New Jersey Folk Festival is an annual folk music and cultural festival held on the Great Lawn of the Eagleton Institute of Politics on the Douglass Campus at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. It is a free, non-profit family event held every year on the last Saturday in April from 10am - 6pm, rain or shine. It coincides with Rutgers Agricultural Field Day held on the adjacent Cook Campus. Beginning in 2009, both the New Jersey Folk Festival and Ag Field Day are held as a major part of Rutgers Day. This year's theme is Oaxaca and will be taking place on Saturday, April 25th, 2020, virtually.

The American Studies Department of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey is the presenting sponsor of the New Jersey Folk Festival.

The New Jersey Folk Festival, Inc. is also 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the State of New Jersey exempt from federal taxation.


Established in 1975, the New Jersey Folk Festival is the oldest continuously run folk festival in the State of New Jersey. Managed by a small team of Rutgers undergraduate students, the festival attracts over 15,000 people and is one of the City of New Brunswick's largest regularly scheduled events.

The mission of the New Jersey Folk Festival is to preserve and protect the music, culture, and arts of New Jersey. Therefore, the main focus of this festival is the traditional music, crafts, and foods of the diverse ethnic and cultural communities within the state and its surrounding region.

Typically, the event features three to four stages of music, dance, and workshops, a juried craft market, a children's activities area, a delicious array of food choices that offers everything from hamburgers, vegetarian fare, and funnel cake to a wide variety of ethnic foods, a folk marketplace, and a heritage area which offers a close-up look at each year's cultural or geographical theme or other appropriate exhibits.

Each year the festival strives for diversity in selecting performers, not only seeking out traditional "American" artists, but also reaching out via fieldwork to the many ethnic communities found within New Jersey. The annual ethnic or regional feature contributes an essential intimate connection to these varied cultural groups represented in the state's population.

The New Jersey Folk Festival is professionally supervised by its Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Angus Kress Gillespie, and by its Associate Director, Michelle Yasay, a former NJFF staff member and Rutgers University alumna.

The following essays provide more information about the festival and its history:

A Student-Run Event

This festival is the end product of a class intended, in part, to provide students with leadership opportunities. The festival is one of only a handful in the United States managed by undergraduate students. Collectively, the staff is responsible for continuing the festival's mission of celebrating the diverse multicultural and indigenous folk life of New Jersey.

In 1975, when the festival first began, only two students were involved in its organization and management. Today, about fifteen students serve on the planning committee. Alumni of the festival also serve as advisors to the committee.

The class meets for four hours once a week under the direction of faculty advisors Dr. Angus Kress Gillespie and Michelle Yasay. During the first half of the class, there is academic instruction in which the students learn about folklore, including the distinction between "traditional" versus "revival" folk music, theoretical problems associated with publicly presenting ethnic culture, the history and aesthetic sensibilities of the craft presenters and performers, as well as more practical instruction in how to write press releases or conduct radio interviews. The second half of the class functions as a business meeting led by the festival manager, complete with progress reports from coordinators, "breakaway" management teamwork sessions, and problem-solving.

The student coordinators form a closely knit team, where they develop leadership and management skills, written and verbal communication, organization, personal assertiveness, and time management. The class is part of the curriculum of the American Studies Department of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

Festival Areas

Skylands Stage

The Skylands Stage is located in front of the Eagleton Institute. It offers music and dance presentations. The Opening Ceremony and the Awards Ceremony take place on this stage.

Shore Stage

The Shore Stage is located between the Food Market and the Craft Market. It offers three jam sessions and performances by the annual Singer-Songwriter Showcase winners. The jam sessions include a Bluegass jam, an Old-Timey jam, and an Irish Seisiún.

Singer-Songwriter Showcase Contest

While the main focus of the festival is indigenous folk forms passed down via family, home, and community traditions, the festival likes to recognize regional folk artists in an effort to foster and encourage "new" folk singer-songwriters in their contemporary society. Winners are given the opportunity to present their original material to a large, diversified audience of over 15,000 attendees. At least six winners are selected to perform 20 minute sets. Three slots are reserved exclusively for artists submitting through SonicBids.

The festival is especially interested in songs about the state of New Jersey. Though New Jersey has a diverse musical culture and history, it is the only state without a state song. The festival wishes to encourage singer-songwriters to develop material about its state.

Artists are permitted to sell CDs at Folk Marketplace and retain 100% of the profits from sales.

This contest is open only to singer-songwriters who have never before performed at the New Jersey Folk Festival. All entries must reflect original words and music. No instrumentals. Each artist must submit music and lyrics for three songs. All entry songs must be sung by the author. If selected, each artist agrees to perform only his or her own original material. No residency restrictions apply. Artists must agree to and be able to perform at the New Jersey Folk Festival to retain status as a winner.

The festival encourages electronic submission through SonicBids. The Electronic Press Kits (EPKs) of SonicBids are a faster, cheaper, and easier way to submit your material. The deadline to enter is mid-December.

EPKs can be submitted here:

Pinelands Stage

The Pinelands Stage is located between the Gatehouse and the Craft Market. This stage is exclusively a workshop area where instruction, demonstration, participation and performance are offered.

Heritage Area

The Heritage Area comprises appropriate craft demonstrations and exhibits related to the current festival theme with one or two traditional "American" craft demonstrators.

Craft Market

The Craft Market consists of about 100 vendors. The focus of the juried craft market is on traditional folk art crafts. The work of each vendor has been pre-screened for top-notch quality as well as traditional nature. Crafts include jewelry, woodwork, pottery, ceramics, clothing, clothwork, etc.

Food Vendor Arc

The Food Vendor Arc consists of about two dozen diversified ethnic and traditional "American" food vendors located in a semi-circular arc between the Skylands and Shore Stages near the Loree Building.

Children's Activities Area

The Children's Activities Area offers a wide variety of free activities including games, face painting, take-home crafts, pie-eating contests, and pony rides.

Folk Marketplace

At Folk Marketplace, personnel can answer general inquiries about the festival. You can pick up a festival performance schedule or purchase merchandise, including performer CDs, festival T-shirts, magnets, or keychains.

The Jersey Devil serves as the official logo of the New Jersey Folk Festival. However, every year, a new logo embodying the current year's festival highlight is designed and used.

The original festival logo was the rooster. Back in 1975, the festival was managed by three people; Professor Gillespie as the Director, Kathy DeAngelo as the music coordinator, and Barbara Irwin as the crafts coordinator. When choosing a logo, the original committee turned to the folk art collection of the Newark Museum. There they found the cock weathervane made of copper in 19th century rural New Jersey. They felt that this rooster served as a fine symbol of the folk culture found in New Jersey in earlier days.

Erwin Christensen in The Index of American Design explains that the rooster is probably the earliest weathervane design in the United States. This preference may be explained by the widespread use of this symbol on church steeples in Europe. According to tradition, the cock owed its place on church spires to Peter's denial of Christ. Hence, it served as a warning to the congregation not to do the same. In the Bayeux Tapestry of the 1070s, originally of the Bayeux Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux) and now exhibited at Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux, Normandy, there is a depiction of a man installing a cock on Westminster Abbey. Also it is reputed through Papal enactment that in the 9th century Pope Nicholas I ordered the figure to be placed on every church steeple and even previous to that Pope Leo IV had it placed on the Old St. Peter's Basilica or old Constantinian basilica even before Nicholas I was Pope.

Upcoming Festival Highlights

  • April 26, 2014- 40th Anniversary Celebration

Previous Festival Highlights

  • 2020- Oaxaca
  • 2019- Best of the past 4 years (45th Annual)
  • 2018- Native Americans of New Jersey
  • 2017- Turkish Traditions
  • 2016- Bluegrass Showcase
  • 2015- Maritime
  • 2014- 40th Anniversary
  • 2013- Garifuna Folk Culture
  • 2012- Bulgarian Folk Culture
  • 2011- Kalmyk Folk Culture
  • 2010- The Andes
  • 2009- 35th Anniversary Celebration
  • 2008- German-American Traditions
  • 2007- Dominican-American Traditions
  • 2006- Charm of Korea
  • 2005- Norwegian-American Traditions
  • 2004- 30th Anniversary Celebration
  • 2003- Mexican-American Traditions
  • 2002- Blues & Gospel
  • 2001- Portuguese-American Traditions
  • 2000- Women in Folk
  • 1999- Silver Jubilee Celebration
  • 1998- Chinese-American Traditions
  • 1997- India
  • 1996- South Jersey
  • 1995- Puerto Rico
  • 1994- 20th Anniversary Celebration
  • 1993- Lebanon
  • 1992- American Indians
  • 1991- Haiti
  • 1990- Greece
  • 1989- Ireland
  • 1988- Sweden
  • 1987- Philippines
  • 1986- Italy
  • 1985- Scottish Traditions in America
  • 1984- Cuban Ties
  • 1983- Hungarian-Americans
  • 1982- Holland-American Culture
  • 1981- 200 Years of NJ Agriculture
  • 1980- New Brunswick Folklore
  • 1979- Folk Heritage
  • 1978- Folk Heritage
  • 1977- Folk Heritage
  • 1976- Folk Heritage
  • 1975- Folk Heritage
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