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Fort Armstrong Folk Fest set

| Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 12:06 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
A marker in Manorville marks the true location of Fort Armstrong, though the festival site is in Kittanning's Riverside Park. In early 1779, Gen, George Washington, told Col, Daniel Brodhead of plans for construction of a fort. Three companies of militiamen were dispatched to Kittanning. On July 31, 1779, a message from Brodhead back to Washington stated: 'A complete stockade fort is erected at Kittanning and is now called Fort Armstrong.' Fort Armstrong's history was brief and uneventful as it was abandoned by the close of that same year.

The 42nd annual Fort Armstrong Folk Festival will soon transform the east bank of the Allegheny River in Kittanning,

The almost overnight development of a small city of tents in the upper riverfront park may not be anything new to area residents, but what goes on there this year may be.

“It's exciting to see growth,” says Jessica Coil, executive director of the festival. “While so many communities struggle just to have events like this, the support here is tremendous.”

The festival, which begins Thursday, is designed to integrate more opportunities to learn history while having fun: “This is a celebration of the heritage of our community,” says Coil.

The festival runs through Sunday night.

This is evident in new vendors (16) as well as special entertainers and craftsmen who will provide ongoing demonstrations for the public during this four-day event.

Gerald Lenavitt of East Franklin is one such participant. Since his retirement, Lenavitt has become proficient at the art of spinning wool.

“I had an interest in early American textiles,” Lenavitt explains. “So, after much reading and research, I decided to try spinning wool and I've been doing it ever since.”

Lenavitt is volunteering his time, talent and 38 years of knowledge of his craft to the Folk Festival, as he has done for nonprofit groups such as Relay for Life. “I like to spin where people can see the process and hopefully become interested in preserving this part of American history.”

With the help of a couple of fellow spinners, Lenavitt plans to do what is known as a “sheep-to-shawl” demonstration, where the spinners will, in three hours, complete the process from four-footed donor to wearable wool.

Blacksmithing can also be observed during the festival and children can get hands on experience at the free colonial petting zoo.

Local 4-H members return with their ponies, which can be ridden for a nominal fee that benefits this nonprofit youth group.

Unique face painting and handmade toys are among the many attractions that appeal to kids of all ages.

Historical encampment by the John T. Crawford Camp 43 of the Civil War era, as well as horse and carriage rides will also contribute to the sense of traveling back in time.

Travel will be literally addressed in the vehicle displays, to be held Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with Jeeps, Volkswagens and tractors featured, respectively.

It wouldn't be a folk festival without folk music. Entertainment on the main stage, located in St. Paul's Episcopal Church yard on North Water Street, offers something for everyone, with individuals and groups performing bluegrass, rockin' country, guitar, classic rock and variety music, both plugged in or not. The Kittanning Firemen's Band will kick off the four days of music, magic and theater performances at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Located in the park, the north stage will showcase the talents of area artists.

Ray Voller, a 20-plus-year volunteer and festival director, has played a key role in developing the musical entertainment portion of the festival. “I like different styles of music and really look forward to hearing the variety that we are able to book,” he says. “We've incorporated the north stage so that we can offer a quieter location and can encourage listeners to walk through the festival.”

Voller added that dulcimer and harp performances will be ongoing in several locations within the festival area.

“We have amazing talent in Armstrong County,” Coil said. Because of its popularity, the Festiv-idol competition will return on Thursday, when 20 individuals will showcase their talents on the main stage. Some openings remain; interested parties should contact Paul Wright ( to register.

The First United Methodist Church Covenant Center will again house entries from local artists whose talents are in the visual arts. Winners are chosen from different age groups as well as genre and identified before the festival.

Coil is quick to credit and thank the volunteers that support this annual event: “People help in so many ways,” she said.

She emphasized that public feedback is encouraged, considered and acted on by festival directors.

“We have made changes that now require food vendors to display all food prices,” Coil said. “We are also focusing on recruitment of local vendors.”

“We've also been able to buy a new public address system that will allow us to communicate important information to everyone.”

And, as the festival draws closer, Coil has an important message for the public:

“I encourage everyone to come and enjoy the Fort Armstrong Folk Festival — there's something different every day.”

Diane Orris Acerni is a Leader Times correspondent.

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