Foods, crafters, history keep folk festival going strong
For some, it's the entertainment.
For others, it's the juried arts and crafts or the military encampment.
Some are drawn to the displays of vehicles, or the opportunity to see old friends.
But one thing that remains consistent after 42 years as a reason for attending the Fort Armstrong Folk Festival in Kittanning is the food, executive director Jessica Coil says. “Everyone loves it,” she says.
The fine-arts and crafts fest, held along the tree-lined banks of the Allegheny River and annually attracting about 100,000 people, runs from Aug. 1 to 4. Beyond the fun, it pays tribute to Armstrong County's heritage.
“We were very particular about our food vendors this year, and I'm happy to say we have more local vendors, and made some changes that we hope will make it more affordable for families to come and enjoy a meal several nights in a row,” Coil says.
Among the fare: traditional ham and roast beef sandwiches, funnel cakes, Italian, Chinese, apple dumplings, gyros, gourmet burgers, fudge, fish sandwiches and cabbage and noodles. “We don't really focus on getting ‘food from around the world,' but the world is well represented nonetheless,” Coil says.
Much of the food is homemade and the semi-legendary “beef tent,” in the blue pavilion, helps sustain the festival from year to year.
The festival remains strong, says Ray Voller, entertainment director, musician and board member, “because we have so many things that are all high quality.
“The crafters are what make it the most special festival in the entire Western Pennsylvania region. Plus, it's not too big, and not too small, and has such a variety for people of all ages.”
Basketmaker Chris Koladish of Brookville says she and her husband keep returning to the festival (their 29th) “because we feel at home there and appreciated.”
“The experience is just incomparable,” says designer Manuela Branem of Buffalo Township, who offers handmade sewn items, citing “the variety of exhibitors and vendors, great location by the river and the food and entertainment.”
Karen Stapchuck of West Deer says the Fort Armstrong festival “offers the best quality of any festival I have participated in.” Stapchuck will present her crafted quilted products at the festival.
Coil says the committee appreciates such glowing reviews. “The exhibitors have been wonderful. I can't tell you how many say, ‘I love your show, and I wouldn't miss it!'”
Included in the ranks of the 65 or so arts-and-craft exhibitors this year are 16 new ones. “All are chosen to participate, ensuring handmade, high-quality arts and crafts,” Coil says. “All are required to wear Colonial-style period clothing, adding to the atmosphere and reminding visitors why we have the festival — to honor our history and heritage.”
The festival will also be bringing back historical and heritage demonstrations.
In addition to the John T. Crawford Camp 43 Civil War encampment and the blacksmith demonstrations, there will be spinning and heritage music (dulcimer and harp) showcases.
“We'll also have a Colonial-themed petting zoo where you can learn about the animals the Colonists brought with them and how they were raised and used,” Coil says.
Across the street from the festival grounds, the Armstrong County Heritage Display, on the second floor of the Kittanning Elks, presents artifacts honoring the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as the history of Kittanning in murals. “These murals have not been seen by the public for over 50 years,” Coil says.
Voller says “a tremendous amount of new entertainment” awaits on stage this year. “We have a new bluegrass band, a new local variety band, some jazz, big bands, an a capella group and even a Scottish-Irish traditional music band this year.”
Rock, country and acoustic genres will be represented. The popular Festividol competition returns to the main stage at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1.
“It is a pleasure having a plethora of people who really want to showcase their act, and it's fun to piece it all together like a puzzle,”he says. “The performers all are treated well by our audiences. Who wouldn't want to come back for that?”
“I try to juggle the schedule and try to draw attention to both ends of the festival to get our attendees to not only enjoy the free entertainment, but also to patronize both our nonprofits and our crafters,” he says. “After all, it is a craft festival, and we pride ourselves on being able to draw thousands of people to the festival to appreciate the talents of all of our participants.”
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org