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Arts & Entertainment

Folk Festival brings nationalities together

| Thursday, May 15, 2008

A kaleidoscope of cultures from around the globe will all unite under one roof this weekend, as the 52nd annual Pittsburgh Folk Festival brings its international showcase back to Downtown for a three-day ethnic shindig.

The festival, a longtime Pittsburgh tradition that attracts thousands of people from all generations, will feature more than two dozen ethnicities and nationalities from regions including Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Asia. Members of the regional cultural groups will gather at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to share information about their heritage, cuisine, dancing or other performing arts, clothing, products for sale and more.

"The purpose is to allow everybody to come and enjoy and learn a little bit about each other's cultures and traditions," says Karen Hall, director of the festival and president of its board of directors.

"We hope that it will promote greater understanding of each other," Hall says. "We are Pittsburgh's little U.N."

At the festival, visitors will see and enjoy ethnic customs -- like folk garb -- that have been lost in modern culture, to a large degree, Hall says. At the folk festival, people can renew and preserve those traditions that make each culture unique, she says.

This year, the festival will include a family activity area, where parents can keep their children entertained with things like face painting and crafts. Kids also can go from station to station and collect international stamps from each country, and put them in play passports. The festival also will include international cooking demonstrations, which were very popular with festival-goers last year.

For years, the festival was held over Memorial Day weekend, but for the next few years, organizers have to reschedule for another weekend because of a championship volleyball tournament scheduled at the convention center. Although the festival is likely to be re-scheduled for Memorial Day in a future year, festival organizers say they are experimenting to see whether the non-holiday weekend increases attendance because of the possibility that more people will be in town.

"This may be a good move for us," Hall says. "We hope it will bring in at least what we got on Memorial Day, and hopefully better."

The Pittsburgh chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans will set up a cultural display about their country at the festival, perform a Chinese lion dance and sell Chinese food. Vendors in the marketplace will sell many Chinese goods, including purses and jackets.

The folk festival is valuable to the Pittsburgh community, says Wen-Ching Yang, the Pittsburgh organization's president.

Some individual ethnic festivals take place in the area, he says, "but to have everybody come together and work together and put out a big folk festival like that is really something very special," Yang says.

The Pittsburgh Irish community will have a big presence at the festival, where they will show a special display about the Blarney Stone that includes an actual piece of Blarney Castle that fell off, says Maura Krushinski. She co-directs the Pittsburgh Irish Festival with her sister, Nan. The Irish display also includes a little Irish cottage, where people can look in the windows and see an Irish harp and other items. Food stands will have a menu including soda bread, potato soup and shepherd's pie, and dancers with the Bell School of Irish Dance will provide step-dancing performances.

"We're incredibly lucky in Pittsburgh to have so much rich exposure to so many different cultures," Krushinski says. "The Pittsburgh Folk Festival has done such an amazing job over the past 52 years of not only keeping it alive, but introducing new generations to these cultures every year."


Culture sampler

The following nations are represented at the folk festival, by live performances and/or food sales:

Bulgaria, Carpatho-Rus, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latin America, Lebanon, Lithuania, Philippines, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine

Performance schedule

Friday

6:30 p.m.: Grand March

6:45 p.m.: Slovakia

7 p.m.: Ireland

7:15 p.m.: Serbia

7:30 p.m.: Germany

7:45 p.m.: Italy

8 p.m.: Croatia

8:15 p.m.: Finale

Saturday

1 p.m.: Children's Matinee

4:15 p.m.: Grand March

4:30 p.m.: Colombia and Cuba

4:45 p.m.: Philippines

5 p.m.: Lithuania

5:15 p.m.: Chile

5:45 p.m.: India

7:15 p.m.: Ukraine

7:30 p.m.: Lebanon

7:45 p.m.: Greece

8 p.m.: China

8:15 p.m.: Bulgaria

8:30 p.m.: Finale

Sunday

1 p.m.: Children's Matinee

3 p.m.: Grand March

3:15 p.m.: Scotland

3:30 p.m.: Hawaii

3:45 p.m.: Poland

4 p.m.: Switzerland

4:15 p.m.: Spain

4:30 p.m.: Israel

4:45 p.m.: Carpatho-Rusyn

5 p.m.: Finale Additional Information:

52nd annual Pittsburgh Folk Festival

When: 4-10 p.m. Friday, noon-10 p.m. Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday. The family activity area is open 1-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The cooking demonstrations are 1-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Admission: $10 per day; $8 per day in advance; $4 per day for ages 4-12; free for age 3 and younger

Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, 1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd., Downtown

Details: 412-278-1267 or www.pghfolkfest.org

Notes: Tickets and food sales at the event will be cash only; an ATM is available on site. Parking is available in the convention center's garage for $10, and at the lot at 15th and Smallman streets, four blocks away, for $5.

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