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Kutztown Folk Festival 2023, Pennsylvania, USA
July 1 - July 9
Billed as America’s oldest folklife festival and hailed as one of the country’s top celebrations, the Kutztown Folk Festival is a veritable journey back into time with plain, good old-fashioned entertainment, 19th-century food recipes, forgotten artisan crafts and antiques, and a massive sale of some 2,500 handmade quilts.
If judged by the number of its attendees, the Kutztown Folk Festival must be one of the most visit-worthy traditional festivals in the United States. Originating all the way back to 1950, the nine-day event has grown to attract well over a hundred thousand enthusiasts and has twice been featured in National Geographic while the Washington Post named it a must-see festival.
The peculiar ambience of the Kutztown Folk Festival and the unique way of life of the “Pennsylvania Dutch” become apparent the moment you enter the festival grounds where locals roam in historic attire, and traditional crafts from all over the US are revived in front of you – from broom making, wood carving and blacksmithing to stained glass, jewellery and hex signs.
Meanwhile, wafts of scrumptious bread and cakes baked in a 19th-century oven have you salivating until your taste buds have been satisfied. Other favourites of authentic Pennsylvania Dutch food on offer include pot pie, shoo-fly pie, funnel cake, apple dumplings, corn fritters, sausages and homemade soups. All this can be washed down with bottled birch beer.
Spread across the festival, different stages offer vintage entertainment such as square dancing, folk songs, comedy, live theatre and fiddlers dishing out their tunes, making you forget you’re still in the smartphone era. And with names such as the strolling “world-famous Sauerkraut Band” on the programme, you know things can’t go wrong anymore.
If all that arouses your curiosity about the Pennsylvania Dutch, then that too can be satisfied – at the festival’s seminar stage you can learn about Pennsylvania Dutch culture, dialects, humour, customs and much more, or simply chat with one of the craftsmen and –women demonstrating their age-old skills.
At the Kutztown Folk Festival kids too can travel back in time with a ride on a 19th-century horse-drawn carousel, or at the Children’s Farmyard Theatre with puppet and magic shows, stories, a ventriloquist or singalongs. And if you’re in need of some quiet time, then simply send them into the hay maze or have them spellbound with drawing hex signs.
The Kutztown Folk Festival: Deutsch versus Dutch
Despite their name, the Pennsylvania Dutch are descendants from Germans, large numbers of whom immigrated to this Pennsylvanian region in the late 17th to the early 19th century. Most of them came from the German Pfalz region along the river Rhine, as well as from Switzerland and German-speaking parts of Central Europe. When the word “Deutsch” – meaning German – was Americanised and pronounced as “Dutch”, the immigrants became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch.
For more events in the Americas, browse our calendar of Festivals in America.
Many of them emigrated from Europe for reasons of religious persecution at the time, for economic reasons or fleeing war. It was William Penn, the founder of the Pennsylvania Colony in English North America, who encouraged immigration and defended religious freedom and democracy.
Most of the Pennsylvania Dutch belonged to the Lutheran and Reformed Churches, but some of them were also Old Order Mennonites and Amish. Today horse-drawn carriages can be seen driving in and around Kutztown while the country side is home to 19th-century farmhouses, ploughed fields and Swiss barns with hex signs. Although less common than a couple of generations ago, the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect – similar to the dialect in the German Pfalz and Rhine region – is still spoken by many residents in the Kutztown area, especially the older people.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of the Pennsylvania Dutch, pop in at the Pennsylvania German Heritage Center, housed inside the Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.
Origin of the Kutztown Folk Festival
Keen to let visitors experience the everyday way of life of a Pennsylvania Dutch family, a trio of American folklorists set up the first Kutztown Folk Festival in 1950 with the support and active participation of local residents. Already that first year some 25,000 people attended what was then a four-day event, which has now spread over nine days and attracts each year over 130,000 attendees. Ever since that inaugural edition, different generations of the same families have kept the Kutztown Folk Festival alive and continue to do so.
Kutztown Folk Festival 2023 Programme
Click here to see what events are planned this year.
When is the Kutztown Folk Festival 2023
The festival will take place from 1 to 9 July.
Accommodation in Kutztown
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Admission to the Kutztown Folk Festival 2022
Admission tickets are $16 for adults, $6 for students (13 – 17). Children of 12 and below get in for free. If one day is not enough for you, then you can get a weekly pass for $40.
For further details about the Kutztown Folk Festival 2020
All photos courtesy of the Kutztown Folk Festival.