Keeping With Tradition

The doors of the Dorton Arena are wide open at the North Carolina State Fair. The music can be heard from the doors as the music and dance competition for the Folk Festival. The musicians are playing their instruments in front of hundreds of people as the dancers are dancing in front of them for a panel of judges. A 10 day long competition with a history behind it starting 69 years ago. Earlier this year the Folk Festival lost one of its founders Ellis Perry.

The Folk Festival is a very traditional competition with music from the mountains and clogging which is the state dance of North Carolina.

Dance coach for Alicia’s Sizzling Stompers Alicia Howell said, “The Folk Festival has clogging in many different forms from different perspectives and gives us an insight to many styles of clogging and folk dancing and it’s culture.”

With the passing of Ellis Perry it will lead to a sad season at the Folk Festival as the music and dancing continues. The competition is still planning to continue as his wife Audrey leads it in his place.

Dance teacher and mom of a former competitor at the Folk Festival Marilyn Brickmeier said, “I do not expect there to be much of a change because his wife will surely keep the tradition going.”

Studios from all over North Carolina come to compete in the clogging competition at the Folk Festival every year. The 10 day long competition is packed with many different clogging groups each with their own style. The dancers get to compete with their friends but have to handle long breaks for the traditional banjo songs in between some numbers that seem to last forever as the teams anxiously wait to perform.

Senior at Triton High School Erica Patterson said, “It is fun to see familiar faces each year if the same studios attend on the day I compete with my team.”

Many changes have been made to the Folk Festival. The most major being the competition moving from a tent at the State Fair to being in the Dorton Arena. The Dorton Arena has a larger stage for the band and dancers to perform on and more seating for the family of the teams and spectators.

“If I could change something it might be one song instead of several in between performers,” dance instructor Hope Overby said. “It makes the wait for the dancers too long.”

Some things have remained constant at the Folk Festival such as the traditional music the band plays and the type of entertainment. The Folk Festival has made very few changes over the years but all of them that have been made have made the competition for the performers. The group of people that work there year after year keep the competition running smoothly.

“The organization and the people have not changed,” Howell said. “It is truly an event that starts our season off with excitement and positivity.”

The Folk Festival is unique to the State Fair and North Carolina. It keeps the tradition of folk music and clogging alive.

“The Folk Festival represents the history of the arts in North Carolina,” Brickmeier said. “We should never let the arts get squashed, it is important to our history and is already being taken out of the public school system.”

Many of the people that go watch the competition at the Folk Festival are related to the performers. Not many people go to watch the dances and hear the band play as tradition is celebrated. There is very little advertising for the Folk Festival and many people do not even know it is a thing at the State Fair.

“I think there should be some local television coverage to highlight the events of the Folk Festival,” Brickmeier said. “More people might come out to compete as well as more spectators would come watch.”