Grupo Rebolu, one of the first six performers announced for the National Folk Festival in Salisbury, plays the danceable music of Colombia's Caribbean coast. Photo courtesy of Grupo Rebolu.

80th National Folk Festival to Bring Diverse Performances to Salisbury

After a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic, the National Folk Festival will celebrate its 80th anniversary in downtown Salisbury, Md. The free three-day festival offers performances on three outdoor stages.

In addition to being the milestone 80th year for the festival, 2021 marks its third year of its residency in Salisbury. The National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) just announced the first six artists lined up to perform, and they represent an “extraordinarity diversity of cultural traditions,” says Lora Bottinelli, NCTA Executive Director.

The performers just announced range from bluegrass and Cajun to West African balafon and traditional Sri Lankan dance. “There are no repeats from 2018 or 2019, and it’s all free!” Bottinelli says.

Nashville-based bluegrass group The Del McCoury Band blends the genre’s iconic past and an adventurous future, while the blues singer Shemekia Copeland, from Chicago, is inspired by her Texas bluesman father and greats like Etta James.

Louisiana’s Savoy Family Cajun Band plays accordion-driven house party two-steps to timeless French ballads and twin fiddles, the festival says. The rhythmic, danceable music of Colombia’s Caribbean coast is represented by Grupo Rebolú out of Queens, New York.

The West African balafon masters Balla Kouyaté & Famoro Dioubaté hail from Boston and New York City, described by the festival as “exploring new musical terrain” and treating audiences to “the thrill of the unexpected”. And Sri Lankan Dance Academy of NY, from Staten Island, introduces the nation to Kandyan dance.

While the festival isn’t revealing its full lineup yet, organizers boast music and dance traditions from every part of the country—blues, rockabilly, gospel, jazz, polka, tamburitza, cowboy, bluegrass, klezmer, R&B, old-time, Cajun, rhythm and blues, mariachi, beatbox, breakin’, western swing, honky-tonk, and zydeco, as well as traditional music and dance from Native American, Celtic, Acadian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, Asian, Appalachian, Latino, Eastern European, African, and Pacific Island cultures.

The first National Folk Festival was held in St. Louis in 1934, championed by Eleanor Roosevelt. It was the first national event to represent the arts of many nations, races and languages on equal footing, NCTA says. Today it is a traveling festival presented in partnership with communities around the country.

The National Folk Festival first came to Salisbury in 2018, and this will be the final year of its Salisbury residency. The festival will feature individual artists on Facebook (facebook.com/NFFMaryland), Twitter (twitter.com/NFFMaryland), and Instagram (Instagram.com/nffmaryland) throughout the next month, where more performers will be announced.

The festival runs September 10–12, and includes performances special family and Maryland folklife programming, and diverse food and drink offerings.

Meg Walburn Viviano