Cityfolk Festival Rising

A bastion of culture perseveres downtown

By: Leo Deluca

Photo:Enjoying the music and dancing of the 2012 Cityfolk Festival; photo credits: Andy Snow


Cityfolk has been nourishing the spirit of southwest Ohio since 1980. With a mission to “share diverse artistic traditions from across America and around the world,” the non-profit organization has become a pillar of our region. According to the Cityfolk website (, what “started as a vision and a love for the arts and diversity has turned into Ohio’s only full-time, professional presenter of traditional and ethnic performing arts.” The 2013 Cityfolk Festival – the organization’s biggest annual event – takes place Friday, June 28, through Sunday, June 30, at RiverScape MetroPark in downtown Dayton.

Nearly three-and-a-half decades ago, Phyllis Brzozowska and four other Dayton residents dreamt up the first Cityfolk Folk Arts Series. With a grant from the Ohio Arts Council (OAC) and Ohio Humanities Council’s Joint Program in Folk Arts and Culture, Cityfolk was born. From the onset – by way of tremendous and benevolent sweat equity – it became evident that bringing diverse cultures to southwest Ohio was a priority for area residents. In referring to their foundation, the organization observed, “the grassroots effort attempted to bring together the cauldron of cultures that call Dayton home to showcase diversity in the arts. The combination worked, and the organizers realized that the success of the first year pointed to an important need existing in the community – the need for the arts and creative expression of all of Dayton’s ethnic and cultural groups to be displayed in a professional manner.” In 1984, Brzozowska became Cityfolk’s first executive director and the organization grew into an entire season of diverse events.

While calamity has beset Cityfolk (CF) in recent years, the long-loved and momentous institution perseveres. Specifically, in 2012 Cityfolk Festival was hit with two bad storms and triple digit temperatures. According to current executive director Kathleen Alter, this “made for a minimal attendance that was roughly about one-third of its normal size. It also resulted in a financial loss of around $100,000. The festival is the largest event that Cityfolk facilitates and its revenue funds the concerts, education programs and administrative costs for the rest of the year. It took us a few months to be able to pay off our bills from the festival. We had to lay off half our staff and sub-lease our leftover office space to Culture Works as a way to cut expenses. We started a post-festival campaign and raised $50,000. Our budgets are still slim, but we are making it. The loss of corporate sponsorship has happened over the last five years and every non-profit in the city has felt it. Since we no longer have the sponsorship dollars we used to have, we need to rely more on revenue during the festival – mainly beverage sales. When attendance is low, our sales decline.”

Over the past year, CF established a partnership with the Dayton Art Institute in an effort to streamline CF’s operations while maintaining autonomy.  “CF’s partnership with the Dayton Art Institute will allow us to cut back on administrative costs as we share office space and employees,” Alter explained. “We will have the use of their performance venues. They have a large development and marketing department and will lend us their help in those areas. By doing all of this, it will allow Cityfolk to put more money raised by sponsorship and foundations directly to the programming of concerts, education programs, and future Cityfolk festivals.”

Despite adversity, Cityfolk Festival pushes into 2013 with an absolutely fabulous schedule.

“We are very excited about this year’s lineup,” said Alter. “It is very international. Most bands do not have recognizable names but are very highly regarded in their genre – like most of what CF presents. The music is very upbeat and, of course, we are very excited about Big Bad Voodoo Daddy headlining on Saturday night. We hope to draw a large crowd that night. Our headliner for Friday is Too Slim and the Taildraggers – a great band combining blues, country and rock. Once the public hears the music, they will be intrigued by it.”

Also highlighted on the main stage will be Caribbean steel drum ensemble Steel Away, old time-bluegrass-country group Shoefly, Middle Eastern song and dance troupe TarabRaqs, Reggae artists SEEFARI, Americana and folk outfit Pigpen Theatre Company, Cajun songsmiths Kevin Naquin & The Ossun Playboys, the Celtic pop and Ottawa Valley fiddling talents of Searson, the International rhythms of Puzzle of Light/ Playing for Change Dayton Band, and the Punjabi funk hop band Black Mahal.

A fun and educational event for the entire family, schedule organizers noted, “From 1-5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, the Mosaic City tent will celebrate Dayton cultures with an active stage, packed with performance groups from a variety of cultures. Tables in the remainder of the space will feature sensory stops for a variety of cultures, giving families an engaging experience with each. Children can have passports stamped at stops in Mexico, India, Burundi, Rwanda, Puerto Rico, Turkey, China, U.S. mountain cultures and more. Children can use a template on their passport to make a Family Tree to take home with them. Also featured will be a table for Dayton Metro Libraries, with picture books with a common link, representing each culture – i.e. the Cinderella story in all cultures. A children’s librarian will read to young ones during the transitions between acts. Another table will showcase purchasable gifts from Peace on Fifth and Missing Peace Art Space!”

This year, entertainment and activities at Mosaic City and the Dance Pavilion include: the Dayton Celebration Choir, Burundian Royal Court Drummers, Puzzle of Light (mosaic making), OAC master traditional artist and American Indian drummer Raymond Roach, Culture Builds Community, Salsa group Son del Caribe, Latin and jazz outfit Maad Soul, Tai Chi Dance Group, Indian Club Dancers, a Turkish performance, Orgullo Mexicano and the Latin-infused Americana sounds of Appalatin.

Understandably, Cityfolk Festival will have a cover charge this year. According to Alter, “It is a great bargain at $7 per day / $17 for a weekend pass and $3 per day for children 2-12 / $6 for a child weekend pass. We know that people are used to CF being free, but as we look to the future we need to develop new revenue streams in order to keep us going strong for many years to come.” When asked if she could provide any insider advice on how a novice could get the most out of Cityfolk, Alter recommended attendees purchase the weekend pass. “It’s a great bargain and you’re able to have in-out privileges all weekend and hear the bands that you most want to hear.”

If you want to be generous (while sitting in the lap of luxury), Cityfolk also offers the option to “experience the festival in style and comfort in Room with a View – the festival’s VIP area located next to the Main Stage. Guests will enjoy the best of what the festival has to offer in a comfortable, shaded area away from the crowds.” Room with a View amenities include: VIP parking, festival admission, umbrella tables, shaded reserved seats under the MetroParks pavilion, a private cash bar, complimentary soft drinks and snacks and private restroom facilities.

Organizers point out, “When you participate in Room with a View, you are helping to support the Cityfolk Festival, concerts and educational programs throughout the year that enrich the quality of life in Dayton. The festival alone generates over $250,000 for the local economy and reinforces the ‘sense of community’ that is so vital to a city. We are thankful to [those that help] us continue to provide this well-loved event to area residents.”

The benefits of Cityfolk are innumerable. According to CF, the organization’s “founders saw that there were very few opportunities in Dayton, Ohio for the general public to experience and come to learn about traditional arts. In addition, ethnic communities faced an ongoing and accelerated danger of losing elements of their cultural heritage if they allowed traditional artistic skills to fall by the wayside. Today, concerts draw increasing audiences locally and from outside the Miami Valley. Cityfolk members and local concert-goers – as well as those who attend concerts from Cincinnati, Columbus and beyond – realize that Cityfolk offers a tie to the varied cultures that keep the differences among us vibrant and exciting for all.”

For 33 years, Cityfolk has brought nonpareil cultural experiences to southwest Ohio and contributed to our regional economy. At its peak, the Cityfolk Festival had 110,000 attendees and, in the first two years alone, it brought nearly $13 million in economic benefit to the area. Cityfolk is a bastion of culture – a vital component to the health of our region. According to Alter, “we always hear people say they love Cityfolk. We hope that they will prove it this year.”

The 2013 Cityfolk Festival takes place Friday, June 28 through Sunday, June 30 at RiverScape MetroPark, 111 E. Monument Ave. For information regarding tickets and schedules, visit


Reach DCP freelance writer Leo DeLuca at



  • 6:00 Steel away
  • 7:15 SHOEFLY
  • 9:15 Too slim & THE TAILDRAGGERS



  • 1:00 Tarabraqs
  • 2:30 seefari
  • 4:00 pigpen theatre company
  • 5:45 Kevin Naquin & The ossun playboys
  • 7:15 SEARSON


  • 3:00 SEARSON
  • 4:45 pigpen theatre company
  • 6:45 SEEFARI



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