World music, food and entertainment return to Dayton for the annual Cityfolk Festival
By Emma Jarman
What started with a three-year nudge by the National Folk Festival to get an annual, multicultural tradition going in the City of Dayton will arrive this year as the 15th installation of the Dayton Cityfolk Festival, July 1-3. While Cityfolk is a year-round organization that hosts a multitude of concerts, educational programs and film showings and works to enhance multicultural awareness, the Cityfolk Festival, put on by their namesake’s organization at the Riverscape Metropark, is every Fourth of July weekend in Dayton and brings everything Cityfolk is about into one public arena.
This year will provide entertainment by way of performing stages, a public dance pavilion and musical instrument builders from in and around Ohio constructing everything from guitars to mandolins, drums and fiddles. There are plenty of street performers to take in for the tuckered and an international beer garden for the puckered, and also, all kinds of fantastic munchies for those looking to expand their palates or for the just plain hungry.
But anyone who’s anyone and who’s been to the Cityfolk Festival before knows that while multiculturalism and a variety of performances and workshops are available, it’s really all about the music, and using music to realize culture.
“Cityfolk’s reputation is really centered on presenting great music from all over the world, all across America. Everything from blues to jazz, Cajun music … I think most people identify the Cityfolk Festival in that way,” said Dave Barber, the director of programs for Cityfolk. “I think what happens when they come on the site, they realize we’re trying to get families engaged in discovering their own cultural heritage and their neighbors as well.”
There is something for every one of the 60,000 to 70,000 people that attend each year’s festival. Music lovers can post up in front of the main stage in the new Metroparks Pavilion and catch the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops play Friday at 10 p.m. and stay for a weekend long set of blues, bluegrass, jazz and funk among a variety of musical entertainment.
The dance pavilion, “always a hot spot,” according to Barber, will be in the location of the past year’s main stage, at the corner of First and Patterson Streets. Festivalgoers are invited to spend the entire week at the dance pavilion if they wish, where bands like Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Cha’s, at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, guarantee a hip-shaking good time.
Not many of the bands are local, so this isn’t the kind of music you’ll be able to stumble across on a regular Oregon District weekend. Most will be Cityfolk exclusives.
Another offering of the Cityfolk Festival sure to delight and inform is the activity on the Sound Effects Stage. Open Saturday and Sunday, this area will host all sorts of workshops and demonstrations including Designing Guitars and Mandolins at 1 p.m. Saturday, Traditional Instruments from America and Europe at 6 p.m. Saturday, and Rare Instruments and Meticulous Replications at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Of the numerous chances festivalgoers are presented with to experience world music, Barber said, “[They’re] a chance to savor cultures from every corner of the world. We celebrate a lot of important American roots music and world music. The spirit of Cityfolk Festival is about inclusion and diversity and people appreciating all kinds of music.”
But, for children and families that just don’t appreciate the nuances of the El Salvadorian melody or the Cha Cha slide, the Family Fun Way is back. Located on St. Clair and Monument Streets, it will feature interactive storytelling, crafting, music-making workshops and drum circles. The passport stations are also back, where kids this year will collect fun, cultural facts on a scavenger hunt to collect in their “passports” to submit to a raffle at the end of the hunt. Raffle prizes include a kid-sized steel drum from Panyard, Inc. and an iPod Nano.
But what is a festival without food? Don’t look for elephant ears because you probably won’t find them. At Cityfolk, the cuisine is a little more sophisticated than your average street fare. Delicacies will come from the far reaches of the globe including German, Caribbean, Greek and Lebanese flavors among many others (including good ol’ barbecue).
Chase down your plates with craft beers from the international beer garden and that, my friend, is fair food.
This year brings one major difference to the Cityfolk Festival that has never before been implemented.
“For most of the last decade we have been selling the festival as a free event,” said Barber. “This year we’re going to be asking for a suggested donation.”
At the entrances of the festival and milling about the streetways, you will see volunteers in bright orange T-shirts carrying bright orange buckets. Yes, they are collecting money.
No, you should not avoid them.
A suggested donation of $5 is requested this year for those who can afford it to help cover the basic cost of the festival. What you might not know is that the Cityfolk Festival costs, annually, about $350,000 to produce, and grants and corporate sponsorships are dwindling.
“It’s not going to be a heavy sale, [they’re] not going to be obnoxious people,” said Kathleen Alter, executive director of Cityfolk, about the cash-coddling volunteers. “One of the reasons we are doing this rather than charging admission is that we know some people truly can’t afford a $5 admission charge.”
She also points out that $5 is a very small donation to have such fantastic entertainment in our downtown, and one ticket to one of the bands playing the festival would be considerably more purchased at a regular tour-stop.
“We try to deliver an experience that is truly a communitywide celebration,” said Barber.
So loosen those pockets, take out your ear buds and turn off your iPods. Cityfolk is here offering an incredible lineup of musical talents, craftsmen and dining to the City of Dayton.
Reach DCP freelance writer and
editorial intern Emma Jarman at