NYFS logo    tagline
 Pinto Guira making guiramaking laceplaying mandolin

Folk Arts & Culture

New Yorkers know how to celebrate their diversity, and we spotlight here some of the celebrations and festivals that bring people together.



Celebrations & Festivals in New York State

In writing about the mass immigration of the Irish to America, Rebecca Miller, notes “Once here, assimilative attitudes on the part of the new arrivals threatened to destroy these [folk art] traditions as they were considered by many to be embarrassing relics of an antiquated lifestyle. Fortunately, interest in these ancient forms has done a full turn-around over the last fifteen years and today, Irish seisúns (informal music sessions), ceúlis (dance parties), concerts, competitions, and festivals abound, revitalizing these expressions of heritage by the Irish and Irish-American communities...” [see “‘Our Own Little Isle’: Irish Traditional Music in New York,” by Rebecca Miller, New York Folklore 14(3–4), 1988.]

The Irish experience is not unique in this respect: The need to celebrate the traditional ways of life, to preserve and transmit those cultural traditions bring people together throughout New York State. Here is a sampling of some of the ongoing festivals in the state:

    Held every June (since 1980) in Altamont, NY, Old Songs describes themselves as “family-friendly festival of folk, traditional, Celtic and world music and dance, known for its relaxed atmosphere, interactive sessions and workshops,hands-on experience and participatory nature.” A three-day festival with three evening concerts, 120 daytime workshops, a juried craft show, instrument vendors, and more.

  • THE FLURRY: A Festival of Traditional Dancing & Music
    Held every February in Saratoga Springs, NY, this festival presents traditional social dance and music. Contra dancing is a significant portion of the program. From a one-day festival in February 1988, the event has grown to three days, with over 400 performers, and 4,000 in attendance.

    Where Chinatown meets the Lower East Side, this is a cross-cultural celebration of the Jewish and Chinese communities within the neighborhood. The Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival is a celebratory block party held each June on Eldridge Street between Canal and Division Streets with the Eldridge Street Synagogue, a National Historic Landmark, as its centerpiece. Chinese opera and acrobatics, klezmer music, Yiddish and Chinese language lessons, mah jongg, scribal arts, food and folk art demos, crafts, synagogue tours, and more.

    East Durham, NY, is home to the Michael J. Quill Irish Cultural & Sports Centre which sponsors this week of traditional Irish music and dance, with classes, lectures, and concerts in the Catskill Mountains. The classes are provide instruction in music, dance, and Celtic crafts, at all levels from beginner to advanced.

    Each July, this annual festival presents “a who’s who of bluegrass...at a gather of music, learning, and friends.” on the Walsh Farm, in Oak Hill, NY.

    The Russian Winter Festival in Albany, NY, seeks to expand public understanding of Russian folk arts and traditions and culture, with a month-long festival of offerings of traditional foods, music, costumes, exhibits, films, performances, and competitions.

    Organized by the Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans since 1979, this annual festival is the longest running and largest event celebrating Pan Asian identity and culture in the nation. With music and dance performances, Asian cuisine sampling, Asian traditional folk arts presentations, in Flushing and Lower Manhattan, this free community attracts 20,000 visitors.

    Early in 1973, an handful of fiddlers and friends within the Adirondack foothills of Central New York state got together for the very first time for the Fiddlers’ Picnic. Organized as the New York State Old Tyme Fiddlers’ Association, this group seeks to preserve and perpetuate the art of old time fiddling and dances; the annual picnic held in July offers daylong workshops and performances over a three-day weekend.

  • EISTEDDFOD Fall Weekend
    The Folk Music Society of NY hosts traditional music and song along with contemporary songs, sea shanties, Gospel and Sacred Harp, and blues. There are plenty of opportunities for everyone to play and/or sing in the participatory workshops and informal jams. “Eisteddfod” is a Welsh word for a gathering of poets and musicians, and this name was adopted for this annual fall weekend festival by Howard Glasser, the festival’s founder over four decades ago.

    The CRANBERRY is a three-day gathering of musicians who come together to share the joy of making music. The festival offers a full weekend of workshops for all levels from beginner to advanced; featured performer, workshop leader, and open stage concerts; and lots of jamming. The Gathering takes place in Latham, NY in late July

    The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival is a three-day community of folk music and dance at Dodds Farm, in Hillsdale, NY, at the foot of the Berkshires in east-central New York State in late July or early August.

This is just a taste. The list is long, and we invite you to check our calendar, Around the State, for upcoming celebrations and festivals, big and small. If your organization is presenting one, please contact us about adding your event to our calendar.

Monarch FestivalMusic workshop at Monarcas: Butterflies without Borders, Central Park, June 2004. A young festival attendee learns the rudiments of violin style from presenter Humberto López and Bola Suriana musicians from Morelia, Michoacán. Photo: Cristian Peña
[From “Immigrant Arts in Collaboration: Current Community Cultural Initiatives” by Emily Socolov and Gabrielle M. Hamilton in Voices 32(1–2), 2006.]

gigliobwEach year in Brooklyn a street procesion in honor of St. Paulinus features the Giglio tower and the singing of “O Giglio e Paradiso.” Crowds line the parade route here at the Giglio festival. Photo: Martha Cooper.
[From “Born to Giglio,” by Stephanie Trudeau, in Voices 31(1–2), 2005.]

rumbaThe Central Park Rumba is above all a community’s family gathering, with hours of socializing, eating, and making new connections on the grassy area uphill from the benches, where a variety of pan-Caribbean drinks and foods are shared and vended. Left to right: Eddy Rodríguez (tumbador), Jesús “Tito” Sandoval (quinto drum), and Sado Iwao (3/2 drum). Photo: Berta Jottar.
[From “From Central Park Rumba with Love!,” by Berta Jottar, in Voices 37(1–2), 2011.]

NEW YORK FOLKLORE SOCIETY ♦ 129 Jay Street ♦ Schenectady, NY 12305 ♦ 518.346.7008 ♦ Fax 518.346.6617 ♦ nyfs@nyfolklore.org