by Jonathan Weaver
The 42nd annual Fort Armstrong Folk Festival is already scheduled to be better than last years, according to Executive Director Jessica Coil.
Coil – in her second year at the lead – said the annual weekend event that closes North Water Street in downtown Kittanning – and that begins at 5PM August 1 – has a renewed focus that spectators may notice as they walk along Riverfront Park
“We really wanted to focus on bringing back some of the heritage art and music – we have been successful in that,” Coil said.
That includes agreeing to a contract with Central Pennsylvania’s ‘Shaggy Mountain Farms Petting Zoo’ to provide colonial-themed educational –and free- lessons, West Kittanning Spinner Gerald Lenavitt, and two Clarion Dulcimer Club musicians to trade-off with a Pittsburgh harpist near the food court.
Coil noticed the musicians at New Bethlehem’s First Fridays Music in the Park concert series.
Blacksmith Flavius Brinsfield – owner of Dragon Run Forge and Livery in Cowansville – will also return for demonstrations, as will the pony rides and horse and carriage rides.
“We wanted to make sure people knew what the purpose of the festival was. Over the years, it’s easy to get away from that sort-of-thing, even things like requir(ing) our exhibitors to wear period dress,” Coil said. “Those rules kind-of went lax over the last several years and we said ‘We have to stick to our goals. We set those for a reason and we really want people to come and think about the history and heritage because it is so rich here in Armstrong County and we want to make sure we’re honoring that.
“You can go to a festival anywhere and get a funnel cake and hear a band play – we want that, but we also want people to realize why we’re (holding the festival).”
Of the 65 artist exhibitors and approximately 15 food vendors, 16 will set up booths for the first time at the folk festival – mostly through word-of-mouth or additional promotion.
“When you put on a good show, it grows itself,” Coil said.
Of those vendors will be ‘Wood Creations’ by Dennis Gustafson of Brookfield, Wisconsin, ‘Colonial Wagon and Wheel’ and ‘Country Charm and More’ from Lancaster, Ohio and ‘Hudson River Inlay’ furniture and artwork from New Windsor, New York.
Local crafters – including ‘Yamali Naturals’ Soap Maker Emma Waugaman – will also return.
Regarding food, Coil noted that spectators will find more local food vendors across the booth in an effort to reduce travel and some expense. The festival committee’s beef tent will also feature some new items and have worked with the Kittanning Rotary Club to provide 32 ounce- iced tea and ice-squeezed lemonade for $4.
Spectators will be able to hear organizers better if needed through a new public address system – which sponsors helped contribute to.
More than 75 businesses and families are already reportedly giving money toward the August 1-4 event. The majority of sponsors are from Armstrong County and will attend August 1’s opening ceremonies.
“We absolutely could not put the festival on without the sponsors we get – I can’t even thank them enough,” Coil said.
Musical events are also plentiful throughout the day, as scheduled by Entertainment Coordinator – and Downtown Kittanning, Inc. President – Ray Voller.
Ava Bosco of Slatelick – who will be a sophomore at Kittanning Senior High this fall – will perform the first three days of the event. She has been singing country, pop and classical hits for at least five years and playing guitar more than seven. Some of those songs are original ballads.
Ava sang “What a Wonderful World” and premiered “Make This Easy” before last year’s folk festival on Family-Life TV’s “Talk of the Town.” The latter was recorded with Mark Kamer in Ford City in February 2012.
Madison Starr Kunst of Kittanning and T.O.G also play three evenings. Kunst is a musician, but has also been found on the Kittanning Senior High school and Armstrong Community Theatre stages.
Shows will be either performed on the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church stage – after the yard is cleaned – or the North Stage centrally located on North Water Street.
Invitation-only vehicle displays will also cover the block, with jeeps showcased Thursday, Volkswagens Friday and tractors on Saturday.
“We’re ready to roll – everything seems to be falling into place,” Coil said. “I have a lot of work to do, but we’ll get there.”
Private security will monitor the area 24/7 and close off North Water Street.
The festival opens at 5PM August 1.