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Fort Armstrong Folk Festival steeped in tradition

August 6, 2018
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When it comes to keeping a festival viable, Jessica Coil believes striking a balance is “key to everything.”

The Fort Armstrong Folk Festival, closing in on half a century in existence and returning Aug. 2-5 along the Allegheny River in Kittanning, is steeped in tradition, says its executive director, “so we are careful not to mess with that too much.”

“Still, people don’t want to see same old, same old, so we work hard each year to bring just enough new to make it exciting,” she adds.

This year, the 47th for the festival, visitors from throughout the region, many from out of state, will see a lot of what they have come to expect from Fort Armstrong: “The great food, awesome artists, great entertainment, historical demonstrations and much, much more.”

She says the format of the festival has not changed, but visitors will always find “something new and exciting” to see as they stroll through the grounds.

WHAT’S NEW?

“There are lots of new arts and crafts vendors that we are very excited about, as well as new hands-on activities at our demonstration booths. including the wool spinning booth, the Celtic music booth and the petting zoo.,” Coil says.

She is confident the festival layout remains comfortable for visitors and that they will know where to find food, entertainment, crafts, horse and buggy rides and vehicle displays. “But within each facet of the festival, we try to bring something new each year and I think we’ve accomplished that well this year,” she adds.

BIGGER AND BETTER

This year’s festival has what she believes is the most arts and crafts vendors in probably the last decade, with 19 of the 72 new this year. The wool spinning demonstrators are adding some new activities, the petting zoo is now featuring a sheep shearing demonstration, and the Bee Keepers are bringing the Pennsylvania Honey Bee Queen this year.

Vehicle displays are “new and different,” she says. Thursday features 4-doors, Friday, hard-tops and Saturday, it’s tractors.

There is no need to go hungry. Food choices this year include American, Chinese, Greek, Italian and Cajun, to name a few.

LOCAL GIRL MAKES GOOD

National country recording artist Charee White of Worthington, Armstrong County, performs at 7 p.m. Aug. 4.

“She is going to be here with a full back-up band that performs with Brad Paisley,” says Ray Voller, entertainment chairman. She was honored as the 2013 New Artist of the Year at the Inspirational Country Music Awards in Nashville. She has been on bills with Kenny Chesney, Chubby Checker, Miranda Lambert and Clint Black.

HERE WE GO STEELERS

Voller anticipates the Pittsburgh-based Steeline percussion group, an independent, professional drumline known for its work at Steeler games, also will be a highlight of the weekend at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 4.

Tuika’s Polynesian Island Magic, Samoan music and fire dancing, at 7 p.m. Aug 3, is always a big draw, he adds.

The Vogues, a crowd favorite, return at 1 p.m. Aug. 5.

UP-AND-COMING TRIO

The Shay-Seeds (8 p.m. Thursday), is “an up-and-coming acoustic trio,” Voller says. Making its festival debut, The Shay-Seeds are Sophia Whiteman, bass and vocals; Olivia Whiteman, guitar, mandolin, banjo and vocals; and Hannah Baker, fiddle, of the Shay section of Kittanning Township.

They play country, bluegrass, “old hymn-gospel” and new music with a folk instrument twist.

“I try to book as many musical genres as I can so that that everyone from teens to grandparents has a reason to come to the festival and enjoy themselves,” says Voller, who performs in the Jentz, a veteran rock, dance and variety cover band, which entertains at 4 p.m. Aug. 5. “Most people I talk to are excited to come to the festival with friends and family,” says Coil. “It’s really a time for bonding, reunions, making new memories and reminiscing about past festivals.”

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