Archived News

Folkmoot redefines mission as 2015 festival gets underway

folkmoot buildingWith just days until the 32nd annual Folkmoot USA international dance and music festival is set to kick off, the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Hazelwood is a frenzy of activity. Construction projects are finishing up, fresh paint is drying on the walls, beds are being prepared for the performers and new Executive Director Angie Schwab is squelching fires left and right.

“The first group comes on July 14, and most of the others will arrive July 15 and July 16 — then the Folkmoot machine will be running at full steam,” Schwab said last week. “We’ll have eight bus drivers, 10 cafeteria workers, 22 guides and assistant guides, and 100 late-night volunteers. Then that number will swell to 150 performers, musicians and dancers — this place will be hopping.”

Described as “glorious chaos” by longtime staff members and volunteers, they have come to expect the unexpected when it comes to executing the festival. 

“Everything is going wonderfully this year,” said Folkmoot board member Joe Sam Queen. “It’s always complicated to bring several hundred international performers into the country every year and it takes special people to do it.”

Everyone may be stressed right now, but when the groups arrive and performances are under way all over Western North Carolina, organizers are able to appreciate the fruits of their labor. 

Staff and volunteers have more to juggle than usual this year. In addition to the festival, Folkmoot is in the midst of a capital fundraising campaign. Renovations projects are also underway at the Folkmoot center in Hazelwood. And Folkmoot leaders are also attempting to establish year-round programming at the center in addition to putting on a 10-day summer festival. 

Related Items

“As we re-envision how Folkmoot might shift and rethink what makes sense in terms of meeting our mission on a year-round basis, we will learn a lot from this year’s festival,” said Schwab, who took over the executive director position in March.


New this year

While the international folk dance festival will still feature signature events like the Parade of Nations on Main Street in Waynesville and World Friendship Day at Lake Junaluska, Schwab is excited to introduce some new events this year. 

The “Kids by the Carload” event on July 23 at the Haywood County Fairgrounds near Lake Junaluska is a way for the younger generations to be exposed to Folkmoot. Groups of children and families are invited to enjoy some pizza, ice cream and other treats while seeing live entertainment from the Folkmoot performers. The price for an entire carload of spectators is $18.

“We want to get people who haven’t experienced Folkmoot before to see what we’re all about,” she said. 

Traditional clothing is a big part of folk dancing and the clothing worn by the visiting international groups are always a topic of conversation.   

So Folkmoot is asking local attendants to show off their own culture by wearing traditional garb to the events, whether that’s a hat, broach or another piece of clothing. For example, people in WNC with Scottish roots are encouraged to wear their kilts to the Folkmoot events. 

Last year, Folkmoot tried to change up the schedule of events in an effort to make certain events more accessible for people. However, the changes ended up being confusing for visitors and might have played a part in decreased attendance and ticket sales. Schwab said the board decided to return to the long-standing schedule, with the parade being held at 1 p.m. on the first Friday of the festival.

“We took a lot of feedback on the day we had the parade and decided to move it back to where it was in the past,” she said. “People were disoriented with the changes, so I think it will work better.”

Folkmoot also is being more interactive with more social media campaigns, including a Facebook campaign to teach people how to say “hello” and “peace” in the languages of the visiting groups. 

Schwab said attendants could also expect more interaction and audience involvement at many of the Folkmoot performances. 


Bridging the cultural divide

Folkmoot is so much more than a week’s worth of international dance performances. At its core, Folkmoot is a way to build relationships and break down stereotypical misperceptions of foreign cultures. 

Even late at night after performances are done for the day, lasting friendships are being created at the Folkmoot Center. Volunteers and international performers from all the different countries hang around the building and use whatever means they have to communicate. 

“Folkmoot has generated many long-term friendships and marriages, which has resulted in global flavor to this community,” Schwab said.

Rose Johnson, Folkmoot board chairman, said she wants to create more of these types of experiences between the performers and the community. 

“While I greatly enjoy the festival performances, the heart of the festival is in the exchange of smiles, conversation and meaningful moments among local and international performers and citizens as they experience each other’s culture through heritage dance, music and dress,” she said. “This year’s festival provides more opportunities — like the ‘Kids by the Carload’ performance at the Haywood County Fairgrounds —for these heartfelt exchanges.”

In addition to a $9 million economic impact, Queen said Folkmoot has an immeasurable cultural and social impact on the region as a whole. 

“It’s amazing what Folkmoot does,” he said. “We can’t get the world any closer to us. We are really bringing the world home to Main Street and that is the envy of everyone.”


Folkmoot’s future

With 30 years of Folkmoot behind them, the board of directors went through a strategic planning process during the last couple of years. The result was a smaller, reconfigured board of directors, the establishment of community volunteer committees and a new vision to expand Folkmoot with year-round programming. 

Johnson said the change has made a huge difference in the productivity of the board and the committees. 

“For the first time, community members are formally involved in the board’s standing committees, bringing an influx of expertise and diverse perspectives to the planning and decision-making processes,” she said. “This broad-based effort creates momentum to successfully transition Folkmoot from an annual two-week festival to a year-round organization.”

Schwab is no doubt taking that momentum and running with it. She has all kinds of ideas for Folkmoot just waiting to be implemented. The first step toward more Folkmoot programming is having a group from Indonesia coming to visit in October. The group will stay at the friendship center and hopefully offer performances for local school children. 

“I’d like to have the building become a hostel space for groups traveling through the Great Smoky Mountains,” she said. “I’d like to see Folkmoot have a travel group develop where local people travel together throughout the world.”

When the auditorium is complete with than 200 seats, she want to work on having a full schedule of community events, and the cafeteria offers great opportunities to host a series of international community dinners. With an interest in folk art, she would love to offer studio space for local and visiting folk artists as well as contemporary Cherokee artists. 

“We’ll go where the energy is — it is a pretty exciting time for Folkmoot,” Schwab said. 


Support the cause

Folkmoot is in the midst of a $1.2 million capital campaign — $400,000 for building renovations, $200,000 to boost year-round programming and $200,000 for Folkmoot’s endowment. 

Johnson said the renovations being completed at the Folkmoot Friendship Center were central to the board’s vision of Folkmoot as a year-round community and cultural development organization. 

“The facility’s auditorium, multipurpose room, expansive dining hall with commercial kitchen, many large rooms and accessible location combined with a global network of relationships uniquely position Folkmoot to be a driver in regional economic development, potentially doubling its $9.2 million economic impact,” Johnson said. 

Queen said the capital campaign is in full swing as Folkmoot ramps up this year. He encourages people to contribute in any way they can whether it’s buying a commemorative brick at the entrance of the Folkmoot Friendship Center for $250, a commemorative seat in the auditorium or $100,000 to have naming rights to the auditorium or the multi-purpose room. 

Johnson said a contribution to Folkmoot is an investment in cultural understanding and acceptance. 

“Each gift makes it possible for Folkmoot to bring local and international cultures together in meaningful ways, helping children and adults celebrate diversity and in turn, create stronger communities,” she said. 

Queen is very optimistic about Folkmoot’s future. He said the organization is lucky to have Schwab leading the way and also fortunate to have the Folkmoot building to continue to grow the organization well into the future. 

“We’re going to year-round programming and as we grow into that role with a new director and a great vision from the new board, we have a very promising future and we need the continuing support,” he said. 

Leave a comment

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.