Folk Fest Fun

By Carrie Beth Catron

You may have stumbled upon the courthouse square at some point in the last 35 years to find an intriguing group of international folk dancers, then only to be enveloped in the fun to watch the full performance.  However, there is so much more to this event than a once a year, one time performance.  This festival is a week full of cultural experiences throughout our community that begins long before July.

International Folkfest was organized as an annual event here in Murfreesboro in 1982, because folk dancers from Rutherford County had represented the U.S. in international folkloric festivals in various countries of the world, beginning with performances in 1979 in France and Spain. They had been out of the country to perform for three weeks in Romania in 1973 as a part of the READERS DIGEST “Ambassadors for Friendship” program. In 1977, they were invited to represent the continental U.S. in an international folkloric festival in San Juan, PR. There, under the tutelage of Irene McLean, Director of the Ballet Folklorico of Puerto Rico, they were introduced to European festival directors and learned some of the basics of how such festivals are organized.

These dancers, currently celebrating their 50th anniversary, were variously known as the Kittrell 4-H Square Dancers, the Rutherford County Square Dancers, and the Cripple Creek Cloggers. After experiencing these international festivals themselves, they were very interested in bringing such festival activities to their hometown — and they did. In this, its 35th year, International Folkfest will be hosted by these local folk dancers during the week of June 11-18. Participating troupes this year, joining Cripple Creek Cloggers, will be from Canada, Mexico, and Lithuania.

Planning for the festival each year begins before the previous year’s festival ends. Members of the planning committee come from the community and include current and former dancers, as well as others who have a particular interest in making sure the festival is well-planned. Contacts are continued from year-to-year with key people in folk troupes, many of whom have participated with the Cripple Creek Cloggers in festivals in other countries.  Emails are exchanged, Facebook contacts are made, and recommendations are received as the committee begins the arduous task of formulating the final schedule for the year.

It is incumbent on the local hosts to provide food, lodging, and travel for all visiting folk musicians and dancers from the time they arrive at the Nashville BNA Airport on Sunday until they depart the next Sunday.  All meals are donated, usually by venues where they perform.  Some are purchased with monies donated by civic clubs, businesses, and individuals as well as through grants from the City of Murfreesboro, the Tennessee Arts Commission and Sharing Change (Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation).  Money is also collected to pay for housing in dorms at MTSU and for transportation (one bus and driver per group) during their stay.

Priority for scheduling performances is given to at-risk populations, particularly those organized for youth and elderly, including the Boys and Girls clubs in Murfreesboro and Smyrna and the Murfreesboro City Schools’ summer program.  There are public performances during the week at senior citizens’ facilities and libraries in Smyrna and Murfreesboro and on the Courthouse square from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. All groups will perform at Lebanon High School on Friday night and at the Bell Buckle Concert Hall on Saturday night. The public is encouraged to attend either event, tickets will be available at the door the night of each performance.

Breakfasts are provided each day by various community faith groups, the Murfreesboro Breakfast Rotary, and the Blackman Community Club. Each of the visiting troupes is hosted twice for dinner in private homes and also by the FCE ladies at Lane Agri Park. Main Street Music’s Chris Highers hosts a party on Wednesday night. Other meals are provided by the local Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Middle Tenn Pizza, All Saints Episcopal Church, and Gondolier Restaurant.

The Grove at Williamson Place hosts all participants for a Welcome Party on Monday night. At that time, gifts are exchanged between the troupes and local dignitaries, including Mayor McFarland, Mayor Burgess, and the Chamber.  The Murfreesboro Muslin Youth will present individual gift bags which they have prepared for each guest. Some music will be shared by each troupe, including the USA folk musicians, Uncle Shuffelo and The Haint Hollow Hootenanny, from Bedford County.

Each foreign troupe is assigned a guide to travel with them each day while they are here.  The guides begin to communicate months before the groups arrive. One major duty for the guides is helping them plan their use of free time. During their time in Murfreesboro, they will perhaps visit such local area attractions as Oaklands Historic House Museum, the Heritage Center, Sam Davis Home, Cannonsburgh Village, a TN Walking Horse farm, Stones River National Battlefield, George Dickel Distillery, and/or various sites in Nashville. They will also enjoy shopping and perhaps hiking, swimming, etc.

Current members of the Folkfest planning committee are Scott McCurley, Sheryl Evans, David Lee, Lynne Lee, Patsy Brown, Ewing Sellers, and Steve Cates, Director. Guides for 2017 are Mike Harris, Donna Davis, and Whit Davis. Interested persons from the community are invited to join the planning for June 10-17, 2018 and new sponsors are always needed.

Cripple Creek Cloggers celebrated their 50th anniversary on April 22 with a party beginning at 5:30 at the Kittrell Volunteer Fire Department, on the campus where the group was organized by Steve Cates, a teacher and 4-H Leader at the school. In July and November, the troupe will represent the U.S. in international folkloric festivals in Croatia and Norway, respectively. The dancers always cordially accept new members; teaching is offered and there is no charge for participating. 

Complete information about the festival and the dance troupe can be found on their websites and