2021 National Folk Festival attendance pegged at 91,000

By Liz Holland
Posted 9/20/21

Covid-19 may have forced organizers to scale down this year’s National Folk Festival, but they are happy with the turnout and the revenue generated by the event.

“I thought it was …

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2021 National Folk Festival attendance pegged at 91,000


Covid-19 may have forced organizers to scale down this year’s National Folk Festival, but they are happy with the turnout and the revenue generated by the event.

“I thought it was incredibly successful,” said festival Director Caroline O’Hare.

Held on Sept. 10-12, attendance for the weekend was 91,000, which is lower than the 153,911 at the last festival held in 2019, but higher than the inaugural event in 2018 which drew 63,000 people. The attendance for all three festivals was based on the number of “pings” from cell phones picked up by wifi in the Downtown area.

Friday night and all day Saturday were both busy, with standing room only crowds during some performances, O’Hare said. There was smaller attendance on Sunday. Attendees were asked to wear masks while on the festival site, and most people complied.

“It was a really positive event,” she said.

The festival’s Bucket Brigade -- volunteers who circulated through the crowd asking for donations -- were able to collect $26,618 over the weekend, compared to $40,790 in 2019 and

$20,982 in 2018.

Beer sales for the weekend were $45,329.65, compared to $107,703.49 in 2019 and $73,785.62 in 2018.

Festival merchandise raised $19,793 this year, while in 2019 they collected $31,311 9 and $12,691 in 2018.

Downtown shops, restaurants and bars had “incredible crowds,” with some reporting record sales, O’Hare said.

After Covid forced the cancellation of last year’s National Folk Festival, city and festival officials waited until April to announce they would hold a smaller event this year with four stages instead of seven, and with Covid precautions in place.

O’Hare said performers were given a safe place to eat their meals inside a tent near the city’s amphitheater. Other tents were used for meetings and socializing.

Salisbury hosted the event in 2018 and 2019, and was supposed to host it once more before it moves on to another city, however, the National Council for the Traditional Arts announced plans for it to continue its tenure in Salisbury for another year.

The 2022 event will be presented on Aug. 26-28, in Downtown Salisbury.

O’Hare said planning for the 2022 festival will likely start at the end of this week. There will likely be a revised footprint for next year’s event because the large parking lot near the library is expected to become a construction zone in the coming months. The former city property will be developed with apartments and retail spaces.

The 81st National Folk Festival in 2022 will re-establish areas of the festival that were limited for 2021, including a crafts marketplace, in-person school shows and other key features that were scaled back due to the pandemic.

Applications for artists and vendors for next year’s festival will become available sometime in December at nationalfolkfestival.com.

Announcements about the lineup and other information will begin in the spring.

The opportunity to present the 81st National Folk Festival in 2022, on the fourth weekend in August, will enable the city to leverage this economic and cultural catalyst for an additional year of recovery and rebuilding after the upheaval of the pandemic. The new weekend aligns with the end of summer travel and creates an opportunity for the city to have a destination event for its tourism and business communities during this peak season. 

The NCTA, which has produced the National Folk Festival in 26 communities over 80 years, recognized the potential and value of keeping the festival in Salisbury for an additional year.

City leadership and the NCTA agreed that the opportunity to carry forward the momentum and excitement of this partnership would continue to bring lasting benefits and value to Salisbury. The city has enjoyed the National Folk Festival’s ability to be a catalyst for the newly completed renovations in its downtown as well as wide-ranging community engagement. The National Folk Festival has been a major driver of the recent physical, social and cultural renewal of the city.

O’Hare said the festival has helped city leaders and the public see outdoor space in the Downtown used in a new way. That has led to other outdoor events, including movies and Friday night concerts at the Riverwalk amphitheater, she said.

The National Folk Festival is the nation’s longest-running multicultural celebration of the traditional arts. It seeks collaborative partnerships with communities aspiring to build on this legacy.

While Salisbury will get one more year as host for the festival, the search for the 2023 host city, a nationally competitive process, has begun. After it moves on, Salisbury is expected to host its own folk festival.