Best Bets: National Folk Festival going online this year

Fedel Band will play Ethiojazz music at the virtual National Folk Festival at 6 p.m. Saturday. The third and final year for that folk festival in Salisbury, Md., will take place in 2021. (Submitted photo)

The streets of Salisbury, Maryland, will be a little emptier and quieter this weekend than originally planned. But there will still be a party to be had.

The National Folk Festival, which last year drew about 150,000 people over three days to see musicians, dancers, storytellers and craftspeople on seven outdoor stages, will go virtual this year due to concerns over the coronavirus.

The third and final year of the itinerant folk festival will instead be staged Sept. 10-12, 2021, in Salisbury.

Throughout this year’s festival weekend will be a combination of highlights from previous National Folk Festivals in Salisbury and new performances recorded exclusively for this year’s virtual celebration. They will be aired on the festival’s website and social media platforms, as well as Delmarva Public Media (WSCL 89.5, WDSL 90.7 and WESM 91.3). The celebration will kick off Saturday from noon-3 p.m. on Delmarva Public Media.

DPM will air performances from the 78th and 79th National Folk Festivals in Salisbury alongside interviews with performers.

Starting at 3 p.m. Saturday, the festivities will shift to the National’s website and social media platforms for a program that includes newly recorded performances from nationally recognized traditional artists; features from the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art and Salisbury University on the traditional culture of the Chesapeake; special family activities; a short preview of an upcoming documentary about the 80-year history of the National; and much more. The virtual broadcast will end at approximately 7.

The celebration will return Sunday, beginning again from noon-3 p.m. on DPM and then continuing from 3 until approximately 7 on the National’s website and social media platforms.

In addition to more specially recorded performances and family activities, Sunday’s program will include a look at this year’s Maryland Traditions Folklife Apprenticeship teams. Maryland Traditions is the folklife program of the Maryland State Arts Council.

“When we started to see signs of the coronavirus in February, we just started having talks about this. Where is this headed? We weren’t sure. And by April, we thought, ‘OK, what is the responsible thing to do? What is the right thing to do? Can we ensure our festival-goers, our crew, our artists, can we ensure their safety in this current situation?’ We did not feel that we were able to do that,” said Caroline O’Hare, the local manager for the National Folk Festival, which is produced by the National Council for the Traditional Arts and has been presented in 26 communities around the nation since 1934.

“So it was definitely the responsible thing to do. We also had lots of contracts and vendors and artists and things in the works because it takes about a year to plan it. So we plan year-round. We also have fundraising that goes on, and we did not feel that was the right thing to do at all, because all resources are being redirected toward health care, food insecurity and job loss. This wasn’t what we should be going out and asking, ‘Oh, can you help us raise funds for the festival?’ Especially in a very iffy sort of economic environment.”

Ms. O’Hare said that after the decision was made not to hold an in-person event this year, the question was then asked how they can continue to shine a light on the festival’s mission.

Alex Meixner brings polka sounds to the online version of this year’s National Folk Festival at 3 p.m. Sunday.

“We came up with several ideas. Some of them we ran through the summer. We partnered with the board, Ward Museum, Delmarva Public Radio, Maryland State Arts Council and CTA to produce a summer series on Chesapeake traditions, which was awesome. And we looked at different ways that we could give shoutouts, and we made videos and posts about all the concerns from volunteers to our crew to artists and festival marketplace artists, promoting where people could shop online, since most of the craft fairs and things like that have been canceled,” she said.

Along with the music, short videos will air during the weekend festival covering local topics such as the famed Smith Island cake, decoy-making, crab-picking and, yes, even scrapple.

Ms. O’Hare hopes those nuggets will inspire virtual viewers to come check out the area.

“That’s something that we saw, the economic impact is rather incredible from the festival. You have all these people that are coming for the first time or that they are seeing with fresh eyes. And we now get to basically have all these visitors come in that wouldn’t have traveled thousands of miles. We have people coming from all over. So it’s just a really great opportunity for us to showcase not only American traditions but Maryland traditions.”

The virtual lineup is diverse. There will be polka from Alex Meixner, bluegrass from Dale Ann Bradley, New Orleans Creole jazz from the Don Vappie Trio, Lakota storytelling from Dovie Thomason, Ethiojazz from the Feedel Band and western swing from the Hot Club of Cowtown, among others.

Many of the artists have played one or both of the festivals in Salisbury previously, and Ms. O’Hare hopes to get the majority of the artists who were supposed to play in person this year back in 2021, depending upon schedules. After 2021, plans are also in the works to continue the event as the Maryland Folk Festival.

Ms. O’Hare said a big theme for this year’s virtual celebration is “Listen, Watch, Chat.”

“We really want to engage our audience. We want them to share their thoughts. We want them to comment on what they are watching. And we have the call out to all our artists that when they’re coming up, to please join in the chat, as well. So it can be the same engaging experience that you get when you go in person,” she said.

The first two years of the in-person festival were huge successes for the Salisbury area. Ms. O’Hare said she’s very grateful for the reception it’s gotten.

“No matter where I go, if someone recognizes me from the festival or if I’ve got a festival shirt on, I get, all the time, strangers saying, ‘That was amazing. Thank you so much. I can’t wait to go back next year.’ And even when we announced the postponement, the outpouring of ‘We’re so sorry to hear that. We know it’s the right decision.’ So everyone has been sort of onboard. They are waiting for next year, and they are sharing the things that are going on this week. So that’s been really nice,” Ms. O’Hare said.

The weekend program will be free to watch on the National Folk Festival website (, as well as the festival’s Facebook page (

Big Draw a big go

The 2020 Big Draw Festival DE’s plans for October are in place.

The theme this year is “A Climate of Change.” Creating art using recycled materials is the goal. This theme is an opportunity for the Mispillion Art League to partner with the city of Milford and reinvent what a community festival can be in a time when social distancing is important.

A robot made of recycled materials will make up part of this year’s Big Draw Festival DE (Submitted photo)

Imagine building a cardboard house or a robot with recycled materials. Or strolling along the Riverwalk creating a photographic or sketch journal, or coloring nature-themed pages to delight all ages. There will be so many new creative activities to enjoy.

MAL will be at the Riverwalk Farmers Market on Sept. 19 and 26 with information about festival activities and classes, along with cardboard to help build a cardboard city.

On Oct. 3, they will be handing out a free art kit containing an idea booklet in English and Spanish with over a dozen art projects for families and children; information on the Mispillion Riverwalk Self-Guided Nature Photo/Sketch Art Walk, also bilingual; and a few supplies to get you started creating new art from recycled materials in the safety of your own home.

The city of Milford will also provide educational materials for children including a coloring book, crayons, stickers and more, all centered around reducing, reusing, energy-saving, recycling and respecting our environment. The Big Draw art kit and the city of Milford materials will be packaged in a reusable bag. Delaware facts and fun from the DuPont Nature Center and the Delaware Solid Waste Authority will be available.

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New look at Milton

With regulations still in place due to the ongoing pandemic, the Milton Theatre has established a new layout and ambiance for patrons.

Gone are the old high barstools, which have been replaced with metal and wood bar seats.

Every seat in the house has new restaurant-grade bar tables, and seats are now distanced into groups of four, three and two. Candles and menus have been added to each table to give a speak-easy vibe to the space.

Saturday night at 8, the theater will present “Broadway Cabaret.”

The show will feature a cast of Delaware talent, including the return of some Milton Theatre favorites like Cody Munzert, Connor Graham, Conor McGifin, Candice Castro, Matt Lucatamo, Andy Williams and Rory Flynn.

On Sunday at 3 p.m. will be a Jazz & Blues Open Jam.

Come and sign up to play with the band, or sit back and enjoy the music. There will be a silent auction to benefit the Ken Cicerale Music Education Scholarship Fund.

For tickets, visit Milton Theatre is at 110 Union St.

Now Showing

New this weekend in theaters is the romantic comedy “The Broken Hearts Gallery.”