The History of The Montana Folk Festival
The Montana Folk Festival is the successor event to the National Folk Festival that was presented in Butte from 2008 to 2010. First presented in St. Louis in 1934, the National is the oldest, longest-running and most diverse festival of traditional arts in the nation. Championed in its early years by Eleanor Roosevelt, it was the first event of national stature to put the arts of many nations, races and languages into the same event on an equal footing.
Some of the artists presented at the first festival are now legendary. W.C. Handy’s first performance on a desegregated stage was at the 1938 National. It was the first national event to present the blues, Cajun music, a polka band, a Tex-Mex conjunto, a Sacred Harp ensemble, or a Peking opera. More information about the history of the National is available from the non-profit organization that has organized the event since 1934 -- the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA).
Montana had the honor of presenting the National during its 70th - 72nd presentations in Butte in partnership with the NCTA. Over the three year of the National's run in Montana, the festival infused $1.8 million into the trade area economy to pay for necessary products and services.
Based on tourist surveys, the admission-free outdoor festival brought more than $20 million in new earnings for businesses in communities throughout the state in 2009. The economic impact in the third year was about $31 million, with an estimated 165,000 visitors to the event.
No small wonder that after three years as the host for the National Folk Festival, Montana organizers declined to fold up the tents for good.
When the National Folk Festival moved on, Montana organizers decided to apply what they had learned to carry the traditions forward with a new event that offers much more for years to come -- the Montana Folk Festival. Since before the first note played on the first of three successful Nationals, the goal has been to develop a successor festival that exceeds the expectations and excitement of the three National festivals that went before at the same time that economies of scale are achieved to make the festival a sustainable event for long into the future.
As the festival has made the transition in 2011 and 2012 to the Montana Folk Festival, the economic impact has continued at about $25 million a year throughout the region. In 2013, attendees will be able to experience a familiar yet altogether new event.