New Jersey Folk Festival

New Jersey Folk Festival
The New Jersey Folk Festival (NJFF) is one of the oldest folk festivals in the United States. Held every last Saturday of April since 1975, it is organized by students of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

The New Jersey Folk Festival is part of Rutgers Day, a massive annual festival held at Rutgers University. Rutgers Day started as an agricultural field day for local farmers to learn about the university’s agricultural experiment station. Over the years, it has transformed into an annual event that gives people the opportunity to learn about and experience the university.

The inaugural New Jersey Folk Festival was organized in 1975 by only two students under Professor of American Studies Angus Gillespie. It was conceived as a showcase of the traditional music, arts, crafts, and foods of the various cultural communities in New Jersey. The NJFF became part of the annual Rutgers Day after the latter’s launch in 2009.

Since its inception, the festival has evolved into an end of class project providing undegraduate students with an opportunity to learn leadership and management skills. Today, the festival committee consists of eleven students who are responsible for all aspects of planning, advertising and producing the event under the direction of faculty advisors and with the help of festival alumni.

The New Jersey Folk Festival is a celebration of the diverse indigenous and multicultural folk life of the state of New Jersey and the surrounding region. The main focus of the festival is the traditional music, crafts and foods of New Jersey’s diverse cultural and ethnic communities. It is a non-profit event sponsored by Rutgers University’s American Studies Department.

The NJFF is a free family event held on the last Saturday of April, rain or shine (although the COVID-19 pandemic did result in its cancellation in 2020). With an annual audience of more than 15,000 people, the festivals is one of the largest regularly scheduled events in New Brunswick. The NJFF takes place on Cook/Douglass Campus in the vicinity of Passion Puddle.

Typically, the festival features several stages of music and dance performances, jam sessions and workshops, a craft market, a folk marketplace, a children’s activities area, and a food market offering an impressive array of delicious foods ranging from funnel cake and hamburgers to various ethnic foods.

One of the main highlights of the events is the heritage area offering a close-up look at this year’s geographical or cultural theme. For example, the 2024 theme was “Garden State: Cultures of Cultivation”; it explored the many culturally unique and creative approaches to the arts of agriculture, gardening, and food. That year, the heritage area featured harvest song and dances, seed saving, community gardening, and more.

Another highlight of the festival is the singer-songwriter showcase contest for regional folk singer-songwriters. Every year, at least six winners are given the opportunity to perform a 20-minute set in front of the festival’s large and diverse audience.

New Jersey Folk Festival





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