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About the National Folk Festival

First presented in St. Louis in 1934, the National Folk Festival is the flagship event of the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA). The festival celebrates the roots, richness, and variety of American culture. Championed in its early years by Eleanor Roosevelt, it was the first event of national stature to present the arts of many nations, races, and languages on equal footing. It was also the first to present to the public musical forms such as the blues, Cajun music, polka, Tex-Mex conjunto, Peking Opera, and many others.


Today, the National is an exuberant traveling festival, produced by the NCTA in partnership with communities around the country—including Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—that embraces the diverse cultural expressions that define us as a people in the 21st century.

Learn more about the work of the NCTA:
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Skyline view of downtown Jackson Mississippi at dusk

About Jackson, Mississippi

Jackson is the capital of Mississippi and the state’s largest city. Home to a diverse population, it is situated in the Capital/River region at the intersection of Interstate 55 and Interstate 20, Jackson is known as the “Crossroads of the South.” Choctaw Indians originally inhabited the area, and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians continues to hold an important place in the region’s cultural landscape. In the 1950s and ’60s, the city played a central role in the civil rights movement.


Jackson’s strategic location has enabled it to develop as an important transit hub where people from throughout the region meet, as well as a center of trade, education, and culture. The city is home to five colleges and universities; in addition to education, healthcare is one of the city’s leading industries.


Known for world-renowned music traditions rooted in the city’s longstanding African American history, such as blues, gospel, and soul, today the city’s music scene is as dynamic as it has ever been—from blues and soul to country and hip hop, not to mention one of the country’s largest St. Patrick’s Day Parades; the Jackson State University Marching Band, the Sonic Boom of the South; and the International Ballet Competition every four years. In recognition of its rich musical legacy, Jackson has adopted the name the “City with Soul,” an homage to its southern charm as well as its history, cultural heritage, and legacy of artistic excellence.


FREE to the public, the National Folk Festival will draw over 330,000 visitors to downtown Jackson, generate over $60 million in long-term economic impacts for the city and the region, and lay the groundwork for a locally produced festival to continue after the National’s residency ends.

History of the National

A Moveable Feast of Deeply Traditional Folk Arts

The National Folk Festival is the oldest multicultural celebration of traditional arts in the country and the event that defined this form of presentation. Founder Sarah Gertrude Knott hoped to “change the nation,” and the festival’s most radical and enduring innovation was that of presenting the arts of many nations, races, and languages in the same event on equal footing. Some of the artists who performed at the first festivals are now legendary, and the recordings and other documentation made possible by the National are precious. Over the festival’s long history, it has evolved to meet the needs of the time, but its commitment to presenting the nation’s finest traditional artists in an exciting and joyful event has remained constant.

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