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Behind the List with Steve Sharadin of Kutztown Folk FestivalKeeping it fresh, staying true to original mission

- Last modified: July 2, 2018 at 11:55 AM
Steve Sharadin, director of the Kutztown Folk Festival, says that the event – which runs through July 8 – has about a $15 million economic impact on the region.
Steve Sharadin, director of the Kutztown Folk Festival, says that the event – which runs through July 8 – has about a $15 million economic impact on the region. - (Photo / )

The Greater Lehigh Valley offers a panoply of entertainment sources.

From casinos and concert venues to ski resorts and wineries, the opportunities for adventure seem endless.

One attraction that’s been growing year-over-year is the Kutztown Folk Festival.

Here to answer this week’s “Behind the List” questions is festival director Steve Sharadin.

Lehigh Valley Business: How long has the Kutztown Folk Festival been operating in the region and what are the primary services it provides to attendees?

Steve Sharadin: Having started in 1950, the festival is entering its 69th year. Originating as a three-day event focusing on the culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch, it attracted over 25,000 visitors in its inaugural year.

After several years, the festival quickly grew to its current nine-day format attracting visitors from all over the country as well as international visitors.

Following in the founders’ footsteps, the festival presents the Pennsylvania Dutch culture through 200 artists and craftsmen, music and dance on five stages, scrumptious Pennsylvania Dutch food, folk life demonstrations and the county’s largest quilt sale.

To this day, the festival continues to provide families with an educational as well as entertaining event while preserving and promoting the Pennsylvania Dutch culture.

LVB: What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that the organization has encountered in running such a large festival?

Sharadin: By far, the No. 1 biggest challenge in presenting an outdoor event such as the festival is weather. Unfortunately, that’s the one thing out of our control.

Today, there are many more options of entertainment for people as compared to 50, 30 or even 20 years ago. This has caused us to continually have to keep the festival fresh with new features each year while not losing sight of its original mission and what makes the festival such a unique event.

Over the past several years, this has opened the door for us to have partnered with and featured some of the area’s best museums and organizations. Such as Bethlehem’s National Museum of Industrial History, the Schwenkfelder Museum and Library from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania’s’ Traveling Civil War Museum and an expanded role by the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University.

LVB: How does the Kutztown Folk Festival directly stimulate the local economy?

Sharadin: A study approximately 10 years ago estimated that festival’s regional economic impact to be in the $15 million range.

The festival leads to 400-plus seasonal jobs. It takes nearly 2,500 employees, volunteers, entertainers, craftsmen, support staff, vendors and service providers each day to put on the event.

Each year, there are 25 or more nonprofit organizations, service organizations and churches that benefit from and are directly involved with presenting the festival, including Kutztown University Foundation & Alumni Relations, the festival’s presenting organization.

LVB: The Berks County region has a lot of history. How does the Kutztown Folk Festival make itself stand out as an attractive destination for visitors? What marketing initiatives does it implement to bring people to the area?

Sharadin: The Berks County/Lehigh Valley Region has a deep history of Pennsylvania Dutch culture.

The architecture, such as the area’s unique bank barns adorned with hex signs and covered bridges, [and] the expansive lush rolling farmlands take visitors back in time and is one of the components that make this area an attractive destination for visitors.

The festival in a way was born out of this and hasn’t lost sight of that fact and continues to offer a unique event that immerses the visitor into the area’s culture and history.

The festival continues to partner with the area’s travel and visitor bureaus, as well as area hotels, restaurants and attractions, in an effort to encourage visitors to plan multiple day trips to the area.

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