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‘A celebration of cultures’

The 44th International Folk Festival continues through Sunday in downtown Fayetteville


The International Folk Festival shifted into high gear Saturday with just about everything that might be expected from a street fair promoting a distinctive cultural theme.

The Parade of Nations kicked things off Saturday morning, and the community’s melting pot reputation was celebrated with ethnic music and dance, arts and crafts, and plenty of international food from the participating countries.

Overall, 30 countries were represented in the opening parade.

This marked the first return of the festival – now in its 44th year – following a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During those two years, the festival was a virtual celebration.

Organizers are expecting to draw 50,000 to 75,000 people to downtown Fayetteville and Festival Park over the three-day event. The Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County is presenting the festival, which got underway Friday night and ends Sunday.

Antonio Renteria, the director of operations with The Arts Council, said the purpose of the International Folk Festival is “to celebrate diversity in the community. We have one of the most culturally diverse cities in the United States. We get to celebrate that diversity. Culture, music, food, art."

The 82nd Airborne Division Band from Fort Bragg led off the parade, followed by ensembles representing such places and countries as Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Belize, Colombia, the Caribbean, India, Azerbaijan, Ghana and Scotland.

“I like unity and everybody getting together and loving each other. Having fun,” said 61-year-old Jackie Brown of Fayetteville. She had a seat by the steps of the downtown Market House. The parade started on Person Street, went around the Market House and up Hay Street. 

Approximately 2,000 were on hand for the parade, a police officer estimated.

“I come to this every year,” Brown said. “We need it. We need to do more. It’s time for Fayetteville to do more.”

Brown already knew which food – Thai food – she was planning on picking up before heading home.

“It’s the rice. I love the rice,” she said. “And the egg rolls. I’m going to walk around to the food court.”

The food court is set up along the Festival Park promenade and inside the park, where food trucks and vendors shared the location with arts and crafts and other businesses selling their products and services.

Kara Halter, 28, of Spring Lake, brought her young son, Peter, to the parade.

“I love how many cultures there are in the area and the diversity of cultures,” Halter said as she playfully bounced her son on her lap.

As for the food being offered during the festival, she said, “I love all of it.”

Halter anticipated sampling some Jamaican or German cuisine, something she has never tried before.

“I also want him to see the cultures,” she said with a smile, eyeing her son.

Kathleen Fair, 38, attended the parade with her husband and three children.

“Actually, I was raised here as a military brat,” said Fair, a middle school teacher with Cumberland County Schools. “I love coming down here. We walked from the house. It’s not far.

“I love the music, the sounds, the smells, the food,” Fair added, “and being able to celebrate all the different cultures.”

Before the parade ended, vendors continued to set up their respective spins on ethnic foods along the entrance to Festival Park. Their offerings included Thai food, A Taste of Belize, Peruvian cuisine, curry rice, jerk turkey legs, an oxtail plate, Indian food and Caribbean cuisine.

Jai Slade, a 31-year-old lemonade vendor from Greensboro, stopped by the Philippine-American Club of Fayetteville tent to try one of the barbecue sticks.

“Phenomenal,” he reported, as he consumed the meat from around the cooking stick.

“Come back and buy a whole plate,” one of the vendors said with a laugh.

Slade said he expected to sell out of his lemonade.

In the center of the lawn at Festival Park, a Colombia contingent’s fiesta bus was parked and playing percussion-heavy salsa and cumbia appropriate for moving and enjoying the exhilaration of the moment.

“It’s our way to show our culture,” Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, who is 54 and from Durham, said of the Colombians’ involvement in the festival. “We get to see other cultures. It makes a beautiful place. People are moving and really happy.”

Anna Bennett, 31, and a native Burmese, was carrying a couple of Styrofoam containers of Filipino food, including one of those barbecue sticks, fried rice, noodles and an egg roll. The second plate was for her 9 ½-year-old son, David.

“He like this food,” she said. “He love rice.”

Before moving on with her husband and child, and the food containers clutched in her arms, Bennett said: “I bring all my Burmese friends here.”

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com.

Fayetteville, International Folk Festival, downtown, music, food