Music City will bring the folk world — and musicians from scores of other traditional genres — here as host of the National Folk Festival for three years beginning in 2011. Nashville beat out 43 other cities for the events.
The 72-year-old free festival, which features musical acts ranging from salsa and bluegrass to polka and folk, will take advantage of Nashville’s downtown venues, streets and parks, with six or seven stages dotting the area. Organizers, led by the National Council for the Traditional Arts, haven’t established specific locations.
For the past three years, Butte, Mont., has hosted the moveable festival, with Nashville last playing the role in 1959. The selection of Nashville this time around came after an aggressive campaign by Mayor Karl Dean, who last spring organized the city’s music community into the Music Business Council to boost Nashville’s trademark industry.
“One of the things the music council has been discussing is bringing more live music to Nashville,” Dean said. “We certainly are Music City. We are the epicenter of the music industry in the country and we need to have more festivals. We need to have more live music available to our visitors and citizens of Nashville.”
Festival leaders expect the three-day event to draw some 80,000 attendees during its first year in Nashville, and more than 150,000 in 2013. The economic impact for each year of the festival is tallied at $10 million to $15 million. Organizers hope to recruit some 800 volunteers to help operate the event.
Performers at this year’s festival in Montana go beyond traditional folk, with zydeco, Irish, Quebecois, bluegrass and tango represented. Leaders say it wasn’t just Nashville’s representation as the home to bluegrass and country music that made the destination appealing, but also the city’s growing cultural diversity.
“There’s a wealth of experience and talent in Nashville that would facilitate producing an event of this size,” said Julia Olin, executive director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts. “We also loved the idea that Nashville is really a much different place than it was a couple of decades ago.”
Dean said he recognized the popularity of the National Folk Festival when it was recently held in Richmond, Va. Though it will come to an end in Nashville in 2013, he said he hopes it will lay the groundwork for a new festival to begin the next year.
“What excites me about this festival is it’s live music and it’s free live music,” Dean said. “We have great talent here in Nashville. And there will be talent from different parts of the country on display here, too. This also celebrates multiculturalism. It celebrates the diversity of this city.”