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Identifier: MC 748

New Jersey Folk Festival Records


  • 1974-2013

Scope and Content Note

Most of the records of the New Jersey Folk Festival are grouped chronologically by festival year as general files. These files document the preparations, the day of the event, and follow-up activities of the festival and related programs with correspondence, area reports, background materials, and notes by the festival staff. The records also include documentation of the folk festival course in the Rutgers American Studies Department, related financial records, newspaper clippings, photographs, T-shirts and sound recordings.

The most comprehensive portions of the records are the reports of the New Jersey Folk Festival student coordinators, who were sometimes called "officers." Each student coordinator handed in a report of the year's activities, which also served as the term paper for the course at Rutgers. Reports were filed by the following coordinators: Art, Children's Area, Crafts, Food, General, Grants, Journal, Music, and Publicity, among others. (The number and responsibilities of the coordinators changed over the years.) A report typically describes the timeline and the activities in the particular area of responsibility and as such provided invaluable guidance for the next year's student officers. The number of reports varies by year. Length, content, and accompanying material also vary. Regular monthly reports, such as the coordinators' reports and grant budget reports, are provided in a few years only. Many years also feature a comprehensive report of all activities submitted by the general coordinator, while some years after 2000 include a comprehensive festival manual.

The level of documentation for each festival varies. For most of the 1980s and 1990s, and for some later years, the documentation spans the entire year of preparation: from the preliminary steps of determining theme proposals (occasionally as early as years in advance), the collection of background material, and the course organization through the concluding evaluation of activities in comprehensive reports from each area of the festival organization.

Other folders include background materials (on participants and thematically-related festivals), advertising (flyers, brochures, posters), business records (invoices, contracts, beer license), public relations documents, area correspondence, photographs, and journals/publications as well as course syllabi. In the early years, there are some materials related to New Jersey Committee for the Humanities grant programs. There are also scrapbooks for the years 2005, 2007, and 2008 and several commemorative T-shirts from 2004 to 2012 (with gaps). Additional materials present consist of sound recordings, including reel-to-reel audiotapes of musical presentations at New Jersey Folk Festivals from 1979 to 1985 and copies of interviews with at least two musicians.

For several years, the American Studies Department and Professor Gillespie worked with the New Jersey Folklore Society to produce the journal New Jersey Folklore, later known as New Jersey Folklife. Students also worked to edit the journal, and records relating to it are found in this collection.

A small quantity of folk art is documented in the festival's records, in the form of questionnaires and photographs relating to about a dozen pre-1940 American quilts. These items were brought to the 1985 festival by their private owners as part of a quilt sharing event.


19.3 Cubic Feet (53 manuscript boxes, 4 oversize boxes)

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

No Restrictions.


The New Jersey Folk Festival is an annual event run as a class by the Rutgers University American Studies Department under the supervision of Professor Angus Gillespie. Although some sound recordings are included, the folk festival's records primarily consist of correspondence, reports, background documents, photographs and notes created by the festival's staff; consequently, the documents in the collection pertain to the folk festival as an event and as a class. The final/area reports in particular document the organization and activities related to the festival.


The New Jersey Folk Festival is an annual, outdoor, daylong, free event held on the Douglass campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The festival is the culminating event of a Folk Festival Management class offered through the Rutgers American Studies Department. (It was originally offered under the title "Special Problems in American Culture.") The festival is managed by a small number of undergraduates--approximately twelve--who apply to participate in the class. These students are supervised by New Jersey Folk Festival founder and executive director, Professor Angus Kress Gillespie. Each student acts as "coordinator" for a particular aspect of the festival such as general coordination, foods, workshop, children's area, business, publicity, grants, public relations, crafts, music, and art. Volunteers are also solicited to help on the actual day of the festival. Most of the planning takes place in the spring semester as part of Professor Gillespie's class.

For some years, the American Studies Department and Professor Gillespie worked with the New Jersey Folklore Society to produce the journal New Jersey Folklore, later styled New Jersey Folklife. Students in the Folk Festival Management class also worked to edit and produce the journal.

The New Jersey Folk Festival first ran in 1975. It is always scheduled for the last Saturday in April, rain or shine, and is the oldest continuously run folk festival in the state. Agricultural Field Day, held on the adjacent Cook campus of Rutgers University, occurs on the same day, so attendees have always had a choice of festivals and venues. Since the early 1980s, the folk festival has celebrated the diversity of New Jersey by highlighting a particular ethnic culture each year. It aims to inform the public of the rich folk traditions of these ethnic groups with a variety of activities such as craft making, food demonstrations, storytelling, and musical and dance performances. By the early 2000s, the festival was attracting upwards of 15,000 residents, students, alumni, and family members yearly. Since 2009, the festival has been complemented on the University's New Brunswick area campuses by Rutgers Day, an extensive, free event, held on the same day, which showcases the University and its various units and affiliated organizations.

The New Jersey Folk Festival is a multifaceted event. A printed program providing a full description of performers, presentations, and schedule of events is available to attendees. Musical and dance performances are usually held on two different stages at the festival, while workshops are conducted on a third stage. In addition to traditional American folk music, many of the performances correlate with the ethnic culture featured that particular year. Although many artists come from New Jersey, fieldwork is often conducted to identify performers that represent the annual ethnic feature. Some artists are brought from overseas and most are paid an honorarium. Student coordinators work to ensure that the festival offers food vendors with a wide variety of choices; volunteers in the children's area keep young children entertained; and vendors in a craft market display and sell clothing/clothwork, leatherwork, jewelry, pottery/ceramics, stained glass and other works.

Early in its history, the festival relied on food and alcoholic beverage sales to fund its activities; however, Rutgers University prohibited the sale of alcohol in 1988. Soon after, festival organizers solicited corporate sponsorships as well as grants from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

For more information about the Folk Festival and its history, see the festival website, and the following papers by Angus Kress Gillespie, "The Founding of the New Jersey Folk Festival" and "Beyond the Ivory Tower: Reaching Out to the Community", which can also be found at the Folk Festival website.

Biographical / Historical

Folk Festival Themes

Folk Heritage
New Brunswick Folklore
200 Years of New Jersey Agriculture
Holland-American Culture
Hungarian Americans
Cuban Ties
Living Scottish Traditions in America
American Indians
Twentieth Anniversary
Puerto Rico
South Jersey
Chinese-American Traditions
Blues and Gospel
Women in Folk
Portuguese-American Traditions
Blues and Gospel
Mexican-American Traditions
30th Anniversary Celebration
Norwegian-American Traditions
Charm of Korea
Dominican-American Traditions
German-American Traditions
Anniversary Year
The Andes
Kalmyk Culture
Bulgarian Traditions
Garifuna Traditions

Arrangement Note

Most of the records of the New Jersey Folk Festival are grouped chronologically by festival year and then arranged alphabetically by folder headings within each year.

Processing Note

Approximately thirty of the boxes in the New Jersey Folk Festival collection were processed by students in a graduate "Manuscripts and Archives" class offered by Rutgers University's School of Communication and Information. The remaining boxes were processed by a Special Collections and University Archives archivist. In 2013, three more cubic feet of material was accessioned. These additional records included programs, class materials, and other materials related to the preparation for the event. This accession also included commemorative T-shirts and reel-to-reel tapes with recordings of various years' musical performances. In 2015, an additional accession was received, mainly with materials from 2010 to 2012.

Because the New Jersey Folk Festival is a class along with an event, a small quantity of material regarding students' grades was discarded for reasons of privacy. Where they appeared, Social Security numbers were removed from the documents.

Note: For reasons of copyright protection, unpublished student papers may be photocopied only on a limited basis unless permission to do so has been obtained from their authors.

Inventory to the New Jersey Folk Festival Records MC 748
Edited Full Draft
Judit H. Ward, Allison Klein, Lucy V. Vidal, and Mike Ferrante
January 2007
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.
Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.

Revision Statements

  • December 18, 2008: Caryn Radick added information to the finding aid reflecting material sent from Angus Gillespie from years 1994 and 2004. The scrapbooks were also added to the collection. The additional material led to box and folder number changes, and the addition of three new boxes (two oversize). In 2013 Catherine Carey incorporated a new accession from Gillespie of three cubic feet of material including, event programs, memorial t-shirts, and audio recordings. This addition also led to box and folder number changes and the addition of two more oversized boxes.