Folk Festival moves to a new “neighborhood” on the fairgrounds

“That’s where I’ve always thought it should be.”

That’s the reaction Leah Catherine Seaton had when she heard the N.C. State Fair Folk Festival is moving to a new location this year. It’ll be in an area adjacent to Heritage Circle and the Village of Yesteryear.

Seaton has clogged in the festival for more than 20 years, skipping a year every now and then. So it’s a good sign when someone like her gives the stamp of approval to a new location. You can tell clogging is important to her. You can hear it in her voice and feel it in the way she talks about it. The fair’s Folk Festival is an important part of her clogging history, and she hopes it will continue to be part of others’ fair memories too.

Leah Catherine (back left) dancing with her “Feet on Fire” team inside Dorton Arena at the 2019 N.C. State Fair

“When it was in Dorton, it was nice and temperature controlled, but a lot of people didn’t see it,” Seaton said. “I think one thing about being at the fair is the opportunity to expose people to the dance.”

So she’s excited about the possibility that more people will be able to just pass by and see the clogging competition. It’ll be under a tent on an elevated stage, similar to the festival’s setup before moving inside Dorton Arena several years ago. The new location is closer to the fairgrounds’ busiest gate – gate 8 – and Seaton thinks the Folk Festival will just fit in better between Heritage Circle and the Village of Yesteryear. She hopes people who appreciate the nostalgic feel of the area will also be interested in what they see under the Folk Festival tent.

“Plus, we as cloggers thrive off the energy of the crowd,” she said. “I think a lot of the judges look for that laid-back feel of the traditional clogging, so crowd feedback can help with that.”

John Buettner, the director of competitive exhibits at the fair, said the specific new location is just behind the Heritage Church, the chapel that faces Heritage Circle (#5 on the 2021 N.C. State Fair map).

“It’s the right crowd, and the people just walking by will get a glimpse, too,” Buettner said. “And I imagine many people will just find a nice shady place to sit under the tent and be wowed by the show.”

He wonders if the setup will also lead some dance groups to get on stage for exhibition showcases even between competition times. That could add to the overall atmosphere of the area and become a real highlight for visitors near Heritage Circle.

The Folk Festival definitely is a competition though. There are a few contemporary dance categories, but the focus is on North Carolina heritage – namely clogging.

“Our personal goal is to keep everything related to heritage,” Buettner said. “Clogging is the state dance. It has a role to play in our state, and we want to recognize that.”

There are also categories for traditional music competition. For a full list, see the Folk Festival entry form here:

Seaton doesn’t participate in the music competition, but one of her favorite parts of the clogging competition is music – the live band playing during dance routines. Traditionally, cloggers danced with a live bluegrass band, and the fair tries hard to offer this great opportunity for younger dancers. The cloggers give the band a tempo, and the music and clogging goes from there.

The live band during the 2019 Folk Festival.

“It’s a good challenge for students who are used to rehearsing to just the song they learned their dance to,” Seaton said. “The Folk Festival’s live band is really unique for a clogging competition these days.

“It really does bring it back to the roots of traditional clogging – of finding a partner and dancing.”

Unfortunately, the adult group Seaton has clogged with in more recent years isn’t dancing together right now, but she’ll still be there. The younger members of her Feet on Fire dance team will be competing. Also, her five-year-old son Luke wants to do solos.

So Seaton is looking forward to a new set of memories at the 2021 Folk Festival, which is now entering its 73rd year. (The festival began in 1948, but there was not a festival or fair in 2020.) Heritage circle started in 1974, and the Folk Festival has finally moved in next door. Seaton and Buettner think they’ll make perfect neighbors.

About Tractor Pull

Tractor Pull is the fair-themed alias for Brandon Herring, a public information officer in the Public Affairs Division of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He's no stranger to the fair or the farm. A North Carolina native, he grew up helping on the family farm just east of Lumberton. After more than 15 years in TV news, he's sharing news of a different kind these days. He loves the rides on the fair's midway, but also loves that the fair has so many other things to see and do that are grounded in agriculture. His favorite fair food is a funnel cake with just powdered sugar - a classic!

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