Skip to main content
  • Voices of the Visitors: Favorite Memories from the Past 50 Years

    Blog post main image

    During the final weekend of the 2017 Folklife Festival, the On the Move program gave way to a quieter, more self-reflective event. The Reunion Weekend marked our 50th anniversary, and invited past staff members, participants, volunteers, and visitors to share their memories going back to the first Festival in 1967.

    While newer visitors gravitated toward the hustle and bustle of Circus Arts, a devoted group lingered. They brushed their fingers over faded brochures from the 1980s and 1990s and flipped through racks of well-worn commemorative T-shirts. Something about the atmosphere made people nostalgic. They exclaimed over the Festival memorabilia, trying to guess which years had hosted their favorite programs. Many stopped to talk, reminiscing about the years they volunteered, or bringing along their now grown children.

    Smithsonian archivist Pam Hansen interviewed visitors and staff about their Festival memories, creating an oral history collection that can preserve these stories. As one participant reflected, “Archiving and sharing stories is so important. It helps bring people together and remember where we come from. We need something like this every year!”

    In the corner of the Reunion Weekend area, visitors gathered around tables covered in postcards, crayons, pushpins, and an assortment of multicolored markers. Here we asked them to share their favorite moments, examples of cultural connections, and hopes for the future of the Festival and pin them up on a display board. Of course, some younger visitors were more interested in scribbling on the postcards, but many others welcomed the opportunity to share their own stories and opinions.


    Click on the image above to see photos of individual postcards

    Many of the postcards echoed similar themes. Visitors have strong memories of particular programs, including Bhutan and Peru— and specifically the impressive structures built on the National Mall for each year. The most frequently referenced program was Silk Road of 2002 and the surprise of stumbling upon world-famous musician Yo-Yo Ma. Others wrote of personal connections they made, whether lasting relationships with Festival participants or ways in which the Festival brought them closer to their own families and cultural roots. The diverse music and traditional dances were also a common theme: everyone loves to dance!

    Again and again, postcard writers expressed their love for the Festival and shared how it has touched their lives. We thank you all for joining us and including your stories in ours.

    Hannah Peterson is an intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and a senior at St. John’s College, where she studies classics and philosophy.

  • Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, sustainability projects, educational outreach, and more.