Hannibal Folklife Festival 2019

October 21, 2019

by John L. Davis IV

2019 is Hannibal’s Bicentennial year, and for 43 of those years, there has been a Folklife Festival.

Eschewing things that are mass-produced by modern methods, the Folklife Festival is a celebration of old-world craftsmanship, where each item made is naturally one of a kind. Everything from quilts to dulcimers, clay sculptures, caned chairs, hammered copper, even jellies and jams. All made by the hands of people whose appreciation for the old ways of doing things shines through in each and every piece.

The Folklife Festival isn’t just about the crafted items. For many who attend, the festival is as much about the food as anything else. This isn’t carnival food, which is in a class all by itself, this is grandma’s kitchen, mom’s home cookin’, granddad’s favorite recipe food. And the food is crafted with the same love, and attention to detail as the handmade mandolins, wooden bowls, or flint-knapped knives. When you have people waiting in long lines that twist their way through milling crowds just to get a fish sandwich or a bowl of chicken noodle soup, you know you’re getting something good.

Plenty of people visit looking for a specific food, like the bread pudding or turkey legs, that you only seem to find at events like the Folklife Festival. For this writer, it’s the hot apple cider. Every year, no matter what, I make a beeline to the Hannibal Arts Council’s cider location, always in the same place, to get my cup of hot cider. If I get nothing else, that’s a must. (Though, I’ve yet to attend and not wish I could just spend the day trying every food available.)

Many of the vendors return year after year, finding Hannibal’s Folklife Festival be a be a favored venue. Lesa Carroll, of the Missouri Dulcimer Company said that she and her husband Kirby have been coming to the Folklife Festival for years, and that it was “the variety of people” that kept bring them back. Lesa also expressed that attendees of the Folklife Festival always were the most interested and attentive of other places they’d been, showing genuine interest in the music and the instruments they craft.

Many vendors, including Joshua McCurdy of McCurdy Pottery, seemed to share the same sentiment, that is was the people, not just the size of the crowds, that keep them coming back to the festival. Joshua said, “I’ve got customers that tell me they come down looking for me every year.”

From dancing to live music, crafts and food, the Hannibal Folklife Festival is a favorite festival for many, one that people look forward to all year long. Though the crowds can sometimes seem overwhelming, the festival seems to bring out a sense of kindness and community unsurpassed anywhere else.

If you missed it this year, go ahead and plan for it in 2020. Put back a few cents here and there, because there’s always something delightfully new, or surprisingly delicious to be found at the Hannibal Folklife Festival.