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    While some would argue that Fayetteville is still battling race issues, the city certainly has no problem in celebrating its diversity. For 30 years, one of the biggest parties in town has been the International Folk Festival, an event designed specifically to share the myriad of cultures that have assimilated into our community and to celebrate the unique aspect each brings to our community.
    This year, the 30th anniversary of the festival, promises to be one of the biggest and best events ever. And that’s saying a lot, as the three-day festival has been recognized by the Southeast Tourism Society as a Top 20 Festival for the past three years.
    {mosimage}“When I think back 30 years ago — back to the ‘70s — it was a time of turmoil, the war was going on, but our community recognized that people from all over the world lived here. They were all proud of where they came from, but they were also proud of where they were and how they functioned in our community,” said Debra Mintz, of the Arts Council.
That dedication and pride has enabled the festival to last 30 years. “It’s really quite extraordinary,” said Mintz. “They are always fussing at the United Nations, but folks from these 30 or 40 countries come together year after year to work hard for the community.”
    In years past, a nation has been designated as the host nation; but this year, in celebration of the 30th anniversary, the committee elected not to have a host nation, but rather to celebrate all of the nations, with a theme of “Unity.”
The party will kick off on Friday, Sept. 26, as part of the community’s annual Fourth Friday event. Ground zero for this portion of the festival will be at 301 Hay St., or the building we all know as the Arts Council. The council is hosting a special juried photo competition designed to showcase “unity in our community.” Photographers were asked to take their cameras to the streets and bring in their best photos of the diverse, but unified nature of our community. After you take a look at the art, spend some time outside listening to the traditional sounds of the Heritage Bluegrass Band. The band will be set up on Hay Street, so you can continue to hear their dulcet sounds as you stroll the rest of downtown visiting other participating businesses. Mintz said Hay Street will be closed off, and the band will feature “good old mountain music — a music that is based in our nation’s roots.”
    Now that you have a picture (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves) of the diversity of our city, come on out and take a walk on the wild side on Saturday, Sept. 27, when Fayetteville hosts its own version of carnivale on Hay Street. The annual parade of nations will begin at 2 p.m., and if past celebrations are any indication, there will be dancing in the street. Of course, that’s really the point of the whole celebration.
    The Arts Council keeps as one of its mantras for this festival a quote from a Trinidad poet: “When we dance in the streets, we dance together, regardless of color, race, status, enjoying ourselves and sharing a love for great music, food and fun!”
So, with that in mind, even if you aren’t in the parade, let the music get into your soul and if the urge takes you — dance!
“The parade is going to pretty spectacular to see,” said Mintz. “People from all over world in native costumes will proudly go down the street in their native costumes.”
    Mintz said over 1,000 people participate in the parade every year.
The parade will be followed by a free concert in Festival Park at 5:30 p.m. the concert will feature the local band B.I.G. and then go international with the Spam All Stars. B.I.G is a Funk and Rhythm and Blues Band, while the Spam All Stars, will put the rhythm in you when they bring their Latin sounds to the park. If the mood to salsa or mambo hits you, don’t hold back.
Mintz explained that the Spam All Stars performed during one slot last year, but that they received such a warm welcome that the Arts Council immediately booked them to headline the Saturday concert.
    {mosimage}Sunday, Sept. 28 is the big festival day. Running from noon-6 p.m., the festival will offer food, art, fine crafts and entertainment on multiple stages  in Festival Park and its surrounding area. Mintz explained that Ray Avenue will, in fact, become a second promenade into the park. There will be entertainment stages set up down the avenue, as well as vendors. “We found last year, that having only the bridge access into the park caused a bottleneck,” she said. “So this year, you can go to the left or to the right and find fun and entertainment.”
    The event is huge, so you may want to come early and stake out your place. The event will carry the flavor of all of the various cultural communities that make up our community. There will be art from Africa, next to food from the Caribbean, next to German beer. You see where we’re going with this. This is a one-day, all-out cultural palooza designed to highlight the very best of our community. Don’t miss it.
    For more information, visit the Arts Council Web site at www.theartscouncil.com/International_Folk_Festival.html.

Janice Burton can be reached at [email protected]

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