What Is NEFFA?
The New England Folk Festival Association
The New England Folk Festival Association is a non-profit educational and cultural organization, incorporated under the General Laws of Massachusetts to encourage, sponsor, and preserve high standards of performance of the folk arts and traditions in New England and elsewhere. In addition to the annual Festival, NEFFA supports a weekly contra dance, the annual Ralph Page weekend, a grants program for folk artists, educational programs, and more.
A Flagship Festival
The flagship event for NEFFA is the annual Festival, which takes place over the course of three days in the spring and involves roughly 3000 participants. 2024 marks the 80th anniversary of the New England Folk Festival—it is an event with a long-established tradition of success, an organizational model that has staying power, and a storied history.
Dance and Music for the Whole Family
The Festival features a wide array of participatory dancing, singing, and instrument-playing; performances of dance, music, and storytelling; workshops and discussions on a variety of skills and topics; handmade crafts; vendors selling instruments, dance clothing and shoes, recordings and sheet music, ethnic goods, and more. The range of music and dance is vast: traditional New England contras and squares; international folk dancing (Balkan, Breton, Scandinavian, and much more); Morris and other traditional English dancing; sea chanteys, rounds, and shape-note singing; and so much more.
A Community of Volunteers
There are a couple of features that distinguish the New England Folk Festival from other “folk festivals.” For one thing, it is organized and run almost entirely by volunteer effort. Except for a few highly-skilled tasks (such as sound engineering in the large dance halls), none of the organizers, committee chairs, or workers in tasks large and small are paid. It is particularly of note that none of the performers are paid.
Another distinguishing feature is that the Festival is primarily participatory in nature. There are dance and music events, workshops, discussions, jam sessions, pick-up bands for adults and young people, and much more, in which Festival attendees participate. A powerful piece of this model is that, where there are no “headline” performers, where high-quality artists with many different skills offer their time and talents voluntarily, the Festival takes on an egalitarian, encouraging, accessible feeling. People gather and do what they love to do year-round, inviting others to join them for this very special annual gathering. It builds a strong sense of community.
The Festival is also truly an intergenerational event, with performers and participants of all ages and abilities. Parents dance with babies slung to their bodies; toddlers and grandparents sing and dance in family events; teenagers romp on the contra dance floor; singers and dancers with decades of experience pass their wisdom to the next generations; wheelchair users have the opportunity to try “seated square dancing.”
Culture of Community
This community culture provides a powerful antidote to many pervasive features of American society that many of us lament: materialism, individualism, isolation, passivity in entertainment choices. It invites Festival-goers to be actively engaged, to try something new, to hold hands in a dance, to make eye contact and talk to one another. For one wonderful weekend a year, we leave our differences aside and affirm our common humanity and our love of traditional folk arts.
NEFFA – What We Do
New England Folk Festival
This yearly event attracts thousands from New England, the country, and the rest of the world to its wonderful mix of participatory dance (folk, square and contra), folk music and song, international food, crafts, performances, family-oriented activities, and much, much more.
This popular contra dance is held most every Thursday (except Thanksgiving) at the Concord Scout House, 74 Walden St., Concord, MA. It features a wonderful assortment of local and touring performers.
Ralph Page New England Dance Event
This event, held annually in January, brings together dancers, musicians, and callers in a weekend of dance, music, and discussions. The weekend was established to honor NEFFA founder Ralph Page, who kept New England dancing alive during the lean years before the revival in the late 1960’s.
NEFFA Grants Committee
Each year, NEFFA awards over a thousand dollars in grants and loans to individuals and organizations that support NEFFA’s goals.
NEFFA is a long-lived organization with a wealth of knowledge to share. Check out our collection of video, photos, program books, newsletters, and NEFFA Essays on topics still germane to callers and dancers today.