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New England Folk Festival

The New England Folk Festival (or more familiarly, "NEFFA") is an annual festival of traditional dance and music that takes place in the Boston, Massachusetts area in the spring. There are two notable things about NEFFA. First, it is a participatory festival: attenders are encouraged to partake in dancing, singing, jam sessions, and more. Second, it is run by volunteers and all the performers are volunteers.

t was the summer of 1944. Three people were chatting over coffee after a Tuesday night square dance at the Boston YWCA: Grace Palmer, director of the Y; Mary Gillette, head of its physical education program; and Ralph Page, the popular New Hampshire caller who presided at the square dances. The series had been running for little more than a year, but was already drawing over two hundred people every week, most of them college students.

As Ralph Page later recalled the conversation, they were discussing a recent attempt at a "New England Folk Festival" at the Boston Garden which had left them unimpressed. "Suddenly, Mary said, 'Why don't we have a real folk festival?' and so the idea was born -- as simple as that!"

Mary Gillette envisioned a festival where New England's many ethnic groups could share their song, dances, and crafts and present them to a wider audience -- not in a commercial, isn't-this-quaint way, but in a simple, honest, straightforward manner.

It was an idea whose time had come: everyone was enthusiastic. Grace Palmer offered the facilities of the Boston YWCA. Philip Sharples, who in 1940 had founded the Belmont Country Dance Group (one of the first square and contra dance series in the Boston area), joined with Mary Gillette and Ralph Page in calling local leaders to meet and talk it over. Many recreation agencies and ethnic groups sent representatives, who wasted no time in getting down to business. From the start, the Festival Committee agreed to maintain an atmosphere of non-commercialism and high standards of performance and authenticity.

The first festival took place on 28 October-29 October 1944 and attracted 200 attenders, mainly to watch performances of local ethnic dance performing groups. Since then, the festival has grown to a three-day affair, attracting about 5000 attenders.

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