Focus on the HWS Folk Fest – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Focus on the HWS Folk Fest

If you were a member of the campus community in the last quarter of the 20th century, you will remember the HWS Folk Fest, held from 1976 to 2001. Held every May on the Quad, the festival grew from its beginnings as a venue for local groups into a bona-fide concert draw featuring national performers like Bela Fleck and Doc Watson.

You can relive the glory days of the Folk Fest through a video created by The Geneva Historical Society’s Curator of Collections and Exhibitions John Marks, who serves on the HWS History Department faculty. The four-minute video features images from the Fest along with a soundtrack from festival performers BeauSoliel, called “the best Cajun band in the world” by Garrison Keillor.

The video is part of a project sponsored by the Historical Society called Music in the Key of Geneva. Funded in part by the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York Council for the Humanities, the exhibit chronicles the rich musical heritage of the Geneva region. The exhibit includes “…five sets of exhibit panels that can travel around town in public places, that cover many aspects of Geneva music: religious, school, dance bands, rock and roll, roots music, etc.,” says Marks.

The Folk Fest came about through the efforts of Matt Stamell ’78, a musician and instrument maker with a passion for folk music, and a group that included HWS students and faculty along with local music lovers. During the first years, on a budget of about $1,000, they booked mainly regional performers who sometimes performed in exchange for food and lodging. As the years passed and budgets expanded, the promoters looked beyond Geneva and brought in groups and musicians with a national following, such as Rusted Root and the Horse Flies, and audiences swelled to more than 2,000.

The end of the Fest came early in the millennium, when the Colleges switched from a trimester to a semester system, and moved graduation to May. A fall festival was held in 2001, but the new date did not catch on and it became the last Folk Fest.

If you have personal memories or memorabilia from the HWS Folk Fest, the Historical Society would like to talk to you as they work to augment the Folk Fest files. Once compiled, the material will be given to the HWS Archives. Contact John Marks at marks@hws.edu or 315-789-5151.