The audience watches Norman Blake perform at the 2014 North Georgia Folk Festival.

Sandy Creek Park will be filled with the sounds of harps, accordions and banjos on Sept. 29.

Folk — a tradition that’s been passed down for generations — is the unifying element of the North Georgia Folk Festival, which will return for its 34th year to serve locals with a cultural experience unlike any other.

The North Georgia Folk Festival was started by the Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department and the Athens Folk Music and Dance Society. Now, it’s primarily managed by the Folk Society.

Despite the festival’s long history, the philosophy and purpose of the event remain the same.

“We’re maintaining a link to traditional folk music and folk art while also introducing some new stuff as folk music evolves,” said Tommy Jordan, the director of the festival. “We now also cover traditional crafts like blacksmithing, basket making and pottery.”

In addition to bands, art vendors and demonstrators, there will also be shows for children, food trucks and activities. This year’s festival will also feature more “outsider” folk artists who have learned art on their own.  

“We’ve had some really fun and interesting acts and we try to shake it up every year, so the [festival] is different in some ways every time,” Jordan said.

This year’s festival will host 16 performing groups and 25 art vendors and demonstrators. Some of the featured performers will include The Rebecca Sunshine band, Athens Area Sacred Harp Singers and Joe Willey and the Movin’ Men, according to the event’s website.

Among those bands is The Moonshine, an Athens-based group that plays folk music with a modern twist.

“Music doesn’t have to be this static, stagnant, old thing — it can be new and doesn’t have to stick to a purist ideal,” said Michael Gerard, the lead vocalist and guitarist. 

Although this will be the band’s first time performing at the folk festival, some of its favorite performances happened at other festivals.

“At a show or club, you’re playing for people who are hanging out and who want to make the scene,” Gerard said. “At a big folk festival, it’s a different story.”

The event will allow artists to showcase their talents and serve as an educational experience for locals who want to learn more about folk traditions and the traditions’ deeply-rooted history.

“What’s interesting about it is that a lot of kids that were young back then are now bringing their own families here,” Jordan said. “This folk festival is multi-generational.”

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