20th Annual Folklife Festival Is Scheduled for May 26-28

With traditional dancers in bright madras, the annual Folklife Festival is always a treat.

The 20th Annual Folklife Festival will take over the Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins from Thursday morning, May 26, through Saturday night, May 28.

The brainchild of V.I. National Park Ranger Denise Georges, the annual festival is usually hosted during Black History month in February. This year, however, Georges was dealing with the illness of a close family member and was forced to postpone the event.

“I could not do it in February this year,” said Georges. “The festival was postponed this year due to the illness and death of my mother Melonita Newton Georges, 95.”

While the festival will be hosted a few months later than normal, the usual delights of insightful presenters, exciting dancers and local crafts are certain to not disappoint.

The theme this year is “A Cultural Potpourri for All A We,” and will focus on the commonality of the African Caribbean Diaspora.

Presenters include Dr. Rita Pratt, Director of African Bahamian Diaspora at Henderson College; V.I. Cultural Institute Director Myron Jackson; author, storyteller, linguist and historian Dr. Gilbert Sprauve; Annice Canton, librarian and educator; poet and author Tregenza Roach; and VINP Caribbean Historian Milagros Flores.

“Discussions will focus on the Caribbean-wide commonalities that include the natural and cultural heritage shared within the region,” said Georges.

The fair will also feature dance performances by Lockheart Elementary School, St. Lucia Association Dancers, Dominican Association Dancers, St. Thomas Heritage Dancers and St. John Cultural Dancers. Koko and the Sunshine Band will provide live music and Irvin “Brownie” Browne will return as emcee extraordinaire for the Folklife Festival.

Fair-goes will also be able to enjoy the crafts of Sonia Sprauve, Yolanda Morten, Mario Benjamin, Teresa Brown, Jane Johannes, Justin Todman, Avelino Samuel and Esther Frett, Georges added.

Be sure to stop by the vendors and check out seine net making, broom making, jewelry made with local natural materials, wood turning and more.

“We are going to have bush tea and dumb bread and I’m trying to get the best Mauby in the islands too,” said Georges.

Students from across St. John and St. Thomas will attend the fair on both days. Thursday’s events will kick off at 10 a.m. and wrap up at 3 p.m. and be geared to elementary school students, explained Georges.

“The first day we will gear our presentations for students in kindergarten to sixth grade,” she said. “This year I developed a curriculum so we made it specific to elementary school students on Thursday.”

On Friday, the fair will be geared to engage students in seventh grade through 12th grade and run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Georges added.

The fun starts under the stars on Saturday night from 6 to 9 p.m. and attendees are asked to bring a flashlight and chair. All three days of the fair are free of charge and open to the public.

Each session will focus on the shared cultural heritage of the Caribbean and the differences between the islands, Georges explained.

“Dancers will be demonstrating the traditional Quelbe, which is basically a polka or square dance,” she said. “The slaves imitated the masters’ dances, but were also able to ingest their own culture and movements into the dance to form a whole new thing. You’ll see how the dancers from each island tie their madras headbands differently.”

The festival was launched 20 years ago after it was mandated that all National Parks recognize Black History Month, explained Georges.

“It was made into law that all parks had to celebrate Black History Month in some way and that is how we started,” she said. “Over the years, the festival has grown into this phenomenal event. I don’t know how it comes together — I get these ideas at 2 a.m. and write them down.”

Georges thanked sponsors Friends of VINP, Boyson, St. John Tradewinds, Starfish Market, Cinnamon Bay Campground, V.I. Council on the Arts, St. John Ice Company, Lime Inn and others who support the festival.

“It is really a community effort each year to put the festival on,” she said. “I want to thank everyone who supports us.”

From the stunning natural setting to the engaging presenters and amazing dancers, no one will want to miss the 20th Annual St. John Folklife Festival May 26 through 28 at Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins.