History of the Ozark Folk Festival

The Original Ozark Folk Festival is America’s longest continuously running folk festival!  There were only a handful of folk festivals that are older, as they held their first festival before our festival’s 73-year run started.

We are proud that for 73 years straight, year after year, our small city has produced a world-class folk festival here in historic Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

According to “A History Of Folk Music Festivals in the United States” by Ronald D. Cohen, the first “Folk Festival and Homelands Exhibit” was
held in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1932.

The first folk festival in Eureka Springs was held on March 15, 1934, preceding the first National  Folk Festival,  held in St. Louis, Missouri, by 45 days.

Performers from the Eureka Springs festival were invited to perform at that first National Folk Festival.

Marge and Howard Forehan, a newlywed couple from Santa Ana, California won a two-week vacation at the 1905 Basin Park Hotel, located in the heart of downtown Eureka Springs.

The “consequence” was that the couple had to arrive and remain barefoot for the duration of the trip.  To celebrate the couple’s accomplishment, Joe Parkhill, owner and manager of the hotel at the time, held the first Barefoot Ball on June 25, 1948. All the attendees checked their shoes at the door, and had a “sock hop” dance, where Marge was named “Queen of the Ball”.

Since then, the Barefoot Ball has become  one of the many traditions that make the Original Ozarks Folk Festival such a unique event


The festival has always featured dancing, including square dancing and clogging- a folk dance in which the dancer’s footwear is used musically by striking the heel, the toe, or both against the floor or each other to create audible percussive rhythms.










A great example of folk dance is presented every year by the HedgeHoppers, a group of third-grade students from the Eureka Springs Elementary School.




Barbara Barker, dressed as “Daisy Mae” was named Queen of the 14th Original Ozark Folk Festival in 1961 (Ernie Deane Photography- Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission)

Another great tradition is the Queen’s Contest and the crowning of a new Queen every year.














An antique car passes in front of a cafe. In the background, a building bears the words “Wardrobe Cleaning Co.” and “Bit o’ Sweden.” (Ernie Deane Photography- Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission)

And everyone loves a parade! Bands, floats, horse riders and folks make their way down Spring Street to Basin Spring
Park where judges chose winners of various divisions.


No festival is complete without great music. And what a place to enjoy music- the magnificent City Auditorium.









Adolph and Augusta Kukler of Eureka Springs performed at the 14th annual Ozark Folk Festival (Ernie Deane Photography- Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission)


Over the years a virtual who’s who of the folk world, as well as relative unknowns, have performed at the Ozark Folk Festival over the years.

The Folk Festival was originally developed to help document and preserve the rich heritage and traditions of the Ozarks. Proceeds from the festival were to be used to start a historic museum in Eureka Springs.










In 1971, the Folk Festival board purchased the historic Califf Building and established the Eureka Springs Historical Museum, which became its own non-profit association in 1980.

Since then, the festival has been supported by various groups and people, including the Eureka Springs City Advertising & Promotion Commission, who currently produces the event.

Over the years folk luminaries like Doc Watson have graced The Auditorium’s stage, but the most popular performers each year always seem to be The HedgeHoppers. Each year our third-grade students sing and dance to the delight of a packed Auditorium. Here is a recent performance!

For the 66th Annual Ozark Folk Festival, WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour came to Eureka Springs in 2013 and taped two episodes of their award-winning show at The Auditorium.

Here are the two shows!