Folk Festival Study Confirms Smaller Crowds Than Hoped, But $20M Economic Impact

Folk Festival Study Confirms Smaller Crowds Than Hoped, But $20M Economic Impact
File photo from National Folk Festival

SALISBURY – A new study on this year’s National Folk Festival is expected to help city officials and event organizers better understand its economic impacts.

Last week, the Business, Economic and Community Outreach Network (BEACON) at Salisbury University’s Franklin P. Perdue School of Business released the first phase in an economic impact study of the National Folk Festival.

From Sept. 7-9, downtown Salisbury hosted its first National Folk Festival, a free, outdoor event produced by the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) that celebrates arts, culture and heritage through live performances, workshops, demonstrations, children’s activities and more.

And while the festival was accompanied by rain for most of the weekend, the study released last week estimates that more than 60,000 people attended the event, which generated $20 million in total economic impact.

Dr. Memo Diriker, director of BEACON, said rain had the biggest impact on the festival.

“Rain reduced the economic impact in two ways,” he said. “One, far fewer people attended, especially on Sunday, and two, most of the attendees ended up being locals rather than visitors.”

According to the study, attendance was lower than the pre-festival estimate of 80,000. The rain reduced the number of out-of-town visitors from an estimated 60 percent to an actual 40 percent, and only 50 percent of out-of-town attendees stayed overnight instead of the 70 percent expected.

“When you have visitors, the economic impact tends to be higher,” Diriker said, “because they are bringing their money from outside the region and spending it in the region.”

According to the study, transactions on accommodations, food, entertainment, gas and more generated $18 million in economic impact during this year’s festival. Based on surveys and interviews, BEACON estimates more than 12,000 new visitors – those that attended the festival and those deciding to visit based on word of mouth of social media posts – will come to the Lower Shore in the 12 months following the festival, generating an additional $1.2 million in future economic impact.

“With all the exposure that we’ve enjoyed, and with the indication of all those we interviewed that said they will definitely come back, the long-term impact is going to be seriously positive,” Diriker said.

Diriker said he was most surprised by the use of social media during the National Folk Festival. The study estimates more than three million people viewed pictures, videos and live broadcasts posted to Twitter, SnapChat, Facebook and Instagram, translating to $800,000 in economic value.

“A pleasant surprise was how much social media was being used by those who attended, whether by locals or by visitors, and how much they were being reposted and reshared,” he said.

Diriker noted the first phase in the study is expected to guide event organizers in producing future festivals and to help city officials understand its economic impact.

“More of the economic impact is long term rather than short term,” he said. “That means the value of the festival to some people will not be immediately apparent.”

Based on interviews with attendees and previous host cities, BEACON estimates the festival will generate more than $35 million in 2019 and more than $50 million in 2020 depending on weather conditions.

“The combination of what we learned from attendees and the experiences of the previous three host cities enabled us to model the future economic impact …,” Diriker said. “We don’t want to overestimate this thing or disappoint anybody. If it’s going to be a surprise, I want it to be a pleasant surprise.”

Diriker added that most attendees surveyed said they were pleased with the acts, variety, atmosphere and organization of the festival.

“If that’s what people are saying when its miserable and rainy, imagine what it’s going to be when the sun is shining,” he said.

Organizers are already busy preparing for the city’s second National Folk Festival, which is scheduled to take place downtown from Sept. 6-8, 2019. Applications for artisans and craftspeople are now being accepted through April 1.

For more information on the National Folk Festival, visit For more information on the economic impact study, call BEACON at 410-546-6001 or email [email protected].

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.