I can recall the handmade signs that used to pop up in our neighborhood each spring with the mysterious “NEFFA” acronym emblazoned on them.
I thought little of them until I’d start to notice streams of colorfully dressed people, some bearing and playing funky instruments, as they strolled and danced in the streets on their way to Natick High. Their festiveness, smiling faces, and general friendliness was more than I could usually bear.
“Deborah, let’s get away for the weekend…”
Now I kinda miss those visitors.
That scene hasn’t been repeated in Natick since 2006, the last time that the New England Folk Festival Association held its annual get-together at Natick High School. The event took place in Natick from 1967-1970, then from 1974-2006, and now calls Mansfield its home (well, it calls Zoom its home this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
The festival first came to Natick in 1967 after stretching into Rhode Island and suffering a financial loss due to low attendance. According to the group:
“Nothing daunted, the Committees got up, dusted themselves off, and headed for Natick, Massachusetts in 1967. Natick High School turned out to be one of the best locations ever, and the Festival stayed there for four years, more than recouping its losses.”
Natick provided a great venue for the event, which featured concerts, dancing, a craft show, and kids’ activities, including puppet shows. Several dance halls featured a variety of styles, from sword dancing to square dancing, and a player piano added to the fun.
But NEFFA left Natick after its 2006 event, getting the sense that a coming new high school would not be able to accommodate the festival. In its history, NEFFA writes: “An ominous question on the evaluation form asked people about alternate venues. This was in response to the possible renovation of the High School that is being considered by the town of Natick. Just before the 2005 Festival, the town of Natick rescinded permission to use the Lower Hall, as it is now a ‘Wellness Center’ filled with brand new fitness equipment and rubber floor (despite NEFFA’s offer to remove and replace the equipment and floor).”
NEFFA wound up holding its festival in Mansfield in recent years, but again found itself on the move due to an upcoming high school reconstruction.
This past year NEFFA canceled its event due to the pandemic, but is bouncing back with a virtual festival in 2021 from April 23-25.
NEFFA has made the rounds over the years, starting in Boston in 1944 at the YMCA. We’ll have to wait to see where it lands next.
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