BY JENNIFFER WARDELL
Clipper Staff Writer
BOUNTIFUL – For the last quarter-century, the world has come to visit Bountiful.
Summerfest International, running Aug. 8-10 at Bountiful City Park, features three days of music and dance performances from countries such as Taiwan, Martinique, Chile and the Netherlands. Approximately 20,000 people are expected to attend the event, which also includes art and music.
When the festival first began in 1988 however, it was small enough to fit on the steps of the Bountiful Tabernacle.
“We had just one group come, from Belgium,” said Larry Baird, one of the festival’s founders. “We’d made a stage out of 2x4s, and every time they’d get done with a dance we’d have to stop and push the stage back together.”
Baird, who was a member of the Rocky Mountain Dancers at the time, first dreamed up the festival with Janet Seamons and George Frandsen.
“We’d gone to arts festivals all over Europe, and we thought that Bountiful should have their own,” said Baird.
Soon, Summerfest grew too big for the tabernacle property, and it moved north to the Bountiful City Park. Volunteers built a more permanent stage for the dancers to perform on, but the lack of covering meant that heat became an issue. One year, the festival attempted to hold performances at Woods Cross High School, but the lack of air conditioning caused the same problem.
“Some of the dancers aren’t used to the heat and altitude,” said Baird. “We hold the festival around the same time as Ramadan, and we’ve had some dancers who were fasting pass out.”
Bountiful City helped solve the problem with the construction of a covered stage at Bountiful City Park. They’ve also helped with a new sound system and lighting, the latter of which allowed performances to extend into the evenings.
“Without that kind of support, there’s no way we could put on this festival,” said Emma Dugal, executive director of the Bountiful/Davis Arts Center.
The festival has faced difficulties over the years, mostly with the often-complicated process of bringing international citizens to the United States. The most recent group to run into trouble were performers from Lithuania, who were scheduled to come to this year’s festival but had to cancel at the last minute.
“They had tickets and everything,” said Dugal. “They were in Poland ready to come to the U.S. when they found out that their travel agent had absconded with all their money. They were stranded in Poland for two days, and had to take the train back to Lithuania.”
Despite the challenges, the festival has grown to worldwide levels. In 2008, the festival was chosen to play host to the first-ever International Organization of Folk Art World Youth Congress. The most recent congress, held in 2012, was in Stockholm, Sweden.
According to Baird, over 4,000 people from 57 different countries have come to Bountiful over the course of the festival’s history.
“I don’t know if people realize what has taken place,” he said. “All those people have gone back to their homes and talked about their experiences in Bountiful, Utah. Summerfest has become one of the most well-known festivals in the world.”
He feels that’s all thanks to the people of Bountiful.
“They really need to be appreciated for what they’ve done,” said Baird. “The art center is the vessel to get the performers here, but it’s the people of Bountiful who have made Summerfest a success.”