International Institute’s Festival of Nations

Monday August 18, 2014

For two magical days later this month, Tower Grove Park morphs into a microcosm of the world where visitors can see, taste, smell and feel the cultures of many nations at St. Louis’ Festival of Nations. Admission is FREE!

Festival of Nations 2If you’d love to travel the world sampling exotic cuisines and learning about different cultures but lack the time or the dough to do it, come to St. Louis instead.

Later this month St. Louis’ Festival of Nations—the region’s premier multicultural celebration—transforms Tower Grove Park into a global cornucopia of events for the senses.

For two days—Aug. 23 and 24—festival-goers can visit the world taking in top-flight entertainment from dozens of countries, sampling international culinary delights, shopping at
an international bazaar and even learning a few steps of an ethnic dance. And—admission to the Festival of Nations is FREE!

The festival is produced by the International Institute of St. Louis. Its presenting sponsor is Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

The entertainment lineup is so huge it takes three stages to handle it. And, at the Village Green, visitors can learn about various countries through interactive activities by doing an ethnic craft or learning to kick up their heels in another language.

Been to the fair before? That’s no reason not to go this year. No “been there, done that” here! There’s always something new to see, do and taste.

Festival of Nations 1The festival offers a unique mix of performances on each stage. “The lineup differs from year to year, so you will see some old favorites and new faces if you hang out at a stage,” Anna Crosslin, the Institute’s president and CEO and Director of Festival of Nations, said.

“What we’d like visitors to know is that all four corners of the world are represented at every stage and every activity center,” Kate Howell, the International Institute’s vice president of development and communications and assistant director of the Festival, said. “Folks can learn dance moves new and old from east to west at the Village Green.

Some exciting new acts stepping on stage this year include:

  • Kreativ Motion Step Team, a group of young people ages 12-15 displaying their dance talents through step, a long-standing African-American tradition
  • SoJourner Band, a lively new act that blends ska, roots and reggae in an exciting way
  • American Parai Team performing with the Parai style drum, a frame drum covered in cowhide played with two sticks, typically used in festivals and ceremonies in South India
  • Azmat Ali Khan performing classical Northern Indian music on the sitar.

And these returning acts always draw a crowd:

  • Elsie Parker and the Poor People of Paris, a local group that plays popular French and jazz music drawing in many people during their performances
  • Sunshine Community Ensemble from East St. Louis performing traditional African dance and music
  • Irish Session Players, a crowd favorite playing traditional Irish and Celtic Trad music
  • Aalim Belly Dance blending many forms of belly dance including modern, traditional, fusion, and folkloric styles. Fair-goers can also learn to belly dance from Aalim at the Village Green.

And then there’s what may be the best reason of all to go—to try the food booths you didn’t get to last year. There are 40 of them, after all.

New foods this year include Puerto Rican alcapurria de yuka (yucca fritters) and Italian sausage and Italian ice.

Popular items returning this year include Argentinean empanadas and Thai coconut drinks served in huge, hairy coconuts.

Festival of Nations 3“Visitors rave about the coconut drinks – they sell out each day!” Howell said.

Then there’s Jamaican jerk chicken, Liberian foufou, Turkish kofte and Vietnamese chrysanthemum tea.

“Some of the refugee groups that we’ve recently resettled will be having food booths,” Howell said. “Burmese (Myanmar) will return serving fried rice, beef curry, and honey-lemon tea, and the Bhutanese are new this year serving Bhutanese dishes including samosas, momo and curry.”

American Indians are returning after a few years’ hiatus serving fry bread, wojapi and blackberry sage tea, she said. “They use the money they raise to fund an education program for teens.

For those who want to reproduce the culinary specialties of the festival, the second edition of the International Institute’s cookbook featuring recipes submitted from each food booth will be on sale that weekend. The book will also be available for purchase at the Institute’s website after the festival.

Festival of Nations is one of the biggest, best attended international festivals in the country.

“Our event is larger and more inclusive than many similar events,” Crosslin said. “This is not because we have more immigrants – in fact we rank 42nd in the nation for our total foreign-born population.
“We believe it is because of our organization’s long history with the immigrant communities in our region has created strong relationships with long timers and newcomers alike.”

While fair-goers get to enjoy some great food and tons of free entertainment each year at the Festival of Nations, the ethnic groups who participate also gain from the festival.

“Many of the food vendors are raising money for scholarships for their churches, performance troupes or community centers, and the artists/performers get to continue to preserve their art form by sharing it with newer generations,” Crosslin said.

Festival-goers will find that they’ll have more time to eat and still catch the entertainment this year.

“We have lengthened the break between acts on the Enterprise Main Stage so the audience has more of a chance to eat and mill about without missing the entertainment,” Crosslin said.

And they’ll find getting to fair a little easier, too.

“We have added more shuttle buses and redesigned the route to offer more opps to catch the buses from inside the park rather than just around the perimeter,” she said.

Festival organizers are also encouraging visitors to take MetroLink and MetroBus. “The 70 Grand bus pulls right up at the festival grounds,” Crosslin said. “More detailed directions are on our web site.”

If you’re going to the fair, Crosslin has some advice:

“Come early and come hungry! And bring a group of friends to share meals – if each friend visits a different food booth you can create quite an ethnic smorgasbord!” she said.

If you go. . .

Festival of Nations is held in Tower Grove Park near Grand and Arsenal on the City’s south side near St. Louis’ international District.

10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 23
10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 24

Admission is free.

Check out the schedule of events.

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