The Kinzua Heritage Festival has begun

Times Observer photo by Stacey Gross

The Kinzua Heritage Festival is an immersive experience.

More than anything else, that’s what the event’s founders wanted when they came up with an idea for a festival that would honor and demonstrate everything that made our ancestors who they were. And what they were.

And they were resourceful.

That resourcefulness is precisely what Scott Mead and Jeff Carlstrom wanted to put on full display with the festival, which celebrates its thirteenth year this weekend. Through the years the event’s founders have developed the space a little at a time. The result is a series of paths through history – named “streets” – that take visitors through history with demonstrations of primitive arts and crafts and traditional Iroquois social dancing, as well as storytelling, oral history, reenactments, vendors, kid’s activities, and live music from bluegrass to folk to Native American flutes and drums.

Among the demonstrators and vendors to be seen are tin smiths, blacksmiths, ox farmers, textile makers, leather workers, flint knappers, woodworkers, quiltmakers, and more. Visitors will be able to see vendors and artisans spinning wool with which they’ll then knit a garment, for instance, or smelting iron for a new set of horseshoes, hand-tooling leather goods, or hand-beading native jewelry. The goal, said Mead, is education above all else.

Mead’s son, Tyler Abbot, has taken on a lot of the event planning alongside his father, who he said was invested in sharing the wisdom of our ancestors with the youth of today. It’s important, Mead feels, to keep history alive in perpetuity.

Abbot said that many of the vendors are regulars at the festival, even going so far as to turn down more lucrative events in terms of sales in exchange for the atmosphere of camaraderie and fellowship they get from the Kinzua Heritage Festival.

“It’s become a sort of family reunion,” said Abbot.

Many of the vendors schedule the rest of their festival plans each season around making it to this one event. Part of the reason why is that the event coordinators are willing to do anything they can to accommodate vendors and visitors alike. One vendor years ago, during the annual feedback session to which they’re invited at the end of each year, told Mead that it would be nice if there were a way for her to get food at her booth, which is something that many festivals do for vendors. So Mead put a kitchen in one of the pavilions on the event grounds, and breakfast and dinner are provided for all vendors and entertainers for the three days of each year’s festival.

The entire property has been built to accommodate the festival, which grows every year. There are two stages – the front stage for Native American dance demonstrations and the back stage reserved for storytelling and skills demonstrations. There are also sheltered eating areas and an entire space next to the festival grounds reserved for vendor camping.

And while the festival has never been a get rich scheme for Mead or his cofounders, it has been a significant source of revenue for local nonprofits, especially those who share Mead’s goal of keeping history alive and passing on the wisdom of the ages.

Each vendor is asked to donate one item to a benefit auction, which will be held on Saturday and Sunday this year at 2 p.m. All of the proceeds from those auctions this year will be donated to Conewango Township Police Department’s canine fund, and the Shriners. Mead said that as of last year’s event, over $18,000 has been donated to local nonprofits, volunteer fire departments, veterans” associations, and historical societies just to name a few.

The festival is a three-day event held at 4047 Fox Hill Road in Russell, and it kicks off this year on Friday, Aug. 24. The festival is on from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 26, with hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free for children age ten and under. For those ten and up the admission fee is $5, and there’s no charge for parking. Ron Carrington and Touch of Gold will be performing a free show on Friday night, Aug. 24 at 8 p.m. to kick off this year’s festival.

For more information about the Kinzua Heritage Festival visit or find the event on Facebook.