Ask someone who has experienced the New Bedford Folk Festival why they return and you might hear more about the “magic” of the festival than any one act or performance.

The New Bedford Folk Festival isn’t just a group of individual concerts – a majority of the performances take place in events called “workshops” where artists are paired together for spontaneous jam sessions, creating music based upon pre-established themes.

These performances are referred to as “the place where the magic happens,” resulting in unique once-in-a-lifetime performances.

Pete Kennedy knows the magic well. He will perform at the festival with his wife Maura for the 15th time.

“The audience expects the unexpected and that prompts the performers to come up with fresh creative ideas that they might not do in a typical show,” he said. “The audience loves to see something that’s only going to happen once, it’s something that makes it different from other festivals – you get a lot of performers who have never played together before. You’re playing with someone you don’t know with no rehearsal but it opens the door for great things to happen that you couldn’t have done yourself. The audience can sense the musician’s excitement.”

Saturday, July 7, and Sunday, July 8, an 11-block section of historic downtown New Bedford and the Whaling National Historic District will be transformed into a city within a city, with the sounds, sights and smells that can only come with summertime.

“A lot of thought goes into who is going to be matched together, it’s a nice challenge,” says John Gorka, a nationally-renown singer/songwriter who will be playing at the festival for the eighth time. “The workshops always pair people together from different genres that you wouldn’t expect otherwise. It’s something that takes you out of your comfort zone but it always seems to work.”

Produced and presented by the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center since 2016, The New Bedford Folk Festival has become a mammoth event. The Zeiterion was approached by the city to keep the festival alive upon the retirement of its founders, Alan and Helene Korolenko, who are now the artistic directors, booking all of the entertainment for the event.

There are a variety of ticket options. a premium pass that costs $125 includes two full days of exceptional music, a premium pass lanyard, a 2018 New Bedford Folk Festival T-shirt, access to a fully air-conditioned lounge with private restrooms, guaranteed priority seating at all Zeiterion Theatre and Whaling Museum performances, and discounts at several of the food vendors in the Food Court and Beer Garden.

A weekend pass is $30 and a single day pass is $22.50. Children under 12 are admitted free.

Each day will entertain from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“The workshops are a chance for musicians to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do onstage,” said Alan Korolenko. “The musicians inspire each other with the unpredictability and uniqueness, it’s not very structured so they can have some fun. We’ll get about 25 workshops this year with musicians who are flexible and aren’t bound to just doing their own songs. Our workshops are central to the festival. They take the theme that I give them and they go with it.”

“The interaction factor is much higher in New Bedford than any other playing situation,” Kennedy says. “The actual concept of the festival is for the musicians to play together whether they know each other or not, and that makes it completely unique, it all happens right there onstage.

“It’s all about the spontaneity.”

As always the festival will present homerun performances by artists with international followings including the legendary Tom Rush, Gorka and Cheryl Wheeler.

Gorka claims that performers look forward to playing the festival for multiple reasons.

“One of the things that sets it apart from other places is the sense of history,” he says. “It’s unique to have music rooted in history being played in a historical setting. It also attracts people who are really there to listen to the music, they’re knowledgeable music fans. They come from all over the country and it’s nice to know you’re reaching new people. If you’ve played New Bedford before you look forward to returning.”

“We try to have at least a dozen performers or groups that haven’t been to the festival before,” Korolenko says. “We’re looking for something exciting, somebody that can take the stage and grab the attention of the audience.”

“There’s always someone who catches your ear that you’ve never heard before,” Gorka says.

And it’s also important for the festival to present a variety of genres under the folk umbrella. With more than 100 performers on eight stages, the festival will include traditional, bluegrass, singer/songwriter, Americana, blues, Celtic and more.

Grace Morrisson, a singer/songwriter from Wareham, will be playing the festival for the fifth time.

“This event isn’t a folk concert in the traditional sense,” she says. “The event embraces a wide variety of what the term ‘folk’ means. It’s got everything from traditional to modern, something for everybody. As a performer seeing such a variety of music is a learning experience, and the fans are very engaged in a way you can’t find at most venues.”

The festival will also include non-ticket areas available to the public. The food court and beer garden will span two blocks on Purchase Street in front of the Zeiterion Theatre, offering a variety of food vendors and a full bar while the sounds of local musicians will be coming from the nearby South Coast Stage.

Food vendors will include the Seafood Hut, Acushnet Creamery, Dorothy Cox’s Candies serving Del’s Lemonade, Fancheezical, Timi’s Greek and Middle Eastern Food, Wicked Good Kettle Corn, Big T’s Jerky, Teddy’s Lunchbox and Wursthaus III.

Local musicians will include The Jethros, Seamus Galligan, Chuck Williams, Fourteen Strings and others.

Other public offerings include the family music and activities park at Wings Court, featuring performances in family concerts, music sessions, sing-a-longs and hands-on activities. The festival also includes a major juried arts-and-crafts show featuring more than 80 artisans and craft makers lining the cobblestone streets between the performance tents and venues. They will include jewelers, instrument makers, tie dyers, local honey purveyors, ceramic artists and more, representing a rich culture of handmade wares from the SouthCoast and beyond.

“The sense of community is awesome,” Morrisson says of the event. “I’ve made a lot of friends over the years, not just musicians but vendors and audience members. The attitude is all about community and helping each other, they lift everybody up. From the top down people are very selfless.”