by Kate Andrews
Photos, from top: Betsayda Machad, C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band, Be'la Dona
Hi! So, you’ve never been to the folk festival before? Don’t be scared. You’ll meet a lot of friendly people and enjoy fantastic music from around the world. But first, a few tips:
Instead of parking downtown, you may want to park at the City Stadium and take a shuttle, especially if the weather turns out nice.
If it does rain, come on down! I slogged through the mud to see Maceo Parker last year, and it was a thrill. Just make sure to wear shoes that you won’t mind getting muddy.
Bring some cash, because the nice people carrying buckets are volunteers taking donations to keep this massive festival free. Once you give a few bucks, they’ll give you a sticker that says you’ve donated.
Housekeeping aside, let’s get to the schedule. Of course, you’ll want to see the musical acts that pique your interest, but for most festival veterans, some of the most exciting moments occur when you pop your head into a tent for a show you didn’t plan to see. You may find yourself dancing to bluegrass or being mesmerized by African drummers. The folk festival is all about discovery.
It may take some extra energy, but I recommend going Friday night. Yes, you’ve had a busy week. It’s still worth it. You’ll probably catch me learning Cajun dance steps with Talia Moser (who is a total pro) and enjoying C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band, before I skip over to see the Paulin Brothers’ Brass Band on the WestRock Foundation Stage. Allons-y, mes chers!
Saturday’s the long-haul day, starting at noon and finishing around 10 p.m. Wear some comfy shoes. I like to get there and figure out a schedule of sorts, making sure I don’t miss a favorite performer. The nice thing about the folk festival is that most everyone performs multiple times, so there aren’t many hard decisions like at other music events.
Again, the music choices are up to you, but I like to see some of the international acts and experience something new. On my list are Cape Verdean funana legend Bitori and Los Wembler’s, a cumbia band from the Amazon. If you get a little tired during the day, I highly recommend visiting the Folklife area, where you’ll find ample seating for music focused on Virginia and Appalachian traditions and cooking demonstrations.
At 4:30 p.m. Saturday, sisters Deborah Pratt and Clementine Macon Boyd compete in an oyster-shucking contest. It’s a sight to behold. Pro tip for craft beer lovers: You’ll find Virginia-brewed beers at a stand in the nearby Tredegar Food Court. Accept no substitutes!
I hope you’ve saved your energy, because the dance tent is the most energetic place to be on Saturday nights. The all-women go-go group Be’la Dona is bound to set the roof on fire. Or, if you’re not quite up for that, Don Bryant is the latest in soul legends to visit the festival, bringing his Memphis-grown soul to the Altria Stage, capping off the evening.
Ah, Sunday. You may be feeling a little weary. But the festival awaits. Usually, I check the schedule to see what I’ve missed, or take in a workshop with musicians from several bands. This year, you can hear “troubadour tales” from different musical traditions, as well as blues, soul and gospel tunes by Eddie Cotton Jr. and Don Bryant. And at 4:30, the Legendary Ingramettes’ gorgeous gospel vocals are a Richmond tradition.
After you’ve done all of that, you’re a Richmond Folk Festival veteran. Congrats!
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