Samuel Goodrich, Contributing Writer
One of Richmond’s largest celebrations of culture, art and music took place earlier this month.
With more than twenty musical groups, multiple vendors and an endless amount of local food, the Richmond Folk Festival was packed with things to do for its 11th year. The streets were filled people of all ages bustling to the next event and performers from all around the world entertaining thousands of attendees.
“It’s huge, it’s multiethnic, and everyone’s having fun,” said Anne Gill, a volunteer at this year’s festival.
This was Gill’s fifth year volunteering, but Gill used to be a planner for the event. She said she keeps coming back because she “realized this was (her) festival.”
The Crafts Marketplace, a section of the festival full of handmade jewelry, sculptures and crafts, attracted a lot of patrons. Kelvin Henderson was one of the vendors; his art involves depicting famous jazz musicians through tile mosaics.
He said he was enthusiastic about the Folk Festival and said, “A lot of people come and people love the art. It’s the reason why I come back.”
While many stop by for the vendors, the main entertainment was this year’s line-up of diverse musical groups. There was bluegrass, R&B singers, gospel and hip-hop performers. Bands from out-of-state and out-of-country came to Richmond to display all styles of performance.
Richmond resident Bernard Herbert has been coming every year, and spoke to his continued interest to the musicians.
“You always discover something every time you come.” Herbert said.
He also commented on the kind of crowd the festival draws.
“There’s a lot of energy, and the crowd is into (the performances), and people are getting along,” Herbert said.
Families and friends alike covered the festival grounds, partaking in all manner of activities. It didn’t matter if they were line for food, in the middle of a show or simply trying to walk across a bridge to Brown’s Island, the atmosphere remained light.
The laid-back feel of the Folk Festival could be seen on everyone from the fans to the musicians themselves. Traditional Irish folk band The Alt was one of the main events of the weekend, opening the festival on Friday night.
The group’s lead singer and flute player, Nuala Kennedy, lauded his group’s opening performance on Saturday.
“We had a great show last night,” Kennedy said. “It was fun playing, everyone was supportive and enthusiastic.”
The Richmond-Times Dispatch hosted a “Public Square” event where attendees could interact and have conversations with the bands they see throughout the festival. Many of the big names were involved, including The Alt.
Eamon O’Leary, another member of The Alt, spoke highly of Public Square.
“I don’t remember being at something like it at another festival,” he said. “If you have questions or you wanted to meet someone you’ve been listening to, it’s a nice idea.”
O’Leary also commented on the setting of the festival, focusing on the effect of being right on the James River. The natural setting was a prominent feature of the festival, and was in view no matter where you are in the festival.
The concerts were also designed to incorporate this natural atmosphere. None of the stages were inside buildings, with the exception of smaller performances inside of tents. The main stage, sponsored by the Altria Theater, was a large venue in front of an equally large hill where people were free to stand or sit and experience the performances.
Along with the friendly and natural mix in the air was a focus on diversity. The amount of musical genres that were represented was large, nearly twenty in total. There was Feedel Band, an Ethiopian Jazz band based in D.C., The Campbell Brothers, who play gospel, sacred steel guitar music, and Sleepy LaBeef bringing back classic rockabilly.
One of the festival’s headlines was the performance by classic hip-hop disc jockey Grandmaster Flash on Saturday night. Performing at the Dance Pavilion stage, Flash’s show was packed with people all united under the stage through nostalgic music and the DJ skills of one of the genre’s pioneers.
Grandmaster Flash ended his show with a few sentimental words:
“There is no such thing as white music or black music or any other kind of music, there’s just music!”