Richmond community turns the folk up

The 14th annual RIchmond Folk Festival in 2018. Photo by Shayla Bailey

Katherine Boller
Contributing Writer


Emma North,
Contributing Writer

Musical performances, food trucks, artists and vendors lined Richmond’s historic downtown waterfront this weekend for the 14th annual Richmond Folk Festival.

Master crafters from Virginia presented Cambodian clothing, Mongolian Buddhist masks and Caribbean Carnival wear to fit the 2018 Richmond Times-Dispatch Virginia Folklife Stage and Area “Masquerade” theme.

The festival is made possible by donations, sponsorships and dedicated volunteer work. Volunteers pick up trash, sell drinks, collect donations and direct traffic.

“It’s my tenth year [volunteering],” said festival volunteer Susan Bateman. “We work two days and come back the third day just to listen.”

Folk culture revolves around the diversity of its artists — the festival’s music was not just backcountry banjo. Folk music has a different look and sound depending on its community of origin. The festival offered a variety of performances including piano trios, gospel, salsa, storytelling, zuni, tamburitza, zydeco and classical Indian dance.

“My parents played [folk music] a lot when I was younger,” said volunteer and Richmond high school student Avery Sutro. “I grew up around this type of music so I always come here.”

One of the most notable performers at the festival this year was Mavis Staples. Staples —  referred to on the festival’s website as one of the greatest gospel singers of all time — was formerly a member of the gospel group The Staples Singers. The group was primarily known for songs inspired by the civil rights movement.

For some, the Richmond Folk Festival is an easy way to get out and enjoy themselves, while others have a more vested interest in the genre. VCU students Maria Gruber and Alex Mischou attended the festival Friday night. Gruber, who is part of a German folk dancing group, said she listens to German folk music. But Mischou said she doesn’t typically engage with the genre.

“I came because it’s free and it’s nice out, which is when I usually do things,” Mischou said.  

Attendees bought handmade goods at the festival’s Marketplace, which provided artisans an area to sell items. Products for sale included African straw baskets, natural incense, shea butter soap and acrylic paintings. One vendor, Pure Shea Store, sold handmade soaps, lotions and sugar scrubs and has made shea-butter-based products since 1999. All the items are made with all-natural ingredients without the use of parabens, animal products or animal testing.

The festival food ranged from event-style fried meals to exotic cuisine. There were stands with extra-long corn dogs, french fries and a variety fried desserts. Trucks and stands sold dishes with international origins, such as empanadas, gyros, dumplings, jerk chicken, tacos and soba noodles. The festival also had some southern classics like seafood, burgers, cornbread and barbecue.

With more than 220,000 attendees last year, the Folk Festival continues as a staple of Richmond’s cultural scene. With the help of donations and volunteers, the festival remains free to the public.  

“I like [the festival] because it brings in diversity [and] representation of different cultures,” said  beverage sales volunteer Deanna Fierro. “It’s just a safe and fun environment for everybody. [The festival] is one of the most fabulous things Richmond does.”

Photo by Shayla Bailey
Photo by Shayla Bailey

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