15th Richmond Folk Festival draws crowds, showcases cultural traditions

The 15th Richmond Folk Festival featured more than 100 performers and 30 food vendors from around the globe Oct. 11-13. Photo by Jon Mirador

Anya Sczerzenie, Contributing Writer

Charlie Constantino seemed to be having a good time Saturday at his first Richmond Folk Festival. But it was hard to tell, because he didn’t say much.

“He’s 7 months old,” said his mother, Alison Constantino. “He seems to like the music and the people watching. We’ve been here an hour and have been watching the bluegrass performance for most of it.”

Bluegrass was just one of many music genres featured at the 15th Richmond Folk Festival, which was held on and around Brown’s Island from Friday through Sunday. The festival featured more than 100 performers and over 30 food vendors from cultures around the globe.

The Garifuna Collective, which performed on Saturday, came to Richmond on the last leg of an international tour that took them to the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. The Belizean group played the music of the Garifuna people, a mixed Afro-Latino indigenous group from the Caribbean.

“I think the audience are very strange, you know?” said Mohobub Flores, a percussionist who plays turtle shell drums. “The language that we sing in, they probably won’t understand because it’s Garifuna, it’s our language. But the rhythm, the beat, that’s very interesting for the audience.”

The Garifuna Collective held one of their performances in the Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion, where attendees had floor space to dance to the music and a reserved area for partner dancing.

The dance pavilion was one of six stages at Richmond Folk Festival, including the CoStar stage on Brown’s Island and the Altria, Richmond Times-Dispatch and Capital One stages between 2nd and Tredegar streets.

A crafts marketplace and food truck areas were also featured. The food trucks included cuisines from the U.S., Thailand, Mexico and Greece.

According to its website, more than 220,000 people attended the Richmond Folk Festival last year, which is almost the population of the city itself. Photo by Jon Mirador

Panfilo’s Güera, a musical act at Saturday’s festival, is a three-piece band that performs Mexican-American string music known as tejano — or Tex-Mex — conjunto fiddle.

“What I’m doing is preserving and conserving tejano conjunto grassroots string,” said Belen Escobedo, violinist and leader of Panfilo’s Güera. “In the past it used to be all string instruments. Now it’s accordion, electric bass, drums, all this modern crazy stuff.”

Dale Watson and his fiance Celine Lee performed what they call ‘Ameripolitan’ music, which is a genre derived from country-Western songs.

“I went to the Richmond Folk Festival a couple years ago,” said Watson, who has been performing since the 1970s. “There are a lot more people [this year]. I feel like it’s running smoother, too.”

Other performers include traditional Scottish-Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, the Native Pride Dancers from St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Lonesome River Band, a bluegrass band.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch Virginia Folklife Area hosted some non-musical performances. These included auto mechanic demonstrations and a contortionist.

The Richmond Folk Festival is free to attend and is funded by donations. The “bucket brigade” — a group of volunteers in orange vests who carry buckets for donations — are a common sight around the festival each year.

According to its website, more than 220,000 people attended the Richmond Folk Festival last year, which is almost the population of the city itself.

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