Jiana Smith, Contributing Writer
After a silent year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Richmond’s riverfront will once again be full of visitors enjoying art, music and food. The Richmond Folk Festival is returning to the city’s riverfront from Oct. 8-10 as an outdoor, in-person event for its 17th anniversary.
Erika Gay, Venture Richmond’s marketing and communications manager, said that the organization is excited about the folk festival’s in-person return.
“Everybody is ready to get out and have a good time with the Richmond community,” Gay said.
Venture Richmond, a local nonprofit organization that promotes downtown Richmond through activities and marketing, produces the festival. The organization also produces events like the 2nd Street Festival in Jackson Ward and the Dominion Energy Riverrock, an outdoor sports festival.
This year’s festival will be around the same size and scope as previous in-person festivals, according to Gay.
The Richmond Folk Festival started in 2005 when Richmond won the bid for the National Folk Festival, a three-day traveling culture festival that changes cities every three years. When the National Folk Festival left after 2007, the Richmond Folk Festival started in 2008 in its place, according to Gay.
Gay said the festival is well-liked because of the diverse American subcultures it showcases.
“It’s not just folk music like the name suggests, but it’s all kinds of music that represents all American culture, and in music and crafts and storytelling and food,” Gay said. “We really pride ourselves on finding all kinds of music and having a sampling of everything.”
The festival includes five stages and 30 performers from different cities and genres. A different Richmond corporation sponsors each stage, allowing the festival to be free for guests.
The Virginia Folklife Area and Stage, sponsored by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, is dedicated exclusively to Virginia-based performers and artists.
One group performing on this year’s Virginia Folklife Stage is Richmond-based Piedmont blues band Justin Golden & The Come Up. The group consists of artist Justin Golden, bassist Chip Hale, lead guitarist Nate Hubbard, keyboardist Tyler Meachum and drummer Lance Koehler, according to Golden.
Golden said he is excited for the band’s first-ever performance at the folk festival.
“Since August or September 2019, we haven’t played a full set,” Golden said. “I’m hoping it exposes us to a much wider audience, a newer audience.”
Every year, the festival commissions a different artist to design the poster. Only Richmond-based artists have designed the poster since the festival’s founding in 2005. This year’s design was created by VCU alumnus Mickael Broth, who said he was “honored” when he was commissioned for the poster design.
“My first memories of the folk festival are seeing the poster and knowing that it was a big component of the festival,” Broth said. “So it was like, ‘Woah, this is a big honor and something I want to do the best job I can on.’”
The poster features a colorful witch in an iconic broad brim hat strumming a guitar. Witches are a common motif in Broth’s artwork, according to the artist.
“In American folklore and folk history, the witch has a very interesting and rocky past,” Broth said. “I think that’s something I’ve always connected with, this character that’s feared, misunderstood and persecuted, but at the same time this aspirational figure, strong and connected with herself and nature and the past.”
Festival attendees are encouraged to wear masks and social distance as per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Virginia Department of Health guidelines. Vaccinations and masks are required for festival volunteers, while vendors are required to wear masks but do not need vaccinations, according to the festival’s Health and Safety page.
Venture Richmond CEO Lisa Sims stated that vaccines, masks and social distancing are tools to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 in a September press release.
“Our hope is that everyone will be a Good Neighbor to their fellow attendees by using each of these tools,” Sims stated in the press release.
Attendees can receive a COVID-19 vaccination at the event Oct. 9 and 10 from 3-5 p.m., according to the page.
Last year the festival was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic and featured a television program, live-streamed performances and radio broadcasts.
Sims stated that the organization was excited for the return of an in-person festival.
“We’re doing everything we can to make certain that the Richmond Folk Festival is the same exceptional event you’ve come to know and love,” Sims stated.
For an event schedule and full list of performers and vendors at the Richmond Folk Festival, please visit richmondfolkfestival.org.