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The (Unofficial) 2011 Richmond Folk Festival Guide

From Chicago blues to Tibetan chants, we're going exotic places yet again.

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Before we get to the embarrassment of riches that you'll find at the 2011 Richmond Folk Festival this weekend, let us pause for a moment.

Mr. and Mrs. Folk Festival Visitor: Shame, shame, shame.

The festival doesn't happen by accident or osmosis; it isn't paid for through voodoo economics or purely philanthropic goodwill. It takes money, cash, scratch, dinero to pull off this awesome — and, yes, free — multiday event that sees the Richmond waterfront transformed by dozens of musical and cultural attractions from across the world and every corner of the Commonwealth.

The annual festival has redefined Richmond in so many positive ways that it's become difficult to count them all. No longer can Richmond be defined solely as the anachronistic, dysfunctional and reflexively conservative home of the Civil War and Massive Resistance.

You want a tier-one city? You'll see it this weekend.

The annual event brings a glowing asterisk next to our name. It reads that Richmond is home to one of the nation's most vibrant and diverse cultural festivals — one that shows off its host city's unique riverfront beauty and unerring hospitality.

But there is an unfortunate asterisk to that asterisk. While our corporate leaders have stepped up to the plate by sponsoring stages and donating resources, and while our knowledgeable cultural vultures have loaned suggestions and expertise (full disclosure: this writer is on the festival's programming committee), and while the booking National Council for the Traditional Arts and sponsoring Venture Richmond have stretched their budgets to the thinnest of outer skins, well, the majority of attendees — the people who make up those record-breaking crowds — seemingly can't be bothered to drop $1 a head into the festival's orange buckets to ensure all of the wonderment continues.

Do we expect too much here? Consider this: Similar festivals across the country — such as Richmond's parent event, the National Folk Festival — often see audience donations exceed $100,000 or more. In 2009, visitors to the Richmond Folk Festival contributed $57,000. Last year donations moved upward to $88,000. But that's still low. If every one of the expected 190,000-plus visitors gave just a buck apiece. ... Well, you do the math.

There are wonders to be uncovered even beyond the following eight packed pages of our festival guide. There's the Crazy Kazoo Parade for Kids that starts near the Genworth Family Stage on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., the fine documentary film series at the National Park Service Visitor Center all weekend, the tribute to the late "Out of the Blue" radio host Page Wilson on the Altria Stage Sunday at noon, and the tuneful nods to our nation's guitar, mandolin and fiddle masters that will dot the landscape throughout.

It's time to raise a glass, once again, to old and new traditions. Brother, can you spare a dollar? — Don Harrison

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Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys
Hot Steppin'

"Cajuns work hard and like to play hard when it comes to their music. They want to dance and party," Grammy winner Steve Riley says. "We play four-hour dances in Louisiana with no breaks and are physically spent at the end of a night. Us and the dancers."

Riley and his Mamou Playboys have been stirring up dance halls for more than 20 years with kicked-up Louisiana grooves. Their latest disc, "Grand Isle," is a testament to the resilient spirit and culture of folks along the Gulf Coast. It incorporates bayou blues, tribal rhythms and includes a striking cover of Èdith Piaf's "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien." It's a more worldly sound than usual for the band, but the roots are firmly tied to the accordion pulls and swinging tempos of Mamou.

Alas, longtime fiddle man David Greely no longer is with the Playboys, acting on the advice of his doctor. In order to preserve his hearing, he was advised to no longer play loud music. While his departure is a palpable blow, the band's frontman sees it as part of the group's evolution. "We wrote many great songs and brought the Playboys to amazing places," Riley says. "He is and always will be part of our musical family and we'll continue to write, perform and work together." Greely's replacement is Kevin Wimmer — "one of the most amazing fiddle players," Riley says — and brings a new dimension to the group. "It's changed our sound a little, but we're all liking what he's brought as far as style, vibe, repertoire and incredible musical ability."

Riley has sound-shifting plans of his own and intends to chart new territory with his beloved squeeze box. "I'm still learning things and I have a plan to modify the 10-button diatonic Cajun accordion in a way that will add sharps and flats to its solely major scale and take its capabilities to another level," he says. "The fun continues." — Hilary Langford

Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys

Friday

9:30 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

Saturday

1:30 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

8:45 p.m.
Altria Stage

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Pedrito Martinez Group
Havana House Party Music

After years of supplying the Latin heartbeat to more than a hundred records, as well as performing with Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and Lady Gaga at the 2010 Carnegie Hall Rain Forest concert, Pedrito Martinez is on a roll. 

"We've been traveling like crazy," the percussionist says. "The Winter Garden in California, Bangor, Maine, Israel. ... It's been a great year, full of work." 

Born and educated in Cuba — a country that is to musicians what East Germany once was to athletes — Martinez came to the United States as part of saxophonist Jane Bunnett's Spirits of Havana. (His last Richmond appearance was with Bunnett at the Big Gig in July 2000.) "I have been trying to rescue the classic sounds of Afro-Cuban music," he says — "son, timba, Yoruba chants, funk ... all the great music I grew up with back in the '70s." 

His band stays tight from its long-term, three-shows-a-week gig at Manhattan's Guantanamera Restaurant. "First of all," Martinez says, "we are a show. We all sing, we stand up and dance, there are crazy percussion breaks. We may be just a quartet but we sound like a 10-piece band." — Peter McElhinney

Pedrito Martinez Group

Friday

8:15 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

Saturday

2 p.m.
Altria Stage

5:30 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage

Sunday

5:30 p.m.

Altria Stage

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Original P
Let's Take It to the Stage

When it comes to real funk, one musical collective towers above all others, beaming down through the astral fog from a hovering mother ship. And that one collective is known as Parliament-Funkadelic.

There have been many incarnations of what began in Plainfield, N.J., as a doo-wop group called the Parliaments in the late '50s. Led by a stylish barber named George Clinton, the always-revolving group of black musicians took on a heavier, psychedelic funk rock sound in the '70s as Funkadelic. By the end of that decade, the band was splintering as original members; fed up with Clinton's managerial style, they began creating their own touring groups.

Vocalist Grady Thomas, 70, was there from the beginning, and is the lynchpin of Original P. Joining Thomas in Richmond will be his son, Gene, as well as Kevin Shider, the brother of longtime guitarist Gary "Doo Doo" Shider, and former Parliament drummer Ben Powers. Another three original members were Fuzzy Haskins, who recently left the group, Ray Davis, who died in 2005 (and whose son performs with Original P), and Calvin Simon, who left after becoming a born-again Christian and gospel singer.

"Original P plays the show and the songs almost like they were done back in the day," Thomas says from his home in Georgia. "We don't do a lot of ad libbin' and putting other people's songs in our show."

He's referring to recent tours by Clinton, who continues performing as George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, though mixing in more modern styles and performers. Grady says that all former members signed documents stating they wouldn't use the original collective name — but that hasn't stopped any of them.

"I can't say nothing bad about George, but there's a lot of bad talk going about George's shows. Lotta people say they appreciate our show more," Grady says. "But I say keep the funk alive. I want to do good, I want them to do good."

Indeed, the music the band made in its heyday is considered some of the most influential and sampled in hip-hop history. In 1997, 16 members from the Parliament-Funkadelic history were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, setting a record. For a onetime neighborhood doo-wop group, it was a huge honor.

"We was a bunch of clowns. Ties didn't work for us. Sometimes we couldn't keep all our clothes together — forget to bring the right suits to the shows," Thomas recalls of the early days. "Then the music started changing to the psychedelic era, we got Marshall amps, got out there and clowned onstage. Jokers having fun."

Although the current Original P show will feature hit songs from several eras, one thing you shouldn't expect to see at the Folk Festival performance is the legendary stage prop known as the mother ship.

"We don't have the mother ship. The mother ship is all over the country," Thomas says, with a deep-well chuckle. "They tried to put it in the Smithsonian, but it's parked all over the country, you know? It's in a gas station somewhere in D.C. Nobody really has the mother ship." — Brent Baldwin

Original P

Saturday

5:30 p.m.
Altria Stage

9:45 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

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Redd Volkaert Band with Cindy Cashdollar
Country Noodlin'

How good is Fender Telecaster specialist Redd Volkaert? Consider this: The Vancouver native was country music legend Merle Haggard's lead guitarist for five years.

"I was pretty lucky to get that job," the gregarious, Amish-bearded picker says. "Merle is a wonderful guy. And he's an even better bandleader. He always let the band have input into the sound."

A well-rounded, well-traveled guitarist — besides Haggard, he's "noodled" behind artists as varied as the Statler Brothers, Neko Case and Dee Snider of Twisted Sister — Volkaert is a busy man, playing five gigs a week. His main focus is his regular roots music band ("we do a fair bit of festivals") but the Austin, Texas, resident also keeps the classic country sound alive with his side band, Heybale. "We do '50s and '60s country music just for fun," he says, "George Jones, Hank Williams, Floyd Tillman."

Volkaert — pronounced "volk art," like "folk art" — acknowledges that these are the sounds of his youth. "As we get older, we all get grumpier as far as listening to new music," he says. "Everyone always wants the first car they got a piece of ass in."

For his band's Richmond Folk Festival appearances, Redd says that audiences should "expect a bunch of noise from guitars." They also can expect to get awed by special guest Cindy Cashdollar, a Grammy-winning dobro and steel guitar specialist who used to be a regular member of Redd's group until Van Morrison and Rod Stewart snatched her up for big tours. "Cindy's steel guitar changes the sound," he says. "It's going to be great."

The bandleader seems alternately tickled and mildly embarrassed by a recent coup — winning his own Grammy award alongside contemporary country superstar Brad Paisley. "I've known Brad Paisley for quite awhile. He used to come to my shows in Nashville, never said a word, just watched with a grin. Just a goofy kid, you know. He introduced himself, 'My name is Brad,' and we hit it off. We'd talk guitar-dork stuff and I played his wedding."

Redd and Brad conjured up an instrumental for Paisley's 2003 CD, "Mud on the Tires," called "Spaghetti Western Swing." It copped a Grammy nomination for best country instrumental performance. In 2009 they repeated the collaboration with a rave-up called "Cluster Pluck," which also included legendary pickers such as James Burton, Albert Lee and Vince Gill. This time, the Grammy was had. "There's no other way a guitarist is going to win one of those things," Volkaert says, laughing. — Don Harrison

Redd Volkaert Band with Cindy Cashdollar

Friday

8 p.m.
Altria Stage

Saturday

2:45 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

Sunday

12:15 p.m.
Altria Stage

3:45 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

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Horn's Punch and Judy Show
One-Two Punch!

A Punch and Judy audience shouldn't just expect to sit back and watch the raucous duo, says Mark Walker, aka Professor Horn (the puppeteer for Punch and Judy shows is referred to as a professor). "It's a very fast-paced program, very interactive, and you really need to have a good understanding of entertainment in order to present these shows."

It's not like performing a typical puppet show, Walker says. The thwacking mayhem dates back as far as 1662. "Most folks would be surprised to learn that the majority of all Punch and Judy shows performed in America over the last several hundred years were actually performed by magicians," Walker says.

The 58-year-old fell in love with Punch and Judy as a young boy. "I can still vividly remember sitting in the park watching George Horn's Punch and Judy show," Walker says. "Before I purchased my first set of Punch and Judy puppets, I actually had a photo of them. I remember carrying that photo around in my shirt pocket for several months and looking at every chance I could." He received a set of the exact puppets in the picture for Christmas that year and can still recall the excitement. "Putting Mr. Punch on my right hand felt quite magical," he says. "In some ways, I felt like a young King Arthur pulling the sword out of the stone. I know it sounds corny, but it's true."

Walker is confident that Punch and Judy shows will persevere, even in a time when most kids and adults alike are consumed with touch-screen playthings. "Slapstick humor is timeless," he says. "Who wouldn't laugh at someone slipping on a banana peel? People will still be laughing at Punch and Judy 100 years from now." — Hilary Langford

Horn's Punch and Judy Show

Saturday

Noon and 4:15 p.m.
Genworth Family Area Stage

2:30 p.m.
Martin's/Union First Market Bank Stage

Sunday

12:45 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.
Genworth Family Area Stage

2:15 p.m.
Martin's/Union First Stage

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Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba
Malian Rock 'n' Roll

Landlocked but river-threaded, stretching from the northern desert and legendary city of Timbuktu to southern jungle, Mali is a historic nexus of world culture.

Malian music combines a depth of tradition with a headlong, vital immediacy. Bassekou Kouyaté has played on some of his country's most winning recordings, including those of kora legend Toumani Dìabaté and the late guitarist Ali Farka Touré. He's featured on excellent crossover albums from Taj Mahal, Regina Carter, Roswell Rudd and most recently, Bela Fleck's Grammy-winning "Throw Down Your Heart." 

Reached by email, he says his band, Ngoni Ba, "has worked its way to a very lively style that some have said is actually rock 'n' roll." Centered on the percussive melodic lines of his instrument — the lutelike ngoni — its music has a layered drive and beauty with a strong familial resemblance to the blues.

"What I learned from Bela's music," Kouyaté writes, "is that if you listen carefully, you can express the same ideas using your own tradition and your own instruments." Those ideas are powerfully delivered through the singing of his wife, Ami Sacko, dubbed by UK music magazine Mojo as "the Tina Turner of Mali." ("I can't do without her," Kouyaté writes.)

What makes one of their performances successful? "When the audience spontaneously gets up," he responds, "and dances with us." — Peter McElhinney

Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba

Saturday

8:15 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

Sunday

2:15 p.m.
Altria Stage

5 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

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Chatham County Line
Walkin' the Line

The boys of Chatham County Line play timeless music. It easily could have been strummed on a back porch 100 years ago somewhere in the Appalachian hills.

Banjoist Chandler Holt says he believes the secret to creating ageless songs is keeping them simple. "Having lyrics that paint a picture or image while simultaneously being poetic and not overdoing it is a big thing for us," Holt says. "Not forcing things and just letting the singer sing the song is often my best advice in this genre. Having a really good rhythm section doesn't hurt either."

The band grew out of a cohesive Raleigh, N.C., scene that raised young musicians on communal housing, sunrise jam sessions and beer. Ten years later, the guys are dapper showmen — although they acknowledge their suits are usually dirty — with "Wildwood." Their fifth album bubbles over with quick-picked stringed things and skittering percussion. The sound still is predominantly bluegrass, but there's just enough modern country to keep us guessing where they'll go on future albums.

Lyrically, the guys continue to stick to Everyman trials and tribulations, which Holt thinks are at the core of folk music. "Folk music has lots of definitions to different people, but I think people are attracted to its honesty," Holt says. "This music tells the stories of what life is really like now and in times past." — Hilary Langford

Chatham County Line

Saturday

1 p.m.
Altria Stage

4:30 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage

Sunday

4:30 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage.

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Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac
Cape Breton Blues and Greens

Nova Scotia means "New Scotland," and rock-bound, glacier-carved Cape Breton Island may be its most Scottish part. It was a prime destination for the deported clan losers of Bonnie Prince Charlie's 18th-century rebellion. 

Their traditions were uniquely preserved in insular exile. "From the moment he woke until he went to sleep, my grandfather whistled the [tunes] that I play," violinist Wendy MacIsaac says. "I'd absorbed the songs before I ever played them." 

MacIsaac started performing as a dancer at 5 years old and took up the violin at 12, playing at community step dances that often lasted three to four hours with no breaks. "You learn how to play at a good tempo," she says. "The dance makes the music more percussive, a lot of strong downbeat bows." Her training in the instrument mixed discipline — how to read music, to hold the instrument, the preferred fingerings — with wide tolerance for individual technique.

Her partner, singer Mary Jane Lamond, is a prominent voice in the preservation and presentation of Celtic culture. After a more typically modern childhood in Ontario and Quebec, Lamond returned to her Cape Breton roots when she fell in love with the Gaelic language, gaining her degree and launching a career singing in that language. (Her breakthrough hit, "Sleepy Maggie," was recorded with Wendy's cousin, fiddler Ashley MacIsaac.) For more than 16 years Wendy MacIsaac was a key part of Lamond's band; now it's more of a collaboration of equals. — Peter McElhinney

Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac

Friday

7 p.m.
Altria Stage

Saturday

1:30 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage

Sunday

1:15 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage

4:35 p.m.
Altria Stage

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Larry Chance And the Earls
Living in Harmony

American doo-wop music, first performed on city street corners in the 1940s, always has been about love. Larry Chance was one of the form's original practitioners and hit makers. He's performed vocal group harmonies for more than 50 years and is still going strong, even after a bout with throat cancer. His group, the Earls, released its latest album of originals this year.

Chance, 70, was raised in a musical area of South Philadelphia, where he was school friends with the likes of Chubby Checker, Frankie Avalon and Danny Rapp.

"I knew Chubby as Ernest Evans — he sat in front of me in homeroom," Chance says. "Then I moved to the Bronx. Because of my background in two different cities, I came up with a new kind of doo-wop sound with intricate background things going on: shing-a-ling-a-jing jings, badda-badda bop bops. I took the best of both worlds."

Back then, Larry Chance and the Earls were found at places such as the Riviera Lounge in Yonkers, Club Maxim in the Bronx, and the famous Peppermint Lounge. In 1962 they had a huge national hit with their single "Remember Then."

"The only message was love — I lost a love, I found a love, looking for a love — it was about fun," Chance says, noting that the performers were the first to really choreograph their music. "You tapped your toes, you snapped your fingers. It's still fun."

While the heyday of the music ran from 1954 until the mid-'60s British Invasion, Chance says he sees its influence in modern boy groups, such as Boyz II Men and 'N Sync.

In concert, the Earls use a lot of audience interaction in addition to comedy; Chance spent 10 years performing voices on the Don Imus radio show — characters such as Geraldo "Santana" Banana and Rainbow Johnson. "We try to be an entertainment package so people leave and say, 'That was fun.'" Chance says. "And we haven't been to Richmond in probably 25 years, so I'm definitely looking forward to it." — Brent Baldwin

Larry Chance and the Earls

Saturday

4:15 p.m.
Altria Stage

6:30 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage

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Old Bay Ceili Band
The Pluck of the Irish

There's something quixotic about a Baltimore-based traditional Irish band, named after a local brand of crab seasoning, competing for the senior title at the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, the world Irish traditional music competition in Tullamore in County Offaly, Ireland. 

The Old Bay Ceili band did it twice, representing North America in 2008 and 2009. 

"We didn't win or place," button accordionist Sean McComiskey says, "but the fact we qualified was a big thing. And we made a big impact." That a polyglot American band could hold its own in the music's homeland is no small achievement; the diverse members include Irish, Jewish, and African-American Joshua Dukes — who despite being the band's drummer won the 2009 All-Irish competition as accompanist on guitar. 

The Richmond Folk Festival appearance will be something of a re-emergence for the band, which recently went through what McComiskey terms "some internal drama," resulting in the departure of two players after the last Irish trip. The current lineup — two flutes, two fiddles, an accordion, banjo, piano and drummer — still can serve up a whirlwind of reels and jigs.

Ceilis are the Irish equivalent of square dances, and this performance will feature veteran dance caller Jim Keenan. "We will play and he will instruct," McComiskey says. "The [dance steps] are user-friendly; anyone can join right in and learn as they go. It's all about having fun." — Peter McElhinney

Old Bay Ceili Band

Saturday

12:30 p.m.
The Community Foundation Stage

Sunday

"Ceili Dance Instruction with Jim Keenan"
12:15 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

1 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

3:30 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage

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The Mighty Diamonds
Right Time Ragga

Few reggae bands can boast deeper roots than Jamaican harmony trio the Mighty Diamonds. Led by vocalists Donald "Tabby" Shaw, Fitzroy "Bunny" Simpson and Lloyd "Judge" Ferguson, the internationally known group has been singing sweetly soulful tunes since rolling out of Kingston, Jamaica, since 1969.

"There's nothing like hearing a founding group — the way they sing, the power of their message," says Julia Olin, the executive director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, which books the festival. "They still sound as good as they did in 1969."

Reggae fans may know their classic mid-'70s songs, "I Need a Roof" and "Go Seek Your Rights," but even '80s pop fans will recognize at least one number: these Rastafarians recorded the original "Pass the Kutchie," a pro-marijuana song that became a huge hit in 1982 when recorded by Musical Youth, as "Pass the Dutchie"

— Brent Baldwin

The Mighty Diamonds

Friday

7:30 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage

Saturday

4:15 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

9:45 p.m.
Altria Stage

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Magic Slim and the Teardrops with Sarah Streeter
Juke-Joint Rendezvous

It wouldn't be a Richmond Folk Fest without some house-rocking blues, and guitarist Magic Slim is one of the few remaining Chicago originals. That is to say, he's lived the blues: native Mississippian from a sharecropper family? Check. Lost his finger in a cotton-gin accident? Check. First guitar was a broomstick with wires? Check.

The 74-year-old, award-winning guitarist — the recipient of six W.C. Handy Awards — will team with fellow Mississippi native and powerful Chicago blues singer "Big Time" Sarah Streeter — which should be a moving live treat for blues fans. — Brent Baldwin

Magic Slim and the Teardrops

Friday

9 p.m.
Altria Stage

Saturday

3 p.m.
Altria Stage

7 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

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Imamyar Hasanov and Pejman Hadadi
Hypnotized by the Kamacha

Often the most mesmerizing Folk Festival performances come from Middle Eastern performers with instruments that sound like nothing else on earth.

American audiences may be unfamiliar with the kamacha, or spiked fiddle, an Azerbaijani instrument played with a bow that's an ancestor of the violin. But Imamyar Hasanov, who lives right up the road in Alexandria, will change that. He began playing it in Azerbaijan's National Music Instruments Orchestra when he was 7 (the country is at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe). "He is international virtuoso of this instrument," says Julia Olin, executive director for the National Council for the Traditional Arts. "Not only steeped in tradition, but an innovator."

Hasanov will be accompanied by spectacular Iranian percussionist Pejman Hadadi on the tombak, the goblet drum, and the daf, a frame drum, playing music that weds Azerbaijani folk with classical poetry and improvisational modes.

Both performers have immigrated to the United States, and YouTube videos display their concerts as beautifully trance-inducing and clearly spiritual. — Brent Baldwin

Imamyar Hasanov and Pejman Hadadi

Saturday

1:30 p.m.
Martin's/Union First Market Bank Family Stage

Sunday

1:15 p.m.
MWV Stage

3 p.m.
Martin's/Union First Stage

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Tony Ellis and the Musicians of Braeburn
The Banjo Master

Legendary twanger Tony Ellis will make the Richmond Folk Festival a family outing. He's joined by his wife, Louise, on pump organ and son, William Lee, on guitar.

The North Carolina native has been picking since high school when he traded a saxophone for a resonator banjo and his fiddle-playing grandma taught him a thing or two. She must have taught him the right moves, because the youngster went on to tour with Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys and play the Grand Ole Opry and Carnegie Hall.

Ellis' style is what you might call cool banjo, with relaxed tempos and crisp plucks that saunter alongside beautiful melodies. Occasionally he lets loose and sounds scurry like hounds on a rabbit trail, combining traditional bluegrass and old-time style. There's a hint of traditional Irish flavor thrown in from time to time too. Experience banjo like you've never heard it before in the hands of a master. — Hilary Langford

Tony Ellis and the Musicians of Braeburn

Saturday

2:30 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage

Sunday

2:30 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage

Sunday

4 p.m.

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Tibetan Monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery
Chants Encounter

Monks likely will reject the rock-star label, but the multiphonic singers of the Drepung Loseling Monastery are kind of a big deal.

They've shared the stage with Patti Smith, the Beastie Boys and Natalie Merchant, among others, and have sold out legendary venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center. With vibrant costumes and temple instruments such as the long horn trumpet and cymbals, these lamas come to audiences with traditional chants and masked dances, including the famous Dance of the Sacred Snow Lion. Their intent is to bring healing through sacred art and preserve the threatened Tibetan culture.

Did we mention that both the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere are big fans? Told you they were something special. — Hilary Langford

The Tibetan Monks

Saturday

8:15 p.m.
MWV Stage

Sunday

12:15 p.m.
MWV Stage

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Davell Crawford
Fresh Prince of the Big Easy

Davell Crawford's long-term mission is to restore the prominence of the grand piano in popular performance. His website calls him "the Prince of New Orleans," a title bestowed by a former Big Easy mayor that resonates with both his R&B lineage (his grandfather James "Sugarboy" Crawford wrote the quintessential Mardi Gras ditty, "Iko Iko") and his stake on the legacy of the late, legendary Big Easy keyboardist "Prince" James Booker. 

A performer from the age of 7, Crawford grew up on stage, boiling up a classic Crescent City gumbo of syncopation, soul, gospel, funk and blues into a blend simultaneously familiar, individual and appealing. — Peter McElhinney

Davell Crawford

Saturday

6 p.m.
MWV Stage

Sunday

1:15 p.m.
Altria Stage

3:30 p.m.
MWV Stage.

Trophy-winning fiddler Charles Perkins, circa 1920’s. - GREGG KIMBALL/LIBRARY OF VIRGINIA
  • Gregg Kimball/Library of Virginia
  • Trophy-winning fiddler Charles Perkins, circa 1920’s.

The Virginia Folklife Stage
Contest Rules

Before America was even a nation, Virginians were participating in Americana.

The very first historical mention of country music in the United States was recorded in the Richmond area in 1736. That's when The Virginia Gazette reported that, among other competitions in dancing, wrestling and "foot-ball play," there would be a fiddling contest at a St. Andrews Day festival in Hanover County. The prize? "A fine Cremona fiddle."

At the 1737 festival, the rules of the fiddling contest were published in the Gazette: "That a violin be played for by 20 fiddlers, and to be given to him that shall be adjudged to play the best. No person to have the Liberty of playing unless he brings a fiddle with him. After the prize is won, they are all to play together, and each a different tune; and to be treated by the company."

At this year's Richmond Folk Festival, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities will pay tribute to the rich tradition of community contests by showcasing competitions in fiddling, flat-foot dancing, banjo playing, carnival costume making, hot-dog eating, turkey calling and quilt making, among others. Highlights on the Richmond Times-Dispatch Virginia Folklife Stage will include a guitar picking competition with a grand prize instrument made by ace craftsman Wayne Henderson (Saturday at 3 p.m.). This will be followed by a rematch of last year's heated shucking battle between Northern Neck oyster openers (and sisters) Deborah Pratt and Clementine Moore.

For perspective on the tradition of old-time musical contests, Lovell Coleman, Jimmie Delozier and Danny Nicely will meet on Sunday at 1 p.m. for a workshop about competitions in the '40s and '50s. The great Washington banjo player and fiddler Speedy Tolliver will, unfortunately, be unable to participate for health reasons. — Don Harrison

Richmond Times-Dispatch Virginia Folklife Stage

Saturday
12-6:15 p.m.

Sunday
12-5p.m.

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Folk Don't Stop
From Chinese Opera to Glen Allen Gospel, Don't Forget These. ...

For sheer spectacle, it's going to be difficult to top Qi Shu Fang Peking Opera. Steeped in the traditions of stylized 18th- and 19th-century Peking opera, the New York-based troupe uses elaborate costumes — feathers, flowing robes and explosions of color — to present a faithful presentation of a venerated Chinese theater form that melds music, vocal histrionics, acrobatics and dance. Expect a visceral experience that's both stirring and otherworldly.

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Clarinet player Michael Winograd has been called the boy man of the reed and one of the musicians most responsible for keeping the Eastern European klezmer tradition alive and thriving. The 25-year-old Long Island, N.Y., native became interested in traditional Jewish music after immersing himself in improvisational jazz, and his vibrant take on the klezmer form retains some of that avant-garde edge. For his appearances at the festival, Winograd has assembled something of a klezmer supergroup — including Jewish dance instructor Steven Weintraub. Winograd's Nue Tanhoyz Kepele will spotlight work by the musicians and composers, such as David Tarras and Naftule Brandwein, who helped to re-introduce the infectious klezmer sound to Jewish Americans in the early part of the 20th century.

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It's been called the most romantic music on earth — the sleek and sensuous trío romántico sound of the 1940s and '50s, which still informs much of the music of Mexico. One of the genre's leading lights was Los Tres Reyes, a trio of harmonizing classical guitarists that presented plucked strings and soulfully wavering vibratos. Still grounded by founding members Gilberto and Raúl Puente, the group remains faithful to the original Los Tres Reyes sound. In other words, bring a loved one and be prepared to gently swoon.

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The Git Hoan Dancers of Kingston, Wash., are dedicated to preserving the traditions of the Thimshian tribe of northern British Columbia and southeastern Alaska. Git hoan (which means "people of the salmon") perform songs in intricate masks and headdresses and showcase ceremonial dances, some of them hundreds of years old, that tribes people would perform in the wintertime when there was less work.

Closer to home, the S.H. Thompson Memorial Choir long has been considered one of the Richmond region's most prominent and passionate gospel music choirs. Formed in 1954 at Glen Allen's St. Peter Baptist Church (which was founded in 1882), the 50-member ensemble, led by director Keonyna Harris, tackles both traditional African-American gospel hymns as well as contemporary selections. Its sounds surely will fast track visitors to the heavenly way.

— Don Harrison

Qi Shu Fang Peking Opera

Friday

7:45 p.m.
MWV Stage

Saturday

12:30 p.m.
Martin's/Union First Market Stage

5 p.m.
MWV Stage

Winograd's Nue Tamzhoyz Kapele

Saturday

Noon
Dominion Dance Pavilion

7:45 p.m.
Altria Stage

Sunday

2:15 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

Los Tres Reyes

Saturday

Noon
Altria Stage

3:30 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage

Sunday

12:15 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage

The Git Hoan Dancers

Saturday

2:45 p.m.
MWV Stage

Sunday

1:15 p.m.
Martin's/Union First Market Stage

4:30 p.m.
MWV Stage

S.H. Thompson Memorial Choir

Sunday

3:30 p.m.
Altria Stage.

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