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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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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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