For nine years, Laura Napky has been in charge of the bucket brigade, all those fun teams of people you see collecting donations in decorated orange containers.
She and her team have done an impressive job. Each year they’ve brought in more money than the previous — last year they accumulated nearly $120,000 in buckets. This feat has helped make the festival the envy of the national circuit, so that every year, the National Folk Fest sends people from other towns here to see how it’s done.
The festival also has a whopping 90-percent return rate on volunteers. A big reason is Napky, who changed the entire way the brigade is prepared and deployed, according to Lisa Sims of festival organizer Venture Richmond.
Three years ago, Napky got her boyfriend, Grant Osborne, to begin volunteering. His job basically was to chauffeur her around by golf cart to help ease her load, and make sure she was hydrated and fed.
“By the end of the weekend, she’s wrecked,” he says. “By Monday, we’re just lumps of aching meat.”
But this will be the first year the couple will attend the festival as guests. That’s because they’re sitting the year out as volunteers to get married at the festival Friday under a tent at Tredegar.
Their Celtic-themed ceremony — both have Scottish roots, though Napky also has ancestors in Honduras — will feature kilts, handfasting, where their hands are bound with ties, as well as bagpipe music from the local St. Andrew’s Legion Pipes & Drums.
The nuptials take place at 5 p.m., right before the music officially starts at 6. “We exit from the tent and then we’re going to start a parade,” Osborne says, noting the Celtic tradition of passing over two bodies of waters with the whole village for good luck. “So we’re going to go down Tredegar, go over Seventh Street bridge and come back over the Fifth Street bridge.”
The event is private and separate from the Folk Festival, but public visitors early to the festival are welcome to join the parade. They might even score a wedding cupcake.
The couple has large number of family members coming into town who will get the full Folk Fest experience — three days of music, food and love.
“It’s going to be like a VIP introduction to Richmond,” says Napky, who works as program coordinator at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Engineering, where she assists with grant projects in biomedical engineering. “We really wanted to show our families how awesome it is down here.”
So will this wedding start a trend?
“Whatever, all I know is we’re the first!” Osborne jokes.
There will be three people taking over Napky’s job handling the bucket brigade, but the bride and groom plan to get back to volunteering next year. She’s hoping her work will be in good hands this year, she says.
Sims adds that Napky aided the success of the bucket brigade — and by extension the festival — by helping make the job creative.
“She’s very organized. She built camaraderie and helped them to stand out. The [bucket volunteers] are almost performing themselves,” Sims says. “She puts in 45 to 50 hours easily every weekend. She and her team are personally responsible for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. We wish we could clone her.”
For the honeymoon, the new couple booked a trip to Costa Rica for an eco adventure. But shhh ... don’t tell the families if you meet them, it’s a surprise.