The National Folk Festival is the Mary Poppins of large-scale cultural festivals: It lands in some backwater town for a three-year tour, enlivens the masses with "folk" and then moves on.
This time next year, the National's flying umbrella will have deposited it in the dusty township of Butte, Mont. so Richmond then has the responsibility for maintaining the festival here. Here are highlights of the 2007 festival, along with suggestions for what the Richmond Folk Festival should do next year to keep folk from imploding.
Who: The Holmes Brothers
Why: Few sounds are quite as sweet at two brothers harmonizing while they play soulful blues bass and jangly guitar. Virginia natives The Holmes Brothers (with Popsy Dixon) have a folksy blues-gospel sound all their own. In January the band released "State of Grace," its 10th album. It boasts a multitude of nearly unrecognizable slowed-down blues versions of songs by a wide range of artists, including Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" and Credence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising."
When: Friday, Oct. 12, at 9:45 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 13, at 12:30 and 5 p.m.
What Would Richmond Do? These kinds of crossover acts bridge the generation gap. Look at North Carolina bluegrass rock starts The Avett Brothers -- when they play here, you'll see tattoos, walkers and kids. Bring in lively locals like Special Ed and the Shortbus or go bigger-budget with Ohio blues-rock duo The Black Keys.
Who: The Wild Style 25th Anniversary show.
Why: A rare opportunity to see the artists who shaped the cultural movement that became known as hip-hop. The show is a tribute to Charlie Ahearn's 1982 film, "Wild Style," which chronicled hip-hop as it was happening in the South Bronx (alongside a weak storyline and stilted acting). While the narrative elements of the film are negligible, the performances remain compelling. Three of the film's featured artists, rappers Busy Bee, Grandmaster Caz and turntable innovator Grand Wizzard Theodore founding fathers of hip-hop are coming to the festival. Busy Bee is often referred to as rap music's first solo artist and is renowned for his ability to engage audiences. Grandmaster Caz is the ghostwriter behind one of the first rap records; a chunk of "Rapper's Delight" was borrowed from his notebook. A former apprentice of Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizzard Theodore invented something called "scratching." Perhaps you've heard of it.
When: Saturday, Oct. 13, at 6 and 7:30 p.m.
WWRD? If "folk" is defined as music evolved by an ethnic or regional group, which the National seems to argue, then punk is Richmond's folk and should be given a dirty stage under one of the sweatier tents. Bring back one of our fabled big-name acts, like Inquisition or Honor Role. Or a showcase of locals who blur the punk lines, like Pink Razors, Brainworms, The Catalyst or Landmines.
What: Break-Dance Lessons
Why: Before the days when break-dancing became a recognized style of dance, you had to learn the hard way. Rug burns, broken furniture and cracked bones were likely bumps along the beat street to electric boogaloo. (Or, even worse, ordering that break-dance mat from Alfonso Ribeiro.) Luckily, Rokafella & Kwikstep, two break-dancers with enough experience to make your head spin, are teaching classes.
When: Sunday, Oct. 14, at 12:45 p.m.
WWRD? The National Folk Festival always has some interesting workshops boat-building, weaving, instrument-cobbling. In addition to these lovely bits of esoteric life, the Richmond Folk Festival could follow the lead of Austin's South by Southwest and introduce panel discussions and a film festival movies by local filmmakers or a large-scale premiere. Push the multi-media.
Who: Henry Butler
Why: Dr. John calls him the real deal. A New Orleans jazz pianist who's been blind since the age of 3, Butler blends styles like the requisite jazz and blues with classical and Caribbean influences. He's become a virtuoso in the 30 years he's been at the keyboard, a mixture of precise piano technician and lively jazzman. Also, interestingly, he's a well-known photographer, exhibiting around the country.
When: Saturday, Oct. 13, at 4 and 9:45 p.m.
WWRD? Impressive people are impressive people. And while it's important to get people through the gates to see folks like Butler, you sometimes need a big-name carrot for that stick. Why not pull in soloists like freak-folk avatars Devendra Banhart or Joanna Newsome? Or lasso the biggest folkies, like John Prine? We've got James Taylor playing in a few weeks, so it's possible to get superstars inside the city limits.
Who: Grupo Fantasma
Why: Speaking of Austin, Grupo Fantasma is one of those bastard children of musical styles, with a solid base of traditional Latin dance music led into hip-hop and funk by the multiple horns. It's like one of those cereal sampler packs salsa, cumbia, flamenco. Very cultural, easily danceable.
When: Friday, Oct. 12, at 9:15 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 13 at 5 and 9:30 p.m.
WWRD? These crazy fusion bands are swell you may have no idea where they hail from, but they're instantly enjoyable. Next year, import folks like Cambodian pop-rock crew Dengue Fever, New York gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello or the high-caliber, brass-driven Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra.
The National Folk Festival runs Oct. 12-14 all over downtown. Admission, as always, is free. Call 788-6466 or visit www.nationalfolkfestival.com.