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Outside Influences

The National Folk Festival is one of three giants moving into Richmond this fall.


While not all the acts have been confirmed, the diversity of what has been confirmed is stunning. There's an all-star klezmer ensemble culled from at least a dozen renowned klezmer bands, a leading Puerto Rican troupe, the foremost Mexican mariachi band in the country, a bluegrass group boasting spectacular harmonies, and an Irish band from County Sligo in the northwest of the Emerald Isle.

In addition, two African-American gospel traditions are represented — one an a cappella group, and the other a 20- or 30-member brass ensemble, with a trombone that leads the charge.

Other acts include traditional picking and fiddling from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, a Cajun family band that features a native Richmonder, a rollicking zydeco band, and a rockabilly legend — Hayden Thomson, whose rhythm section from his 1956 recordings for Sun Records was later borrowed by Jerry Lee Lewis.

With seven acts still to be named, from any number of genres or traditions, there are still some holes to be filled. Only one type of blues is represented. What about the Mississippi Delta style or the Mississippi hill country style? What about a fife-and-drum corps, a blues precursor with roots in Africa? Louisiana is well-represented, but what about traditions from Texas, or Native American music from any number of states, including one as close as North Carolina? With only one slot, bluegrass seems underrepresented, but this is clearly a national and international menu of music, so part of the attraction of this festival will be to make new discoveries.

Local musician Daniel Clarke is excited by the appearance of a Cambodian classical dance and music ensemble here, which he describes as an "intense" blend of free-spirited but disciplined music combined with exotic pageantry. "The music to our ears sounds free," Clarke says. "Like John Coltrane free. There's kind of a groove happening, and the dancers move very slowly, and the outfits are really elaborate. It's pretty wild."

The assorted action will take place over three days, spread across seven stages capable of handling crowds from a hundred to more than 10,000. In addition to the live music, there will be a covered dance pavilion, a craft marketplace and a children's area with a Japanese candy sculptor, a West African oral historian and a flea circus, in addition to games and crafts. Virginia's world-class instrument makers will have a featured area, and ethnic foods from many traditions will be offered. At any given time there will be half a dozen events to choose from. Amazingly, admission and all entertainment is free.

K Alferio, executive director of citycelebrations and the festival, experienced the whirlwind in Bangor, Maine, last year. "It's like a three-ring circus, where whatever you decide to watch, you know you're missing other things," she says. "But here you can catch what you missed somewhere else later on."

John Cephas, who's performed at eight National Folk Festivals, sees it a bit differently. "I would not categorize it as a circus," he says by phone from his Caroline County home. "I would characterize it as an educational experience. It's just a big, huge, diverse presentation of art in many forms. It's so diverse, it's like an arts presentation from all over the globe."

Alferio has high hopes for the festival and what it can do. At the launch event this spring, she said, "This festival has the ability to transform us." She could be right. We could be transformed as individuals, making new musical discoveries that enrich our lives, or transformed as a city, with this as a jumping-off point for an annual festival of our own.

The Lineup (so far)

Seven more to be announced

Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars (Jewish klezmer)

Khmer Classical Dance Ensemble (Cambodian music and dance)

Los Pleneros de la 21 (Puerto Rican music and dance)

Mountain Heart (bluegrass supergroup)

Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano (Mexican mariachi)

The Paschall Brothers (a cappella gospel)

Cephas & Wiggins (Piedmont blues)

Savoy Family Band (Louisiana Cajun)

Zydeco Joe and the Laissez Le Bon Temps Roulez Band (Louisiana zydeco)

The Madison Hummingbirds (brass gospel ensemble from Portsmouth)

J.P. Cormier (music from Nova Scotia)

Hayden Thompson (classic rockabilly from Booneville, Miss.)

Dervish (Sligo-style Irish music)

Ivo Papasov & Yuri Yunakov (Bulgarian wedding music)

Cheick Hamala Diabate Ensemble (Malian music)

Chuna McIntyre (Yup'ik Eskimo traditions)

Marcia Ball (New Orleans boogie-woogie piano)

Prem Raja Mahat (Nepalese music and dance)

More Fall Arts...

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