Arts & Events » Arts and Culture

What Were They Thinking?

The organizers of the Richmond Folk Festival give us their opinions on this weekend's must-see shows.



When they roll out the 90-foot pole, you know it's gonna be a good folk festival.

There's legitimate excitement amongst the Richmond Folk Festival organizers now that Dominion Virginia Power has delivered its cargo. The pole is for the Tezcatlipoca Voladores, a team of Mexican acrobats who tie themselves to the top, fling themselves off, and spin and spin as they revolve toward the ground from nine stories up.

That, friends, is culture.

And it's a reassuring sign that this year's festival is going to be at least as good as the one before. I'm sure some people worried that once the name was changed from “National” to “Richmond,” we would in our ignorance commit cultural suicide by inviting performances like the Whirling Skinheads or the South Texan Chupacabra Wranglers or something. Not so! Because the National Council for the Traditional Arts is still helping organize things from up in Maryland (the council runs the National Folk Festival and its offspring). And the programming committee that worked with the NCTA to choose the acts for the Richmond festival is made up of many local musicians and cultural types.

But don't look for any sweeping changes in format this year.

“I don't think that we differentiated one bit from the previous folk festivals,” writes Don Harrison of the blog Save Richmond. “[I]t was never, ‘Oh, it’s the Richmond one. We've got to change or be different or scale it down.' On the contrary. There was always a sense of bringing the best acts we could, or the best acts that were available to us.”

But that isn't why you're reading this. You're reading this because you want to know who to see this weekend. In previous years, our music critics offered their suggestions on can't-miss performances. This year we take it to the source. We've polled the festival's programming committee to find out which performers have them going full-groupie.

Best Song of Redemption
R&B and soul legend Howard Tate tore it up in the late 1960s and fell on hard times in the 1980s. He found the Lord and his remarkable voice re-entered the music scene, tying together his gospel roots and R&B sound. As an added bonus, Tate's using locals for his horn section: Reggie Pace (of No BS Brass Band), Jon Greenberg and Roger Carroll (both of Chez RouAc) and Ric Reiger.
When: Oct. 10, 9:30-10:30 p.m.; Oct. 11, 2:45-3:45 p.m. and 4:30-5:30 p.m.

Most Fifey
We're told that-African American Fife and Drum is a little uncommon ( WDCE DJ Todd Ranson says it's not like the kind of thing you'll see in a Colonial Williamsburg re-enactor troupe), so Sharde Thomas & Rising Star Fife & Drum is keeping a tradition alive. Thomas, 18, is the great-granddaughter of Mississippi blues great Otha Turner, and she and her Delta crew roll out a strange and wonderful sound — blues on a fife, backed by African blues drum lines. Thomas will sell her handcrafted cane fifes at the festival, too.
When: Oct. 11, 6:45-7:15 p.m. and 8:30-8:50 p.m. Oct. 12, 12:30-1 p.m. and 3:30-4 p.m.

When Reggae Was Reggae
The Itals
play it like it was best played: three-part harmony from Jamaica's golden age.
When: Oct. 10, 9:30-10:30 p.m.; Oct. 11, 3-3:45 p.m., 9:30-10:30 p.m.

The Voice of George Clooney
Though it may shock you, not all actors do their own singing. This is true of George Clooney in the Coen Brothers' “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” One of the other stars of that film, the song “Man of Constant Sorrow,” did not in fact come from Clooney's gullet, as anyone who bought the soundtrack knows. It was Dan Tyminski's bluegrass bleat that carried the tune, and he and his band carry the traditional threads to our modern-day ears.
When: Oct. 10, 8:30-9:15 p.m.; Oct. 11, 1:45-2:30 p.m. and 9:45-10:30 p.m.

You Mean They're Not All Terrible People?
Contrary to what certain politicos would have you believe, the peoples of Iran, Syria and Iraq are not fire-breathing lizards. They do, however, crank out some seriously interesting sounds. Nadeem Dlaikan & Friends represents his end of the Middle East with what Ranson calls “trance-like, hypnotic and topical music.”
When: Oct. 11, 1-1:45 p.m. and 4:45-5:30 p.m.; Oct. 12, 4:45-5:30 p.m.

Last Picked
The programming committee really frothed over Lee Sexton, the 81-year-old coal field banjo picker who is considered the last of his generation. He's one of those old-timers who made “old-time” a folk-music form. Josh Kohn, programming manager for the national council, calls this act a “must-see.”
When: Oct. 11, 1:45-2:30 p.m.; Oct. 12, 12:30-1:15 p.m. and 3:45-4:30 p.m.

Best Guitarist on the Planet?
The committee's response to Malian guitarist Vieux Farka TourAc was unanimous — members absolutely love the guy, even though most had never heard of him before the programming meetings. Son of African music legend Ali Farka TourAc, Vieux is a master of the Saharan blues.
When: Oct. 10, 7:30-8:15 p.m.; Oct. 11, 2-2:45 p.m. and 5:45-6:30 p.m.

Straight Outta
Two Inuit sisters from Kangiqsualujjuaq (which is in Nunavik [which is in northern Ontario {in Canada}]) bust out the throat-singing as Nukariik. The sisters basically sing into each other's mouths, using the opposite throat as a resonating chamber for the weird, unearthly multitonal sounds. Kohn writes that they play a sort of game mimicking nature sounds, competing to see who laughs first. That's how they roll in Nunavik. “Be sure to bring a date,” writes Grammy-winning musicologist Chris King.
When: Oct. 11, 1:30-2 p.m. and 4-4:30 p.m.; Oct. 12, 3-3:30 p.m. and 5:15-5:45 p.m.

More Music
Other nods went to the Eastern European tunes of Harmonia and the power-drumming of Japan's San Jose Taiko. And of course the festival offers much more throughout the weekend.
Looking ahead, DJ and podcaster Chris Bopst says he hopes the festival will begin tying in after-shows at other venues, incorporating the whole city in the festival that bears our name.
We're getting there, though: There's one approved after show at Capital Ale House's Music Hall downtown — a performance by Washington, D.C.'s Soul Brazil at 10 p.m. And Austin country balladeer Dale Watson will hang around town after the festival and play a show at his old standard, Shenanigans, on Monday. S

To Go

The Richmond Folk Festival runs Oct. 10-12 along the riverfront. Admission is free. Visit for schedules and information.




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