The Richmond Folk Festival is now one of Virginia’s largest and most anticipated events of the year. The Festival strives to present the very finest traditional artists from across the nation. In making its selections, a local Programming Committee is guided by the following definition, which is the guide for the National Council for Traditional Arts and the National Folk Festival, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts:
FOLK & TRADITIONAL ARTS a definition The folk and traditional arts are rooted in and reflective of the cultural life of a community. Community members may share a common ethnic heritage, language, religion, occupation, or geographic region. These vital and constantly reinvigorated artistic traditions are shaped by values and standards of excellence that are passed from generation to generation, most often within family and community, through demonstration, conversation, and practice. Genres of artistic activity include, but are not limited to, music, dance, crafts, and oral expression. - National Endowment for the Arts
In the Classroom
Through the generous support of its sponsors, the Richmond Folk Festival will fill Richmond area school auditoriums and classrooms with performances and presentations of deeply-rooted cultural expressions.
The week prior to the festival, master musicians and artists visit several area schools. Together, the artists and students share music, song, craft, stories and memories that will last a lifetime.
Interested in performing at the 2018 Richmond Folk Festival?
Programming discussions take place from November to May with most programming decisions complete by June 1st prior to this year's festivals. All artists must follow the same process. If you're interested in applying for the 2018 festival, check out "How to be a performer at the Richmond Folk Festival"
When the nine ladies of Be’la Dona hit the stage, they bring with them a wealth of individual musical experience: classical training of the highest caliber, weekly musical ministry in church, and years of work backing leading national artists ranging from Nile Rogers to Erykah Badu to Salt-N-Pepa. Together, they form one of the hottest bands playing D.C.’s best-known musical product, the unstoppable party music known as go-go.
El Clavo and Caracas, Venezuela
La Parranda El Clavo and their clarion-voiced leader Betsayda Machado have inspired international acclaim for the exuberant sounds of their Afro-Venezuelan heritage. The New York Times declared them “the kind of group that world-music fans have always been thrilled to discover: vital, accomplished, local, unplugged, deeply rooted.”
Cabo Verdean funaná Praia, Santiago Island, Cabo Verde
Richmond audiences have a rare opportunity to see a legend of Cabo Verdean funaná at this year’s festival. While the nostalgic morna of the northern islands, Cabo Verde’s best-known genre, is played throughout the archipelago, the joyful, insurgent sound of accordion-based funaná is unique to Santiago Island in the south. Santiago is also the birthplace of accordion player Victor Tavares, better known as Bitori. Now an elder statesman of funaná, Bitori is finally receiving recognition for his central role in preserving the music that, as singer Chando Graciosa says, “represents the citizens of Cabo Verde, who are defined not by what they own but by what keeps them going: Hope.”
C.J. Chenier is “the true royal successor” of his pioneering father, the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier. Like his father Clifton before him, C.J. Chenier embraces the zydeco imperative to laissez les bon temps rouler: “Our main goal,” he declares, “is happy feet and happy faces.”
Although the historic city of Granada in Spain’s southern autonomous region of Andalucia is home to the famed Alhambra palace and the cave dwellings of the Sacromonte, it is perhaps best known for its impassioned flamenco culture. The three artists of Corazón de Granada: Flamenco Joven y Jondo have a name that acknowledges their youth in a tradition that often prioritizes a lifetime of mastery (joven means “young”) but also asserts their deep (jondo) dedication to flamenco, indeed the heart (corazón) of Granada.
Like their namesake The Crooked Road, southwest Virginia’s 333-mile long “heritage music trail,” the Crooked Road Ramblers take listeners on a journey into the Blue Ridge region’s rich heritage of old-time music. The Crooked Road Ramblers came together in 2004 through the efforts of then-22-year-old Kilby Spencer, who “started the band in hopes of carrying on the driving southwest Virginia ‘big’ band sound that makes people want to dance.” This desire to keep old-time music vital comes naturally to Kilby, a member of Whitetop Mountain's Spencer family, renowned for their commitment to continuing the region’s musical traditions.
A five-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Female Vocalist of the Year award, Dale Ann Bradley is acknowledged as one of bluegrass music’s greatest contemporary singers, with a pure, shimmering soprano that brings alive the stories she sings. Though she has established a successful Nashville music career, she stays true to her Appalachian roots, with deft guitar picking, gospel-inspired harmonies, and “nothing doctored up” personal songwriting that bring listeners to the heart of bluegrass music.
Memphis has long been a crucible for uniquely American sounds, from Beale Street blues to Sun Studios rockabilly. The Memphis sound—a less hard-edged regional manifestation of soul—and its main studios, Stax and Hi, launched the careers of scores of legendary performers. During the heyday of Memphis soul, Don Bryant was best known as a songwriter, but he recently released his first album in nearly four decades, at 75 years young, bringing much deserved attention to his central place in the pantheon of great Memphis soul singers.
Bluesman Eddie Cotton, Jr.’s music is rooted in the church. His father was a Pentecostal minister, shepherding the Christ Chapel Church of God in Christ that he founded in Clinton, Mississippi, just west of Jackson. While music was central to church services, his family and his congregation shunned secular music. Nonetheless, Cotton reflects, “The deepest of the blues I’ve ever played is in church.… The style they play on is nothing but blues.”
Seiichi Tanaka is a Grand Master of the ancient Japanese form of ritual drumming known as taiko. Taiko combines percussive sound with physically demanding choreographic movement to create a mesmerizing musical performance. “Teaching the discipline of mind and body, in the spirit of complete respect and unity among the drummers, that is my policy,” says Sensei Tanaka. “Heart, skill, physical strength, and courtesy—these four elements are based on Japanese martial arts. I have the same philosophy for my taiko.”
Four decades ago, renowned musician and folklorist Mick Moloney gathered some of the finest Irish American musicians and dancers to perform at the Bicentennial Festival of American Folklife. Overwhelming interest in that program led Moloney and friends to form The Green Fields of America, the first group on either side of the Atlantic to bring together Irish vocal, instrumental, and dance traditions on the concert stage, sparking a renaissance that continues to this day. The group’s ever-changing lineup draws on the legacy of immigrant musicians who created a rich new repertoire in America out of diverse traditions from across the Emerald Isle. As Moloney says, “The personnel has changed but the concept has remained constant over the past 30 years: to show in one major ensemble some of Irish America's finest musicians and dancers.”
As its name implies, the Hot Club of Cowtown pays homage to two legendary groups from the 1930s: the swinging guitar and violin of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s Hot Club of Paris, decamped from that city to the territory of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Now celebrating 20 years together, the Hot Club of Cowtown is widely recognized as one of the finest ensembles in western swing and hot jazz today.
This Brooklyn-based sextet, led by Maâlem Hassan Ben Jafeer, envelops audiences in the trance-inducing sounds of the Moroccan Gnawa tradition, a pre-Islamic music associated with Sufi mysticism. Guided by a maâlem, a master artist vested with deep spiritual responsibility, musicians perform elaborately structured all-night trance rituals (lila) to engage the spirits in the healing and purification of both individuals and community. While historically a culture of the dispossessed, Gnawa has in recent years gained immense popularity in Morocco as a national symbol.
Only days before he performs at the Richmond Folk Festival, Jan Knutson will turn 19. But the tunes this young musician plays with such virtuosity and subtlety express the history of American vernacular guitar traditions. Knutson’s repertoire draws from the Great American Songbook, Gypsy jazz, and jazz’s heritage of guitar improvisation. Such is the level of skill he exhibits that his mentor, the guitar master Frank Vignola, says Knutson “is destined to be one of the next generation’s great guitarists."
Los Wembler’s come from Iquitos, a city of half a million people in the heart of the Amazon, the largest city in the world that is completely inaccessible by road. As the band says, Iquitos can only be reached by boat, by plane—or by radio waves. And like the city they call home, the music Los Wembler’s pioneered nearly 50 years ago is deeply rooted in the sounds and rhythms of the Amazon and yet full of unexpected connections to the currents of international music.
Nicolae Feraru is a revered musical master in Chicago’s Romanian and Hungarian immigrant communities, who, in 2013, received a National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor for traditional artists. Now 67, he retains the same undiminished love of the cimbalom (hammered dulcimer) that he exhibited as a child, when he ate bread while practicing so as not to waste time on meals. “The music, this is my life,” says Feraru.
One of Canada’s best-known fiddle teachers has said of Winnipeg’s Patti Kusturok: “When it comes to old-time fiddling in Canada, Patti’s the ‘Boss.’” Indeed, Patti is a lauded master of Canadian fiddle playing, and it is the unique Métis fiddling tradition that forms the core of her repertoire. This tradition has for centuries been a central element of Métis cultural identity in Western Canada and the Northern Plains. The fiddle is the essential instrument in this tradition, whose notable characteristics include fast tempos with asymmetric phrasing, double-stringing, altered fiddle tunings—and the clogging that often accompanies a well-played tune.
The Paulin Brothers' Brass Band carries on the venerable legacy of their father, the late Ernest “Doc” Paulin. Doc Paulin’s Dixieland Jazz Band was beloved in New Orleans for seven decades. Traditional New Orleans jazz embodies the creolized culture of that city, combining African, European, and Caribbean musical aesthetics into a distinctly American sound. The music had two birthplaces: the club and the street parade. Whatever the setting, Doc Paulin's band approached the music with a discipline and verve that made them a touchstone of New Orleans jazz. He mentored countless younger musicians, including his sons, who champion his memory and the jazz band tradition.
Sahba Motallebi is recognized internationally as a modern virtuoso of the tar and setar, lute-like stringed instruments central to one of the world’s great musical traditions and one of its oldest. Rooted in prehistory and developing over millennia, Persian classical music is a deeply spiritual and contemplative art form that began as court music, but became central to Iranian identity in the early 1900s.
For over 70 years, the Highway QC’s have been one of the top gospel groups in the classic “quartet” tradition. Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls, and Johnnie Taylor began their careers in the QC’s, each taking their turn as bandleader, before crossing over to become R&B stars. But under the direction of their fourth and current leader, Spencer Taylor, Jr., the QC’s stayed the course, recording groundbreaking male-harmony records and singing the sacred sounds of gospel all over the world.
Among the most vital and exciting manifestations of long-practiced traditions on college campuses are the “step shows” organized by African American sororities and fraternities, known as Black Greek-Letter Organizations (BGLOs). Whether informal displays of pride and skill “on the yard,” or formalized competitions before thousands of fans, “stepping” celebrates African American culture, and highlights the contributions that BGLOs make to campus and community life.
As part of the ongoing observance of the 75th anniversary of World War II, the Richmond Folk Festival is proud to present the U.S. Army Blues, an acclaimed military ensemble that carries on the American big band tradition with both precision and style. This 18-member jazz ensemble is one of 10 musical groups that make up the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” General John “Black Jack” Pershing founded the U.S. Army Band in 1922, inspired by the example of European military bands active during the First World War. The Army Blues became an official division of “Pershing’s Own” in 1972, carrying on a jazz legacy begun by the Army Dance Band that entertained in war zones during World War II.
“Wayne Hancock has more Hank Sr. in him than either I or Hank Jr. He’s the real deal,” declares frequent Hancock collaborator Hank Williams III. That’s the kind of no-nonsense assessment that makes Wayne “The Train” Hancock a legend to devotees of honky-tonk music.
Malian n’goni meets American banjo
Featuring Cheick Hamala Diabate, Sammy Shelor, and Riley Baugus
The history of the five-string banjo, among the very first truly American-born instruments, provides a revelatory lens through which to view the immense contributions of African cultural traditions to the development of American popular music and culture. The instrument we now know as the banjo was derived from lutes enslaved Africans brought to the New World, most notably the West African n’goni and kora. The European violin (fiddle) and the African-derived banjo likely comprised the “first duet” in the New World, providing the cornerstone of American musical forms for centuries to come.
The deep soul of Otis Redding and Percy Sledge didn't really disappear after its heyday in the 1960s. It just went back to its grassroots origins. Today's generation of Southern soul artists still writes and records music that tells stories about life, love, and having a good time with other grown folks. Richmond singer, songwriter, and guitarist Big G has become one of Southern soul's most prolific artists with 20 albums to his credit, nearly all of them on the Stone River label operated by his manager Cynthia Vaughan.
Old-time and bluegrass Southwest Virginia and northwest North Carolina
Many casual listeners outside the Appalachian region refer to all mountain music as bluegrass, but mountain music encompasses two distinct forms: bluegrass and its predecessor, old-time. Old-time string band music developed in the nineteenth century, when European and African musical styles converged in America’s first frontier, the Blue Ridge. Predominantly fiddle- and banjo-driven, old-time music is intended for dancing and entertainment at house parties, community gatherings, and jam sessions.
Faith is at the center of Cora Harvey Armstrong’s 50-year career in gospel music. She was born and raised in the tiny Newtown community of King and Queen County, Virginia. Her family members were dedicated church attendees, and deeply spiritual. Armstrong remembers being enthralled by church music at an early age; she surprised her family and congregation with her ability to play piano by ear at the age of five. Her parents decided to enroll her in piano lessons, where she learned to read music. She soon joined her sisters Clara and Virginia with their mother for the family’s singing group, The Harvey Family.
Shenandoah Valley and southwestern Virginia
Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley has long been fertile ground for the development of old-time and bluegrass music, and the Knicelys are one of its most prominent musical families. Multi-instrumentalist A. O. Knicely was a staple at area barn dances in the 1930s; his son Glen soaked up this music as a child and, along with his wife, Darlena, passed on the tradition to his son, Danny. Danny has become one of the most respected and versatile multi-instrumentalists of his generation, collaborating with prominent musicians in the United States and abroad.
If you have attended the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention sometime in the last forty years, then you will quickly recognize the familiar voice of Galax native Harold Mitchell. Always dressed impeccably and donning a white cowboy hat, Harold has served as the instrument contest emcee at Galax since 1972. Harold’s voice was likely familiar to locals already, as he was a regular deejay at WHHV radio in neighboring Hillsville, spinning the records of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and other founding fathers of bluegrass.
Southwest Virginia and northwest North Carolina have long been fertile ground for family bluegrass bands. In the mid-2000s, one of the finest family bands to emerge from the region was the Cana Ramblers, of tiny Cana, Virginia, in Carroll County, showcasing the Jones family. Led by guitarist and singer Phil Jones, the band featured his teenage daughters, Ashley and Laura Leigh, and pre-teen son, Will. The Cana Ramblers were a favorite at music festivals and fiddlers conventions, with the Jones kids displaying talents well beyond their years.
For more than five decades, Evangelist Maggie Ingram & the Ingramettes brought their music and ministry to congregations in the Tidewater and Piedmont. For evangelist “Mama” Maggie Ingram, who sadly passed away on June 23, 2015, music was always a family affair, and three generations were represented in the group. Their commanding, spirit-filled performances demonstrated the extraordinary depth of talent in American gospel music. The group is one of Virginia’s premier gospel ensembles.
Old Regular Baptist a cappella gospel
An elder in the Old Regular Baptist Church, Frank Newsome is a master practitioner of lined-out hymn singing, one of the oldest musical traditions in Virginia. Newsome was born in 1942 in Pike County, Kentucky, where his father worked as a coal miner. One of twenty-two children, Newsome attended Old Regular Baptist Church services as a child with his mother. He settled in Virginia at about the age of twenty and worked in the coal mines. After more than seventeen years, Newsome contracted black lung disease and left the mines. He took up new responsibilities at his church, using his vocal prowess to lead his congregation in hymn singing and as a preacher.
The year 2015 marked the end of an amazing journey for the Holmes Brothers, a group with humble beginnings on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula who performed a joyous and moving blend of blues, gospel, soul, rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and country for more than 50 years. Sherman and Wendell Holmes were raised by schoolteacher parents who fostered the boys’ early interest in music by playing recordings of traditional Baptist hymns, anthems, and spirituals, as well as blues music by Jimmy Reed, Junior Parker, and B. B. King.
Sephardic musical traditions Burke and Charlottesville, Virginia
When the Sephardic Jews were forced into exile from Spain and Portugal in the late fifteenth century, many settled in other Mediterranean countries but preserved their native language, Ladino, and their oral culture. These cherished Sephardic traditions have been kept alive by Virginian Flory Jagoda, who was born into the Sephardic community of Sarajevo, Bosnia. Through her “nona,” her mother’s mother, Flory learned songs that had been passed down among the Sephardi for generations, as well as absorbed the Balkan region's cultural traditions.
Indian classical music has evolved over the centuries, and its many diverse forms reflect the great diversity of the sub-continent of India. Hindustani classical music is traditionally practice-oriented, and learned without formal notation through the traditional “guru-shishya” or teacher-student tradition. Khyal is a modern genre of Hindustani classical singing in North India. Khyal’s name comes from the Arabic word meaning “imagination,” as each singer adds his or her own style to each melodic line—known as a raga—to make it his or her own.
Wild Ponies is a Nashville-based band led by Virginia natives Doug and Telisha Williams. Doug and Telisha are from Martinsville, where boarded-up factories and shop windows serve as painful reminders of the grim economic plight of a small manufacturing town in an era of globalization. Doug first learned to play music from the elders of his family, hailing from musically-rich Galax, 77 miles west of Martinsville on Route 58. The Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention played a prominent role in Doug’s upbringing; he first appeared onstage in a banjo contest at age five.