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What not to miss at the 2016 Richmond Folk Festival

There’s so much great music on so many stages along the riverfront this weekend. Here are some must-see acts at this year’s festival.

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Richmond’s biggest festival returns for its 12th year on the banks of the James River. With more than 30 musical acts appearing on 7 stages, it can be overwhelming to choose which ones to check out. Consider this your cheat sheet and you won’t be disappointed.

Friday Night

On Friday, get yourself to the Dominion Dance Pavilion by 7:45pm to see the butt-shaking zydeco of Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie.

Photo by David Joel Gaar

Photo by David Joel Gaar

The Creole Cowboy began sitting in with his father’s zydeco band, the Eunice Playboys, playing the rubboard at age 7, and taught himself accordion by age 13. Now leading the new generation of the band, he mixes traditional Cajun and Creole tunes with other genres and his own compositions to create a blend of zydeco, R&B, Cajun, Country and blues.

Saturday

The great thing about the Folk Fest is that you don’t have to commit to camping out at just one stage, you can bop from stage to stage, hitting a little of this, and a little of that. So I might catch a little Sri Lankan Dance Academy of NY, or Gary U.S. Bonds on my way to see Adonis Puentes & the Voice of Cuba Orchestra. I’m a huge fan of Cuban music, and Mr. Puentes adds a smooth modern vibe to the Buena Vista Social Club sound. Saturday, he’ll be in the Dominion Dance Pavilion at 1:30, at the Altria stage at 3:15 and on Sunday, once again in the Dominion Dance Pavilion at 2:45.

People often don’t understand what the full breadth “folk” can represent. Some erroneously only think of 70s folk artists like Peter, Paul and Mary but in reality folk music, by definition, is “reflective of the cultural life of a community… sharing a common ethnic heritage, language, religion or geographic region.” So no one should be surprised to find beatboxing at this year’s festival. This form of vocal percussion was birthed here in the US as part of hip hop culture and Rahzel, the Godfather of Noyze, with newcomer, Nicole Paris, will amaze you with their abilities, in their performance “The Beat[box] Goes On” You might remember Rahzel from his stint in The Roots, and Nicole became a Youtube sensation in a video she posted of her dad and herself competing, lovingly, in an impressive display of beatboxing. Catch them at 4:15 in the Dominion Dance Pavilion.

And get yourself over to the Union Bank & Trust Virginia Folklife Area to get some culture in you, commonwealth-style. This year, they’re pairing food traditions with music so you’ll be able to taste the bisque of Tangier Island, while listening to the sweet strains of Cora Harvey Armstrong’s Gospel, or try Sephardic stuffed grape leaves while hearing traditional Sephardic folk songs.

Sunday

If Saturday was a marathon, Sunday is more of a leisurely stroll to fill in what I missed. It’s a slower pace as I try to hit more of the food and marketplace vendors, and I may spend a little more time relaxing at the Craft Beer Tent. My “can’t miss” acts on Sunday are going to be the tejano music of Conteño (I’m a sucker for accordion!) and the Unique Sound of the Mountains, (I cannot resist the standup bass), and I’ll make a point of getting to their performances early to check out the proceeding acts as well. Conteño, 3:15 at the Community Foundation Stage, are all second and third generation tejano musicians and their distinctive accordion-driven dance music will get you moving. While Unique Sound of the Mountains, 4:00 at the Union Bank & Trust Virginia Folklife Stage, will take you back to mountains of Virginia with their old-time banjo/bass sound.

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With three full days of music, you just can’t go wrong, and by “sampling” as manyof the tents as possible, you’ll discover new favorites in old traditions along the way. This event is rain or shine, so grab your rain boots if you need to, with plentyof covered stages, you’ll still be able to enjoy all the festival has to offer, even if you’re a little damp

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Page is a VCU grad who came back to Richmond and runs her graphic design firm House of Hayes. Exploring the music and food of the city takes up most of her free time although there is always time for a beer at the pool.