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Everything you need to know about this weekend’s Richmond Folk Festival

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The 2017 Richmond Folk Festival is upon us, bringing three days of live music, dance, cultural demonstrations, arts and crafts, food, and beer and wine to the Downtown Richmond riverfront. Over 125,000 people visited the festival last year, making it one of the largest and most popular festivals in Virginia–and certainly the largest in Richmond.

Dozens of performers from around the state, the country, and the globe will share their traditions and talents all weekend long. More than what you might typically associate with regional folk music, the style of performances run the gamut.

As defined by the National Endowment for the Arts, folk music is:

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.

We’ve got some top picks of the top talent to catch this weekend, but first some logistics.

Getting there and getting around

For guest safety vehicular traffic is not permitted on the actual event site. All streets leading into the site are closed to vehicular traffic at Canal Street (two blocks north of the site). To reach the festival site, guests are advised to take Uber or Lyft, take advantage of the free shuttle bus (which runs every 20 minutes from City Stadium to the festival site and back), or utilize parking lots nearby via 2nd or 5th Streets. Full parking and shuttle info available here.

Food, beer, culture, and more

Some of the very best restaurants, food trucks, and other vendors will be on site serving up a wide variety of food–everyone from Boka Truck and Ginger Thai Taste to La Milpa and River City Wood Fire Pizza. See the huge list of what’s available here. There will be a ton of craft beer and wine available too, and you can enjoy the festival’s own Folk FestivALE, brewed especially for the event by Champion Brewing RVA. There are also a large number of arts and crafts vendors who will have booths at the festival marketplace. Expect everything from handmade jewelry and original artwork to home goods and more. See the list here.

Five artists to check out

Betsayda Machado y La Parranda El Clavo

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.”

The music of the Barlovento region on Venezuela’s Caribbean coast is based in African sounds and rhythms, nurtured and adapted by cacao-plantation workers and their descendants over centuries of slavery and then freedom. Notable among these traditions is the parranda, a troupe of singers who serenade neighbors house-to-house at Christmas time. With intricate call-and-response harmonies, polyrhythmic percussion, and vibrant dancing, the parranderos weave tales of local history, make pointed social commentary, and celebrate life’s passages.

Eddie Cotton, Jr.

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.”

Cotton is a master of soul blues, a style that resonates particularly with African American audiences. Emerging in the 1960s, soul blues fuses the gritty guitar sound central to blues tradition with the smoother, gospel-influenced vocal style of soul and R&B music. Soul blues is music meant to move the body and spirit, which is why Cotton describes his sound as “hard driving blues” or “juke joint blues.” “If I’m playing to the best of my ability,” Cotton explains, “you’re going to move.… [This is] not sit down and look at me blues.”

Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka & the San Francisco Taiko Dojo

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.”

Originating some 1,400 to 2,000 years ago, the taiko drum was likely first employed in military settings, then later incorporated into agricultural rituals to protect crops and bring rain. Later, taiko became central to the rituals of the Imperial Court and the religious rites of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. After World War II, taiko drumming evolved again with the emergence of kumi-daiko, performance ensembles that brought together multiple drums of various sizes and tones.

Innov Gnawa

Brooklyn-based sextet Innov Gnawa envelops audiences in the hypnotic power of Moroccan Gnawa. The word Gnawa signifies not only a style of music but also the people who created it. The Gnawa are ethnically diverse descendants of sub-Saharan Africans originally brought to Morocco as soldiers and slaves starting in the 11th century. “When I hear the song ‘Dawiniana gharib wa birani’ [Heal me, O God, I am a stranger in a strange land]—the words the slaves sang centuries ago—I tear up, I think of home,” Innov Gnawa member Samir Langus told The New Yorker. “But you don’t need to speak Arabic to be moved by this music. It’s the music of the poor, the excluded … their suffering is in rhythm.”

Although associated with Sufi tradition, Gnawa music actually pre-dates Islam, and is rooted in animistic, spiritual, and mystical concepts originally sung in Bambara, Fulani, and Sudani. 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.

Jan Knutson

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.”

Given his musical pedigree—mother Laura played violin for the U.S. Army Band, and father Jeff is a trombonist for the Navy Band—it’s perhaps not surprising that Jan Knutson took to music early. After trying piano and violin, he added guitar at age 10, hoping to play rock and roll. But it was jazz that really grabbed him when, at age 12, musicologist Frank Latino, his first guitar teacher, introduced him to the work of legendary Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. “From that moment on,” Knutson says, “I knew I had to play jazz guitar.”

The festival runs Friday, October 13th from 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM; Saturday, October 14th from noon until 9:30 PM; and Sunday, October 15th from noon until 6:00 PM. Learn more at the official website here.

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Trevor Dickerson is the co-founder and editor of RVAhub.com, lover of all things Richmond, and a master of karate and friendship for everyone.

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Dominion Energy Christmas Parade Marching Online this Year

The 37th annual Dominion Energy Christmas Parade will shift to a television-only Christmas special.

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Due to the unprecedented circumstances this year and the responsibility to make the safest decision for our community, the 37th annual Dominion Energy Christmas Parade will shift to a television-only Christmas special! While we will miss seeing everyone on streets this year, we are so excited about the opportunity to bring Richmond’s favorite holiday tradition to you in the comfort of your own home!

Tune in to WTVR CBS 6 News on Saturday, December 5 at 10 am to watch all-new performances from your favorite entertainment groups, heart-warming stories focused on celebrating our Richmond community, “best of” clips from past parades featuring giant helium balloons and colorful floats, and even a special appearance by Legendary Santa himself! You will not want to miss the must-see television event of the holiday season! #RVAparade2020

NOTE TO PARADE PARTICIPANTS: Spots in this year’s Christmas special are limited. Please stay tuned for more information via email next week.

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Arts & Entertainment

The Valentine’s popular Controversy/History series returns to address 2020’s impact

The Valentine’s popular conversation series will return virtually on Tuesday, October 6, co-hosted by Valentine Director Bill Martin and Coffee with Strangers host Kelli Lemon. The free, five-event series will focus on the evolving impacts of 2020, a year full of unexpected challenges and uncomfortable conversations, all amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic and massive social change.

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The Valentine’s popular conversation series will return virtually on Tuesday, October 6, co-hosted by Valentine Director Bill Martin and Coffee with Strangers host Kelli Lemon. The free, five-event series will focus on the evolving impacts of 2020, a year full of unexpected challenges and uncomfortable conversations, all amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic and massive social change.

“The Richmond community that entered 2020 is not the same community we find ourselves a part of today,” Valentine Director Martin said. “2020 has truly been a year of historic change, and it only makes sense to use our conversation series Controversy/History to examine those changes, how they have impacted the people of the Richmond Region and what we can do as a community to move forward together.”

Each virtual event will include an exciting lineup of guest speakers discussing contemporary issues and how 2020 has either upended or reinforced Richmond’s history, followed by questions from the audience and action steps for those inspired to get involved.

Here is a complete list of dates and topics:

October 6, 2020, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
2020 and Voting

November 3, 2020, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
2020 and Mental Health

December 1, 2020, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
2020 and Business

January 5, 2021, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
2021 and Education

February 2, 2021, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
2021 and Activism

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Downtown

2nd Street Festival releases full schedule for virtual event October 3-4

Venture Richmond Events will present new musical performances, favorite artists from past festivals, cooking demonstrations, virtual tours, neighborhood remembrances, fun family activities, and so much more.

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The 2nd Street Festival marks its 32nd anniversary October 3-4 with a virtual event celebrating downtown’s Jackson Ward community. Venture Richmond Events will present new musical performances, favorite artists from past festivals, cooking demonstrations, virtual tours, neighborhood remembrances, fun family activities, and so much more.

Featured Festival Artists

Saturday, October 3 from 6:00 – 7:15 p.m.

Legacy Band – Don’t miss this new festival performance by one of Richmond’s favorite bands playing top hits with a mix of soul, R&B, funk and jazz. The band was originally formed by guitarist Jose Pomier and vocalist Kaila Valdez.

EU (Experience Unlimited) – A favorite past performance from the 2019 festival headliner. EU is one of the original Washington, DC Go-Go bands, fronted by founding member Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliott.

Sports Backers Fitness Warriors and D & G Line Dancing – Let’s get up and move with fun new dance workouts with our friends at Sports Backers and D&G Line Dancing. Learn along with great instructors!

Sunday, October 4 from 5:00 – 6:15 p.m.

Desirée Roots – Hear Desirée perform some of her new jazz favorites. As a theater and jazz sensation, she has been the opening act for several internationally acclaimed jazz music entertainers throughout her career. Her repertoire includes R&B and gospel.

Remembrance of Debo Dabney – Listen in as local musicians and friends including J. Plunky Branch, Glennroy Bailey, Desirée Roots, and more share their reflections of Herbert A. Dabney, III, a dynamic and animated pianist who passed away earlier this year. Affectionately known as “Debo,” he was a beloved friend of the festival and an all-around fan favorite. His repertoire ranged from jazz, gospel, R&B, swing, blues and children’s classics. Debo performed for 31 of the festival’s 32 years.

Virginia Union University Gospel Choir – Sing, clap or hum along with the university’s gospel choir as they perform two new selections. This choir recently performed on ABC’s Good Morning America with Latin musician Jose Feliciano.

Virtual Festival Activities

Cooking Demonstrations

Chefs from popular 2nd Street Festival vendors, Croaker’s Spot and Chef MaMusu of Africanne on Main, will both prepare and share dishes through culinary demonstrations live-streamed directly into homes to capture the same delicious foods that we’ve all come to expect from the 2nd Street Festival.

Kidz Zone Fun

Young viewers will enjoy story time with Candice Smith of NBC12 News and with the Children’s Museum, and a balloon twisting demonstration by festival favorite Eddie Cook with Balloons By Extreme.

Spotlight on Jackson Ward

Gary Flowers of Walking the Ward Tours visits two popular community sites, the Maggie L. Walker statue and Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church. Also, hear remembrances from longtime residents and business owners of Jackson Ward during the live stream event. 

Get 2nd Street Ready!
Show your support before, during and after the virtual festival.

Festival Marketplace

Visit Venture Richmond’s website for a full list of your favorite 2019 2nd Street Festival Marketplace vendors to shop online before, during and after the festival weekend! 

Official Festival Poster

Purchase an official 2020 2nd Street Festival poster designed by local quilter and artist, Unicia Buster. Learn more about the artist and her festival poster design. The new poster will be unveiled on September 23, watch on Facebook Live for your chance to win a signed print! Posters will be available for sale at Plan 9 Music in Carytown or at Plan 9 Online here starting on September 24.

Radio One “2nd Street MIX” Weekend

Get ready for the festival by listening to Radio One’s “2nd Street MIX” weekend on Saturday, September 26 from 1:00pm-10:00pm and Sunday, September 27 from 12:00pm-7:00pm. Enjoy a very special MIX weekend on 99.3/105.7 KISS FM featuring your favorite artists that have played at the 2nd Street Festival over the years and your favorite DJs too! The MIX lineup will feature DJ King Tutt, DJ Drake, and DJ Lonnie B. Listen for songs by Morris Day and the Time, Average White Band, SOS Band, and many other great R & B groups!

“Show us your 2nd Street Smile” Photo Contest

From September 28 to October 4, use the #2Street hashtag to “Show us your 2nd Street Smile” and win prizes! On Facebook and Instagram, post photos of where and how you plan to watch the virtual 2nd Street Festival. Are you watching with your best friend, your furry friends, or your family? Show us your 2nd Street smile! On October 5, we’ll choose 10 winners to win $50-$100 gift cards to your favorite spots in the Jackson Ward neighborhood! Don’t forget to label your photos with #2Street to be entered to win.

Historic Jackson Ward Neighborhood

Even though we can’t be together in Jackson Ward this year, be sure to shop the Jackson Ward businesses and restaurants and tour the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site on 2nd Street to show your support for downtown Richmond and the 2nd Street Festival. Don’t forget to wear your mask!

Ways to Watch This Year’s Virtual Festival

This year’s virtual festival is a great opportunity for families to plan gatherings and watch parties at home in a safe, fun and responsible way.

For up-to-date information, visit https://venturerichmond.com/our-events/2nd-street-festival-2020

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