It’s my favorite weekend in Richmond. Performers throughout the world descend on Richmond for the Richmond Folk Festival and give us three days of free music. Every year I discover new sounds or styles I’ve never heard of and that discovery is great and I’m sure will happen again. This list is of bands that I know for sure I’ll be catching unless of course one of those surprises sucks me in. Fortunately, four of the five picks play multiple times.
Also, check out this Spotify list made by a friend of the Richmond Folk Festival that has most of the bands.
Son Rompe Pera – Punk Marimba and Cumbia
What happens when you take a punk band and set them in front of some traditional Mexican instruments? The answer is Son Rompe Pera.
After all, its members first cut their teeth as musicians in the streets, alongside neighbors and friends. They began performing nearly 20 years ago as a traditional marimba band led by their father José Gama Sr., who enlisted sons Kacho, Mongo and Kilos to flesh out the ensemble. Son Rompe Pera would frequently perform at weddings and private parties, running through cumbia, danzón and cha-cha-chá classics, and even a few pop-rock favorites by Timbiriche and El Tri.
As they grew up, the boys veered off into rock ‘n’ roll, playing in punk bands around Mexico City and Mexico State’s gritty underground. They continued performing with their father, but also got into skateboarding and psych music, soaking up experiences that expanded their worldview to reframe rock and cumbia as allied genres instead of foes. Tradition and modernity coexist peacefully within Son Rompe Pera, and cumbia is still very much its backbone. Even as the brothers’ love of punk and rockabilly began poking through their crisp guayaberas with colorful tattoos and coiffed, greaser hair, cumbia has always guided them back home.
Led by marimberos Kacho and Mongo Gama, who play the melody and bass parts, respectively, the group also features Kilos Gama on auxiliary percussion, Richi López on drums, and Raul Albarrán on bass guitar. Together, they bring a powerfully cathartic, playful energy to the stage, which is met with frenetic, ecstatic dancing—pulling everyone from cumbia dancers to metalheads onto the same dancefloor. “I always try to transform myself and be what I am, says Kacho. “I always try to get that across to the people.” The way Mongo sees it, “it’s all about sweat, energy, and cumbia.”
- 5:30 Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion
- 8:30 Altria Stage
- 5:00 Altria Stage
79rs Gang – Black Masking Carnival Music
I love nearly anything out of New Orleans. When you combine dramatic costumes with a rich history and New Orleans funk, hip hop, and R&B you can’t go wrong.
“Masking” in New Orleans refers to “Black Masking Indians” or “Mardi Gras Indians” ceremonially stepping into the streets in their hand-sewn, three-dimensional feathered and beaded suits. Though exact origins are hard to pinpoint, since at least the 19th century Black New Orleanians have paid homage to Native Americans who assisted their enslaved ancestors on Mardi Gras—the final day of Carnival. Through a spectacular display of Afrocentric visual, musical, and theatrical arts, they represent their neighborhoods—moving through and confronting one another in city streets with tambourines and cowbells, and performing a shared canon of call-and-response chants that, over generations, has influenced virtually all of the city’s signature music traditions. The Wild Magnolias, a famous Black masking gang, made history in 1970 when Big Chiefs Bo Dollis and Monk Boudreaux added funk musicians on several game-changing records. Fifty years later in 2020, 79rs Gang changed the game again—releasing Expect the Unexpected, a groundbreaking record incorporating electronic elements and hip hop.
- 3:00 Altria Stage
- 7:00 Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion
- 5:00 Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion
This one seems appropriate with the recent hurricane Ida that hit Florida so hard.
Scott Miller – Roots-rock Singer-songwriter
If I ever move out of Virginia, Scott Miller will be the one I turn to remind me of Virginia. His skill as a songwriter manages to bring laughs, introspection, and more during a single set. He loves the history of Virginia but doesn’t glorify the lost cause.
Recently inducted to the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame, fiery roots-rock singer-songwriter Scott Miller returned to his native Virginia to tend the family farm while continuing to release and perform new music informed by that rural area, history, and Appalachia. The Staunton native first made a name for himself in the 1990s as guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter with the superb pop rock band the V-Roys before establishing himself as a gifted and eclectic solo artist, first with his ad hoc group the Commonwealth and later on his own. Miller is one of Virginia’s most vivid, storytelling songwriters known for his ability to explore the complexities that are often entangled with everyday emotions, sometimes spurred on by the troubles, travails and complexities of today’s world.
- 3:15 Center for Cultural Vibrancy Virginia Folklife Stage
Jesse Daniel – Honky Tonk
This will make you feel like you’re sitting in a bar in Texas sipping Lone Star and working up the nerve to dance with that lovely across the bar. Bring your cowboy boots and a well worn hat.
Daniel’s time in the Golden State wasn’t always so inspirational. A punk-rock kid who cut his teeth in the dive bars and local clubs that dot the San Lorenzo Valley, he developed a taste not only for the road, but also for the substances that sometimes come with a life spent onstage. As times got harder, so did the vices. What followed was a period of addiction, arrests, jail time, and rehabilitation centers. Years later, after reclaiming his life by kicking those habits to the curb, Daniel shines a light on his darker days with Rollin’ On’s autobiographical songs. “Champion,” with its Mariachi influences and Tex-Mex twang, tells the story of an old drug-dealing acquaintance of Daniel’s, while “Old at Heart” contrasts his youthful appearance with a history of hard living. Elsewhere, Daniel contrasts the bright boot-scootin’ bounce, pedal steel guitar, and fiddle riffs that fill “Only Money, Honey” with a frank account of a working musician’s financial struggles, then recounts his hometown hell-raising during the lovely, waltzing “Son of the San Lorenzo.” Don’t mistake Rollin’ On for an album that glorifies Jesse Daniel’s outlaw-worthy past, though. Jail time isn’t street cred. Instead, Rollin’ On finds its frontman reveling in his newfound health and happiness, reflecting on the roadblocks of his past to show just how far he’s come. Playing a crucial role in that forward momentum is his musical and romantic partner Jodi Lyford, who co-wrote much of the album’s material and sings harmonies throughout.
Jesse Daniel has a story to tell, and there’s nothing quite like honky-tonk music for delivering tales about life, love, and hard times. At just 30 years old, he’s had a rocky journey and done a lot of living and learning, imbuing his music with a striking honesty and authenticity. With a strong foundation in the Bakersfield sound of his native California, Jesse writes classic country songs with heart and grit, marked with a rollicking, hard-driving sound all his own.
In the world of classic country, California has always been on the map. Dubbed “the Bakersfield sound,” the state’s signature style was developed in the 1950s in and around the city of Bakersfield, located about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. The area was the destination for many southern and midwestern Dust Bowl migrants, collectively known as “Okies,” who brought their country music with them. Partially a response to the more highly produced Nashville style of the ’50s, the Bakersfield sound combined early honky-tonk and western swing with elements of rock and roll. Popularized by artists like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, it became one of the most influential country sounds of the 1960s, inspiring a honky-tonk revival and forming the basis for 1970s country rock and outlaw country.
- 7:30 Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion
- 2:00 Altria Stage
- 2:30 Dominion Energy Dance Pavilion
Korean Performing Arts Institute of Chicago – Pungmul and Samulnori
This won’t be for everyone because the drums can be a little harsh sounding at first. Those that stick it out will be treated to a visual and sound feast. Ribbons and drums galore.
All the pageantry and vibrant energy of a harvest festival in rural Korea comes together in the flying footwork, brilliantly colored dress, and joyful percussion of pungmul, breathtakingly presented by the master artists of the Korean Performing Arts Institute of Chicago.
Pungmul has long been central to celebrations in Korean farming communities where traditional agriculture was a communal undertaking. In most towns, musicians encouraged farmers in the fields, blessed crops, and entertained at festivals. Combining percussion, singing, and dance, pungmul is known for celebratory, hours-long performances. Skilled musicians and dancers propel the event, playing complex rhythms, creating mesmerizing, multicolored circular patterns with the long single ribbon on their sangmo hats, and performing thrilling acrobatic feats—but pungmul also made space for all to participate by joining the dance or tapping on a hand-held sogo drum. Pungmul served these festive and ritual functions for generations, and even took on political overtones when pro-democracy movements embraced it in the 1960s and 1970s.
- 3:45 Street Performance at Tredegar Plaza
- 6:30 Carmax Stage
Make sure we can keep having this festival by donating in the buckets at the festival $5 or more at least. It’s a bargain don’t be one of those dollar droppers. Also, you can donate online.
Bring your dancing/walking shoes and I’ll see y’all at the Richmond Folk Festival.
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