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
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"
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. Here is a look at the artists that participated in 2017.
Announcing the first 10 artists performing at the 2018 Richmond Folk Festival
For Laotian-born Bounxeung Synanonh, captivating an audience is as simple as drawing a few quick breaths of air. He is a master performer on the khaen, an ancient, free-reed mouth organ made from 16 lengths of bamboo. Recognizing its vital place in daily family and social life, UNESCO has inscribed khaen music of the Lao people on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Bounxeung is revered as a keeper of the khaen tradition for the Laotian American community.
New York, New York
Growing up with a jazz musician father, Brianna Thomas was exposed to the recordings of Ella Fitzgerald singing the Great American Songbook at a young age. Besides hearing the jazz legend’s famous improvised scat singing, Thomas quickly fell in love with the way Fitzgerald’s songs told a story. “I’d write down all the lyrics over and over again—they were on these scraps of paper all over my room,” she remembers. That devotion to getting behind the meaning of lyrics has served Thomas well, making her the toast of today’s New York jazz scene.
Three-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Female Vocalist of the Year award, Claire Lynch has long been regarded as one of bluegrass’s finest talents. With a gorgeous, fluid voice, its bold, bluesy flair is unmistakable, and she can launch a lyric straight through the heart.
Gospel artist Cora Harvey Armstrong hasn’t always lived the life she sings about. While she’s been singing and playing piano in churches on Sundays for most of her life, she spent decades drinking, partying, and living a “hellacious life” the other six days a week. Health problems and an abusive relationship compounded her struggle. When her father passed away in 1999, Armstrong rededicated herself to her faith and her music, and has started to earn the recognition that her talent as a singer, songwriter, and pianist deserves.
San Francisco, California
Farah Yasmeen Shaikh carries on the revered tradition of Kathak dance, earning accolades for her expressive dancing and historically rooted choreography. She is also a bridge-builder, using Kathak to, as she says, “help shift perspectives and perceptions of the world today—in a way that both challenges and enlightens us alongside our audiences.”
County Armagh, Northern Ireland
Spellbinding singer and award-winning uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson is setting “a benchmark for the new generation” of Irish musicians, and thrilling audiences with his soulful interpretations of traditional songs from his native Northern Ireland.
Blue Ridge piano trio
Boone, North Carolina
Jeff Little continues an often hidden, yet fascinating tradition of piano playing in the Blue Ridge Mountains. With few exceptions, the piano does not play a prominent part in Appalachian music, and is rarely the lead instrument. But Jeff Little is an exception—and a remarkable one. His distinctive two-handed style, much influenced by mountain flatpicked-guitar tradition, is breathtaking in its speed, precision, and clarity.
Storyteller, ballad singer, and multi-instrumentalist Josh Goforth is a native of Madison County in western North Carolina. Situated deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this area is known for its keeping of unbroken ballad and storytelling traditions brought by early Scots-Irish and English settlers in the mid-17th century. It was also fertile ground for the rise of American string band music played on fiddle, banjo, and guitar. Proud to share his Appalachian heritage with audiences near and far, Josh Goforth draws from each of these wellsprings.
blues and boogie-woogie piano
Vancouver, British Columbia
With his dapper zoot suits, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne looks every bit the musician Living Blues hails as “bringing the piano back to the front ranks of contemporary blues.” When Kenny Wayne’s fingers hit the keys, you know you’re in the presence of a true blues boss.
Larry Bland & the Volunteer Choir helped us launch the Richmond Folk Festival in 2008, when they were celebrating their 40th anniversary. Now they are back to celebrate their 50th anniversary.
Larry Bland & the Volunteer Choir, based at the Second Baptist Church, are a Richmond institution. In a region rich in gospel tradition, this remarkable ensemble—now celebrating its 50th anniversary at the Richmond Folk Festival—has attained a unique status. Recognized as a trailblazer in gospel music presentation, Bland combined elegant and powerful renditions of traditional gospel songs with costuming and precision choreography to create the “show choir,” an innovation that has brought him national recognition.