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
RFF In the Classroom
Through the generous support of its sponsors and JAMinc, 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 who are participating in 2019.
We’re proud to announce more performers at the 2019 Richmond Folk Festival
Aleppian wasla music and whirling dervish dance from Syria
New York, New York
The Aleppo Ensemble is a New York-based group devoted to performing and preserving the rich heritage of wasla music, song, poetry, and dance from Aleppo. The group’s mission has been made all the more urgent in recent years with the physical and cultural destruction of Aleppo, long the cultural capital of Syria where Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traditions came together. Through their work, they strive to reach Syrian refugees as well as Syrian Americans whose history in the U.S. goes back over a hundred years, two groups that share the fear that they are witnessing the destruction of their homeland. The Aleppo Ensemble’s music and story is a timely reminder that cultural traditions are often deeply held across time and place, often in spite of historic humanitarian crises.
Boston, Massachusetts, and New York, New York
Two masters of the West African balafon, Balla Kouyaté from Mali and Famoro Dioubaté from Guinea, have joined forces to showcase their approaches, both deeply traditional and yet modern and inventive, to this ancient instrument. Each performance from Kouyaté and Dioubaté is a treat for audiences and artists alike, full of the thrill of the unexpected, as these two artists at the peak of their powers explore new musical terrain together.
BeauSoleil is rightly called “the best Cajun band in the world.” The band reflects the vision of Michael Doucet, who has spent much of his life delving into the origins of Cajun music. Michael once said, “If I was going to play Cajun music, I wanted to play it right. And if I was going to change Cajun music, I had to be sure of the direction.” For nearly half a century, BeauSoleil has built a foundation deeply rooted in tradition while pushing the limits of the genre.
Tuareg guitar has exploded across the international cultural landscape in the less than two decades since the pyrotechnics of these guitar slingers, often veterans from the front lines of the Tuareg's intermittent uprisings, first captured the imagination of music fans worldwide. Proclaimed variously as “the Sultan of Shred” (New York Times), the “World’s Best Guitarist” (Noisey), and “utterly, utterly fantastic” (BBC World Service), the Niger-born guitarist Bombino is arguably the leading exponent of this rhythmic, trance-like, and sonically captivating sound.
steel pan orchestra
New York, New York
CASYM is a thunderous orchestra consisting entirely of steel pans—percussion instruments fashioned from 55-gallon oil drums and played with rubber-tipped mallets. The virtuosity of its members and the versatility of its repertoire demonstrates this instrument’s incredible range. Annual participants in the New York Caribbean Carnival, CASYM is not just a musical group but also an organization that uses music to inspire youth of Caribbean heritage to imagine a brighter future.
New York, New York
Cuban musicians draw from a sonic landscape rich with varied influences, including folk and popular, religious and secular, and Spanish and African-derived sounds. New York City’s Conjunto Guantanamo weaves these diverse threads together. Mingling traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms, like son montuno, cha-cha-cha, mambo, and rumba, with the energy of New York City’s Latin music scene, Conjunto Guantanamo celebrates Cuban folklore as the spirit breathing life into its sound.
honky-tonk and country
From the heart of Texas comes Dale Watson, a true son of the American musical outlaw tradition and the reigning “king” of uncompromising, deep country—a real honky-tonk hero who lives the life and writes songs about it. Dale proves night after night in big clubs and smoky honky-tonks that he is a true keeper of the country music flame. With his uncompromising approach, this troubadour creates new music in a defiantly American honky-tonk and country roots style, and his soulful songs, delivered with his signature baritone vocals, have a timeless quality that appeals to purists and neophytes alike.
Republic of Tuva (Russian Federation)
One of the world’s oldest and most striking vocal traditions is xöömei (throat-singing), from the Republic of Tuva in Central Asia. Nothing in western vocal music resembles this ethereal and beautiful sound. Largely unknown beyond Tuva until the 1990s, Tuvan throat-singing expanded western conceptions of the capacities of the human voice, and quickly became a international sensation. The four-member ensemble Huun-Huur-Tu played a central role in bringing this tradition out of Asia and to stages worldwide.
Described by BBC Music as “full of surging seaside rhythms and yearning, soulful melodies that hang in the memory,” the music of the Garifuna Collective is both undeniably danceable and profound. Their music reflects the history of the Garifuna people, a culturally threatened African Amerindian ethnic minority living primarily along the Caribbean coasts of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. It speaks to universal human emotions through the unique valence of their resilient community and the story of their prolonged and forced migration from Africa to the shores of present-day Central America.
Georgian polyphonic singing
Cultural life in the country of Georgia revolves around an epic meal known as a supra. Food and wine flow all night, and between every course a traditional song is sung: work songs, carols, hymns, love songs, and historical ballads. The Georgian male choir Iberi showcases the wide range of Georgian music with complex harmonies that are at once eerie, hypnotic, and beautiful. In the hands of this sublime ensemble, this once-threatened Georgian tradition not only seems secure; it seems bound to ascend toward a brighter future.
traditional Scottish song, pipes, and whistles
North Uist, Scotland
Scottish singer and piper Julie Fowlis has been called “the new face of Gaelic song.” For all her undeniable star power, this singer with an otherworldly voice is known for not only singing in Scots Gaelic but also for her commitment to keeping this endangered language alive. Beloved for her ability to speak directly to the audience, whatever their language, Fowlis creates what The Times of London has described as “a masterclass in intimacy” in her haunting Scots Gaelic.
Irish step dance and music
Barrington, Rhode Island
With more than five decades of Irish step dance under his feet, Rhode Island-born Kevin Doyle will delight Richmond audiences with a dazzling display of nimble footwork. He will be joined by an all-star group of friends—and all dedicated educators, like Kevin—from the thriving Irish music scene clustered along the Eastern Seaboard: from New England, flutist and singer Shannon Heaton and button accordion and concertina player Chris “Junior” Stevens; from New York City, fiddler Rose Conway Flanagan; and from Baltimore, pianist Donna Long.
Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee
From the mid-’70s through early ’90s, bluegrass experienced a musical evolution. The high lonesome mountain vocals and deep country sound of first-generation bluegrass bands were augmented by a rock and roll energy and attitude. Bands like J.D. Crowe & the New South, Boone Creek, and, of course, the Lonesome River Band were key in creating this new sound. This year will mark the band’s 37th anniversary. Led by banjo master Sammy Shelor, the Lonesome River Band still plays with the fire and energy that has become their hallmark. It is an enduring legacy.
gospel brass “shout band”
Charlotte, North Carolina
Led by soaring trombones with their slides pointed heavenward, Mangum & Company is a group of outstanding musicians representing many of Charlotte, North Carolina’s United House of Prayer congregations. Shout bands are all-brass, gospel-based trombone choirs that represent a sacred musical tradition unique to United House of Prayer churches, and are central to worship services, inspiring congregants with joyous sounds of praise. “Our music feeds the soul,” Cedric Mangum, the band’s leader, says. “It’s designed for the soul, and that’s what draws the people.”
powwow dance traditions
St. Paul, Minnesota
Colorful regalia, resounding drumming, and fancy footwork are part of the rich panoply of experiences at a Native American powwow. The Native Pride Dancers brings this excitement and artistry to audiences across the world, sharing their stories and teaching about the innovative blend of modern and traditional Native American dance styles featured in their performances.
Tejano conjunto fiddle
San Antonio, Texas
When Texas Folklife and the Festival of Texas Fiddling honored Belen Escobedo with the 2017 Texas Master Fiddler Award, they praised her for “single handedly keeping alive” the tradition of conjunto fiddle, “a rare and beautiful style of Mexican-American fiddling which has almost disappeared despite once being very widespread in the borderlands.” Today, Belen Escobedo is the foremost practitioner of this fiddle-led art form that expresses the deep roots of Tejano (Texas-Mexican) culture.
traditional music from Epirus
Boston, Massachusetts, and Epirus, Greece
One of the foremost representatives of Greek demotic (folk) music, Petroloukas Halkias is a living legend and master of the clarino (clarinet). At 85 years old, he is a keeper of the musical traditions of Epirus, a region in northwest Greece known for music with strong melodic lines, mournful lyrics, and slow rhythms. Vasilis Kostas, a groundbreaking performer on the laouto (a long-necked, fretted lute with four paired strings), represents the next generation brought up in this tradition. The two met four years ago, sparking a musical partnership that is redefining the typical relationship between clarinet and laouto.
Afro-funk and go-go orchestra
For over 50 years, Richmond saxophonist and bandleader J. Plunky Branch has been at the vanguard of Afro-centric jazz, funk, house music, and go-go, weaving these interrelated musical forms into a forward-looking message of empowerment, positivity, and cultural awareness. At this year’s Richmond Folk Festival, he’s launching a new Afro-funk go-go orchestra that revisits his classic mid-1970s Oneness of Juju band while exploring new musical horizons.
Appalachian songs and ballads
Walkertown, North Carolina
Although it is called “old-time,” the music Riley Baugus plays is, as he says, both old and new, “a living, breathing example of music and tradition that still lives in the mountains near my home.” Growing up in the rural community where he still lives, Baugus was surrounded by music—at home through the records his parents played, and in the community by attending jams at the homes of family friends. A multi-instrumentalist, Riley is renowned for his masterful banjo playing and arresting singing voice.
Carnatic music has been the common thread connecting diverse cultural communities in South India for thousands of years. The veena, a 24-fretted lute made with two resonating gourds, is the primary stringed instrument of this classical tradition. In Chicago, the great midwestern metropolis that is literally and figuratively thousands of miles from South India, veena player Saraswathi Ranganathan is winning accolades and fans for her mastery of the instrument.
Memphis has always been a cauldron for uniquely American sounds, from the blues of Beale Street to the rockabilly of Sun Studios. When soul and R&B topped the charts beginning in the late 1950s, the city nurtured another regional sound that came to be known as Memphis soul, with Stax Records leading the way. Fifty years later, the Stax Music Academy (SMA) carries on the legacy of this definitive regional record label.
Mississippi Delta bluesman James “Super Chikan” Johnson plays the guitars he makes himself, using whatever materials are at hand, from gas cans to ceiling fans. He paints each “chikantar” with images from the Delta. The resulting riot of style and color is, like his music, infused with Chikan’s special joie de vivre. “Making one of my guitars is like writing one of my songs. I let the words and feelings take me from the beginning to the end,” he explains. His lyrics, like his art, are noted for both their sly humor and deep insight into life in the Delta.
Interested in performing at the Richmond Folk Festival?
Applications for 2019 are now closed. Please check back in early December for information about applying to perform at the 2020 Richmond Folk Festival. Programming discussions take place from November to May with most programming decisions complete by June 1st prior to the year's festivals. All artists must follow the same process. If you're interested in applying for the 2020 festival, check out "How to be a performer at the Richmond Folk Festival"