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 2019 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 2019 festival, check out "How to be a performer at the Richmond Folk Festival"
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 that are participating in 2018.
Performers 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.
A throwback to first-generation zydeco masters, Leroy Thomas plays what he calls “old school zydeco.” That’s no surprise, given he was born into a zydeco family: his father has inspired countless zydeco drummers, while cousins Geno Delafose and Keith Frank are some of the leading zydeco performers today. A giant on the zydeco scene for over 20 years, Leroy wears out the “zydeco corridor” traveling between Lafayette, Louisiana and Houston, Texas.
Watch Linda Gail Lewis pound out rockabilly on the piano and you’ll understand why she couldn’t stay in the background forever. First known as the duet partner of her older brother Jerry Lee Lewis, and more recently as a member of Van Morrison’s band, Lewis has come into her own as the matriarch of a hot family band that is tearing up stages from Austin to Austria.
Lulo Reinhardt is one of the foremost musical voices in Gypsy jazz today. The great-nephew of the legendary Django Reinhardt, he is heir to a unique musical lineage. The acclaimed musicians of the Reinhardt family have been the touchstone for this irresistible genre throughout three generations of guitarists.
gospel, soul, rhythm and blues
Mavis Staples will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest gospel singers of all time, the breathtaking voice powering one of America’s most celebrated family bands, the Staple Singers. From the traditional gospel music of the 1950s to the 1960s protest songs that underscored some of the decade’s most dramatic social changes, from the self-empowerment anthems of the 1970s to the soulful love tunes and mature roots music of more recent years, Mavis Staples and her family consistently created some of the best and most inspirational music of the past half-century.
Combining a “do-it-yourself” ethos with a desire to revitalize a traditional genre beloved by Puerto Ricans, Orquesta el Macabeo is updating the music in the spirit of the classic sounds created by salsa pioneers. As record label Peace & Rhythm declared when reissuing Macabeo’s debut album this spring: “with every passing year their audience and reputation grows, mainly because they have managed to hit a nerve, connect to salseros craving that old-school sound and message, but also something that speaks to their own contemporary experiences in an unadulterated and honest manner.”
With their vast repertoire of polka classics, infectious enthusiasm for their Polish heritage, and distinctive twin fiddles—an instrumentation once common in Poland’s mountainous regions—Pan Franek, Zosia & the Polka Towners are beloved by fans of traditional polka music nationwide.
Los Angeles, California
For over five decades, singer and percussionist Ras Michael has remained true to the diverse currents out of which reggae emerged, from its roots in nyabinghi drumming to the deep spirituality and sense of justice that inform the music. Nyabinghi is both the heart of Rastafarian religious ceremonies and a precursor of Jamaican reggae, ska, and dancehall. Ras Michael has been one of nyabinghi’s most visible ambassadors since the 1960s through his performances with Bob Marley, his educational and religious leadership, and his roots reggae group, the Sons of Negus.
New Orleans bounce
New Orleans, Louisiana
Want to find your way around the real New Orleans? Put down the guidebook and just follow the lyrics of Ricky B’s ’90s bounce classic “City Streets (Hey Pocky Way),” where he raps that “on Dorgenois, take a right on Louisa / headed on that I-10 chillin’, I'm out of the Nine, I'm on old Gentilly / and now I'm headed Uptown.” That kind of local flavor defines the music of Ricky B, one of the pioneers who created bounce, a distinctively New Orleans hip hop sound that samples the city’s famous brass bands and Mardi Gras Indian chants, and other Big Easy musical sounds.
Kartong, The Gambia
Proclaimed by BBC Radio as “a griot for a new generation of West Africans,” Sona Jobarteh is proof that sometimes the most important keepers of a tradition are those who break new ground. She was born into one of the five principal griot families, whose hereditary roles were as praise singers, oral historians, and musicians of the Manden Empire. Taking up a male tradition that stretches back over seven centuries, Jobarteh is the first female kora virtuoso. Today she plays a central role in preserving this ancient art in The Gambia.
Tamburaški Sastav Ponoć represents a new generation of brilliant players of tamburitza music, the traditional string band music of the Balkans. Tamburitza music has flourished for over a century in ethnic communities across the industrial Mid-Atlantic and Upper Midwest where Eastern European immigrants flocked to work in the region’s factories and mines. Until recently, it has had limited exposure beyond these communities. But that is changing as this cadre of virtuosic young musicians bring tamburitza out of neighborhood taverns and community halls and onto concert stages across America and the world.
Brooklyn, New York
Called “a jewel of the United States’ Crimean community,” the New York Crimean Tatar Ensemble is the only U.S.-based group performing the exquisite traditional music of their heritage.
Crimean Tatars are an Islamic, ethnically Turkic people who trace their history in Crimea back to the 12th century, when they came west under the leadership of Batu Khan (Ghengis’ grandson) and intermarried with people already living on the Peninsula. Their vibrant music and dance traditions have substantial similarities with other cultures around the Black Sea, but with a special flair that captivates the ear and the eye: uniquely accented 7/8 dance rhythms and polymetric songs, deft interweaving of Eastern and Western modes, and precise, athletic dance steps that bring energy to any performance.
Hailing from Bogotá, Colombia, Tribu Baharú is a champeta crew whose sound is rooted in the musical ethos of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, influenced in particular by the “pico” (sound system) culture of Barranquilla and Cartagena. The heart of champeta culture first beat in these two coastal cities, finding expression in communities at the margins of Colombian society. The sensual champeta dance has faced sharp resistance from cultural elites and politicians who claim it is to blame for teenage pregnancy and violence. But that hasn’t stopped the music (and dance) from becoming wildly popular across Colombia.
Prince Edward Island and Magdalen Islands, Québec
Vishtèn’s music is a hardy mixture of Acadian, Irish, and Scottish styles, with fiery fiddling and powerful step dancing taking front and center. Formed in 2000 on their native Prince Edward Island, Vishtèn is a trio of young musicians and dancers founded by twin sisters Pastelle LeBlanc (piano accordion, piano, dance, vocals) and Emmanuelle LeBlanc (bodhrán, whistles, mandolin, piano, dance, vocals). Rounding out the trio is Pascal Miousse—from the nearby Magdalen Islands—on fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and vocals.
traditional wind and percussion music from central-eastern China
Anhui Province, China
The Zhou Family Band plays traditional music that joyfully upends Western expectations of Chinese music—and Chinese musicians. As the band has begun to tour internationally, they invariably surprise and impress; they were universally acclaimed as a highlight of 2017’s WOMAD festival, where one delighted reviewer declared them “musically impressive and ridiculously slapstick in nature, often simultaneously.”
Zuni dance and song
Zuni, New Mexico
When the dancers of the Zuni Olla Maidens enter a performance space, balancing intricately decorated ceramic vessels called olla on their heads, they transform their foremothers’ essential, life-giving work of carrying water from the river into an eloquent dance tradition. Each olla is a smaller replica of the water jars their ancestors carried; the cultural weight they hold, however, is greater. Before performing, each dancer breathes into her pot, ceremonially taking in a blessing, and expressing thanks to the ancestors.