Free Is the Key to Our Hearts 


Folks — especially show bookers and promoters — are always puzzling over Richmond's fickle nature when it comes to supporting live entertainment. But we aren't so difficult to figure out. We like free things. And we're especially big on free things of quality. And if those free things of quality also have a people-watching component, just try to keep the residentss of the Richmond region away. We aren't so good at helping to support these free things we love, though, and that's the rub.

Take the National Folk Festival and its offshoot, the Richmond Folk Festival. The 2007 installment of the National (held along Richmond's waterfront) breaks attendance figures for the premier international music event, which has been held in different cities since 1934. Then the debut installment of the Richmond festival in 2008 goes on to break those crowd totals.

Richmond's love of the free festival is well established — Friday Cheers, the 2nd Street Festival, the Carytown Watermelon Festival and (an upstart newcomer) the Broad AppActit food festival, to name a few. The Richmond parks and recreation department's programs at Dogwood Dell have been the city's worst kept secret for years: free theater, music concerts, July Fourth fireworks and performers throughout the summer. The stands are normally packed. Did we mention it's all free?

Curated Culture's popular First Fridays Art Walk is a cheap date too. The event gives thousands of eager downtown visitors the opportunity to sample different kinds of experiences, to see disparate forms of art and music in an urban environment. But the difference that makes the difference is that it's free. 

We love these events, no doubt. We blog about them, write songs about them and plan our days around them. We just don't support them very well when it comes to the green. When the orange buckets come out at the Folk Festival for donations, most of us don't give. And, sure, we'll marvel at the art all night but how much of it do we buy, to help the First Fridays galleries stay alive?

On Dec. 31, 2006, a free mass party was planned in the heart of Carytown to celebrate the New Year — sort of a River City Rockin' Eve. It was a success, the only celebration of its kind in the region, attracting thousands of visitors; the next year saw it bigger, better and even more popular. But to offset costs last year, organizers asked for a $2 admission fee. Some people groused. Others snuck in without paying. This year, there is no Carytown Rockin' Eve and we'll instead have the sound of finger-pointing to ring in the new decade.

We're cultured people. We love international music, food, art and dance. We can appreciate all of the finer things and we obviously love a good party en masse. But it's painfully obvious that we're cheap too.

Free Event of the Decade: The Richmond Folk Festival



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