October 08, 2019 News & Features » Cover Story


The Unofficial Guide to the Richmond Folk Fest 

Our annual guide to the highlights from this year’s Richmond Folk Festival.

click to enlarge Omara Moctar, the guitarist known as Bombino, performs.

Mathias Magritte

Omara Moctar, the guitarist known as Bombino, performs.

Welcome to our unofficial guide to this year’s 15th annual Richmond Folk Festival. If you’re new to the festival, you should know a few things.

For years, there have been many attempts to establish a local music festival in Richmond. When the National Folk Festival started in Richmond in 2005, it ran for three years before transitioning to the Richmond Folk Festival, which is run by Venture Richmond, though members from the National Council for the Traditional Arts still assist in various ways.

The free-to-attend Richmond Folk Festival has been the first major local music festival that has been wildly successful, often drawing over 200,000 people to the sprawling grounds downtown by the river. The budget has grown to close to $1.5 million. The reason for this success, plain and simple, has been grass-roots support from the community, as well as continued corporate sponsorship. More than 1,300 volunteers help make this thing happen every year, and without them, it wouldn’t fly.

Also worth noting is that the festival draws a widely diverse crowd for the weekend, a rarity for any kind of local festival. Last year, they had around 200,000 people and raised $118,000 in individual donations via the orange buckets you will see volunteers carrying around the festival. New to this year’s festival, there will be a text number to help festivalgoers donate (see the story in this issue).

As always, this year’s unofficial guide by Style features a look at a few of the highlight performers from this year’s festival chosen by members of our music writing team, as well as a story about a new compilation live album, made with the help of the locals at Spacebomb, drawing from the entire history of the festival.

But the tremendous success of this event was never a sure thing. To kick things off, we thought we’d use a brief oral history to go back to the very beginning — to show just how this festival got its legs and managed to make it to its 15th birthday.

By contrast, this festival hasn’t worked as well in every other city where the National Folk Festival has taken it. For instance, in Nashville, a city with a massive music presence and history of its own, it failed to take off completely.

Richmond has set the bar in terms of making the festival its own and we should be proud of that.

Trial by Rain: An oral history of the Richmond Folk Festival. by Brent Baldwin and Peter McElhinney

Master Shredder: Dubbed one of the best guitarists in the world, Grammy-nominated Bombino has a story that will rock you. by Hilary Langford

Mr. Lucky: Dale Watson’s “Ameripolitan” sound has deep country roots. by Brent Baldwin

Sweet Pipes: The lovely singing of Julie Fowlis helps keep the Scottish Gaelic language alive. by Karen Newton

The Oneness of Music: Legendary local saxophonist James “Plucky” Branch brings his largest-ever ensemble to the Folk Fest stage. by Peter

Blues Pilot: Steeped in Delta sounds, Super Chikan keeps it bouncy and original. by Karen Newton

Text FOLK to 24365 to Donate: Don’t have cash for the orange buckets? The Folk Fest has a new way to give.

Digging Deep: Conjunto Guantanamo musicians are veteran champions of Afro-Cuban music. by Peter McElhinney

Folkies on Wax: Finally there’s a way to take some of the live magic of the Folk Fest home. by Brent Baldwin

Testify: Mangum & Company will make you want to shout. by Hilary Langford



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