Radio programs, online streams, festival-exclusive foods, and art installations around town are only some of the ways this year’s Richmond Folk Festival will ensure that the show goes on regardless of COVID.
For the past 16 years, the Richmond Folk Festival has been a staple event within Virginia’s capital city. The weekend-long celebration, which starts on Friday, October 9th this year, has been popular amongst Virginians of all stripes looking for a place to enjoy music, arts, and food from the diverse cultures found across America.
Unfortunately, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic spares nothing, and this year’s Folk Festival was no exception. Thankfully, the festival’s organizers refused to buckle completely, so this year the Richmond Folk Festival will be a predominantly virtual event that celebrates the spirit of the original, in-person occasion while taking advantage of some of the positive opportunities afforded by the internet.
“We’ve got 16 years of great festivals behind us, and with that comes some really strong content that’s been recorded, audio-wise, and videotaped as well,” said Stephen Lecky, the Director of Events at Venture Richmond, the company in charge of organizing the Folk Festival. “But we felt like that frankly wasn’t enough for our amazing fanbase and attendees, and we also want to be able to present new content.”
Lecky says that locals have come to expect and look forward to the festival every year, but the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic has made a traditional live festival impossible. So Venture Richmond has redesigned this year’s event from the ground up with a mixture of both old and new acts, so as not to disappoint their audience. People who still want to get their fill of classic Folk Festival content have three main avenues to find what they’re looking for: the radio, television, and online livestreaming.
The content you’ll find spread across these three avenues will cover the same subjects people have come to appreciate at past Richmond Folk Festivals. So, whether someone is looking for good music, food, or culture in general, the virtual festival will have something for everyone. While radio broadcasts will be exclusively music-focused, with past festival performances being broadcast on Virginia Public Media stations 107.3 FM and 93.1 FM, if folks are looking for something new, or if music isn’t their thing, then they should look to the festival’s online and television avenues.
Of the three, the online avenue is the most robust, with 16 new performances that are going to be live-streamed on the festival’s website and social media specifically for this event. In addition, an online marketplace will be present, along with content catered specifically to kids. Meanwhile, the television programs, broadcast on VPM PBS Plus (channel 57.1 over the air), will act as a middle ground between the classic-celebrating radio and the all-new online features by showcasing a bit of both old and new. But, this is not to say that every aspect of the Richmond Folk Festival will be virtual this year.
“Us using the word virtual is somewhat misleading, because we’re certainly going to be more than that,” said Lecky. “We’re doing an art installation on Brown’s Island at the festival grounds.”
Brown’s Island will feature an exclusive scavenger hunt, and festival-goers are also able to order festival-exclusive foods and buy a festival-exclusive IPAs, which will be available at most grocery and convenience stores around Richmond.
“I feel like, between all those elements, we’re giving folks a great opportunity to take in the festival how they’d like to take it in,” said Lecky.
Accounting for all these different avenues, it seems the organizers for the Richmond Folk Festival have really tried to utilize virtual tools to their fullest. Lecky says that even when things go back to normal, and the festival can go live again, that they’d still like to retain some virtual aspects to the event.
“I think it’s really important,” said Lecky. “Because all the work and effort that’s been put into producing this weekend would all be for naught if we didn’t have some legacy pieces that are like, ‘Heck yeah — we should do that every year.’”
So perhaps the effects of COVID have their own silver lining. While Lecky admits that the festival feels incomplete without the in-person elements, and says that if he had to do another virtual event he would try and integrate more IRL activities, it seems as though the experience he and other organizers gained from this year’s Richmond Folk Festival could legitimately improve later iterations. After all, there’s not exactly a disadvantage to enjoying some good old Americana in the comfort of one’s home.
Top Photo: Brown’s Island, via Richmond Region Tourism