If you’ve ever been skeptical of attending large festivals, the Richmond Folk Festival might just change your mind.
Where else can you find Tuareg guitar, Tuvan throat singing, and honky-tonk all in the same weekend? The Richmond Folk Festival, of course!
The Richmond Folk Festival took place for the 15th time this year from Friday, October 11 through Sunday, October 13. Over 100 performances were held on seven stages throughout downtown Richmond’s riverfront. Between the music, craft vendors, and food trucks, attendees would have a hard time making their way through the weekend without finding something to love.
Despite how ubiquitous the Folk Festival is in local media and on social media each October, this past weekend was my first time visiting. I’ve always had a bit of a distaste for festivals, with their enormous crowds and pandering corporate sponsors. Cliché as it may be, I’ve always had a preference for smaller shows and the intimate and egalitarian environments that they foster.
But I think the Folk Festival this past weekend may have changed my mind about some things. For the first time in my life, I found myself surrounded by word-class musicians of genres of all types, many of which I had no clue existed. Like other festival-goers, I was free to stroll throughout the area, stopping to listen to anything and everything that caught my ear. And I didn’t even have to pay a dime.
Venturing into the Folk Festival from Oregon Hill, the first thing I came across was a parking lot full of food trucks. Children slid down a grassy hillside on pieces of cardboard as festival-goers strolled through the lot, seemingly as hungry for the food as they were for the culture. Crowds cheered as a train passed overhead, complete with the happiest engineer I’ve ever seen waving proudly out the window. Afro-funk could be heard in the distance. The whole scene seemed so jubilant; it had the air of a carnival. Any cynicism I originally had about going to the festival dissipated.
Things only got better and better as I encountered more music during my time at the festival. The diversity of music on display is by far the greatest strength of the Folk Festival. Even just staying put at one stage will give an attendee a roller-coaster ride of sound — take Saturday evening at the Costar Stage, for example. Things got started with Julie Fowlis performing traditional Irish folk songs before giving way to the Syrian dance music of the Aleppo Ensemble. Next, Balla Kouyaté and Famoro Dioubaté undoubtedly introduced the crowd to the unique sound of the balafon, a type of xylophone that uses gourds to produce sound. Huun-Huur-Tu closed out the night with their Tuvan throat singing.
Even if the dizzying number of musical acts at the festival failed to interest an attendee, there was plenty left to do. An entire marketplace was set up, offering just about anything you could think of. There were prints from Studio Two Three and jewelry made of recycled musical instrument parts from Lady Bass Music. You could pick up some soap and lotion from Pure Shea Store. Looking for some honey? Rock Hill Bee Farm had you covered.
The Richmond Folk Festival completely shattered my notion of what a festival could be. The sheer size of it was wild — last year, 220,000 attended, and I’m sure this year was either the same or bigger. With something captivating at every turn, I have no doubt that I will find myself at next year’s Folk Festival, and probably each one after that, too.
Top Photo by Dave Parrish Photography
Music Sponsored By Graduate Richmond