The noncontroversial stuff:
This weekend is the Richmond Folk Festival, which takes place just down the hill. It starts Friday night and continues till Sunday evening. It celebrates culture through music, dance, traditional crafts, storytelling and food. It started with Richmond hosting the National Folk Festival and has continued since then, becoming one of the best music festivals in the state if not the country. It has always had free attendance, though donations are encouraged and heavily solicited to augment the local corporate sponsorships. It goes on rain or shine.
Personally, I have attended every year and have enjoyed countless performances by musicians that I probably would never have been able to travel to and afford to see otherwise. I remember going to the first night of the National Folk Festival a dozen years ago when no one really knew what to expect. It was rainy and I was often one of the tens of people there at the tents as opposed to the thousands who now attend. I also enjoyed volunteering for the festival for a few years, helping with its recycling program.
So every year I do look forward to seeing the schedule and picking out the performances I want to attend. This year I am really looking forward to seeing L’Orchestre Afrisa International, Marquise Knox, Sri Lankan Dance Academy of NY, Kaynak Pipers Band, and Conteño, to name a few. Definitely take the time to at least check out the list and listen- there may be something that will pleasantly surprise you.
This year the weather is looking soggy and possibly windy. Regardless, having walked down there yesterday, I can promise it will be muddy. My suggestion is to wear old clothes, bring a rain jacket and umbrella, and open ears. The weather is no excuse to not take advantage of this great festival.
The controversial stuff:
I only bring up controversy in conjunction with this happy event for three reasons:
One is that it is pretty clear that the Folk Festival, as great and amazing as it is, has also been used as cover to push some inappropriate riverfront development, brushing aside citizen concerns about impacts on the environment, historic preservation, and quality of life issues for nearby neighbors. What has been particularly disturbing about this is the suggestion that anyone bringing up concerns is anti-Folk Festival and trying to end it. That is false.
Secondly, it is definitely worth noting that Venture Richmond, the nonprofit that runs the Folk Festival, has still not come to terms with this neighborhood over some very reasonable requests for the future use of the site, BEYOND the Folk Festival. Venture Richmond describes itself as a ‘public private partnership’, but has never had any real checks and balances for its overall role in the City, and it has served as the de facto marketing arm for a local corporate agenda that is often at odds with the public. For example, it was behind the wasteful lobbying for the failed Shockoe stadium proposal.
Lastly, and perhaps most urgently, former Venture Richmond executive director Jack Berry is running for Mayor (Election Day is only a few weeks away!), and has used the Folk Festival throughout much of his own campaign to give people the impression that he has values of diversity and inclusivity. I urge people to look past this advertising and take the time to learn about the Jack Berry that many City residents have come to know- someone who will arrogantly say anything but cannot be trusted on anything. Last week he came to the Oregon Hill neighborhood association meeting seeking votes but still refused to make any amends for past breaks in trust or, more importantly, make any commitments to how he would help and protect THIS fragile, historic neighborhood in the future.
I sincerely hope everyone enjoys the Folk Festival, appreciates the volunteers and performers who help make it happen, but also keeps in mind these last three points. The Folk Festival comes once a year, and, as has often been expressed- it has an impact that goes well beyond that.