Photo illustration by Mike Freeman
Note: This article has been corrected since its publication in the October 2014 issue of Richmond magazine.
Sometimes it seems that not many public concerns in our region escape collective skepticism. At 10 years in, however, the hugely popular Richmond Folk Festival has seemed to survive largely unscuffed by bad press or any public down-mouthing. It would be uncharitable, of course, to invite dozens of performers from nearly every continent and then surround them with a din of controversy.
The same is not entirely true of the event’s organizers, Venture Richmond, whose role in regional boosterism has attracted jaundiced scrutiny from local watchdogs. The group’s involvement with a still-languishing Shockoe Bottom stadium proposal during the past year is a recent example.
But since the group launched the local folk festival in 2008 — an extension of the National Folk Festival, which had a three-year run here — it has only built on its success.
In 2005, the national festival’s first year, 70,000 or so made the trip downtown. In 2011 and 2012, attendance hit a new record, an estimated 200,000. Also, Venture Richmond’s volunteer “bucket brigade” has managed to collect $70,000 to $100,000, on average, in donations from festival-goers in recent years, keeping attendees invested in the event’s survival.
After all, this may be your best chance each year to transcend cultural differences and find common ground with others. The acts are diverse, often intoxicating and even sublime: a Native American artist melding hip-hop and tribal songs; the rhythms of a West African ensemble, Mayan “sundancers,” bluegrass from just over yonder and a gospel choir from blocks away. It’s right here — in your face, in your ears and in your soul.
To those who make it happen — the organizers, the volunteers and our guests on the stage — we’re pleased to name you our Richmonders of the Month.