Sunday, October 14, 2007

Purveyor of "Punch" lines

RICHMOND, Va. (Sunday, October 14) – The “Professor" of Punch delivered a healthy helping of punch lines at the Family Stage this weekend.

Punch has done a very bad thing.
The puppetmaster works the crowd.John Styles, of Kent, England, brought the slapstick comedy of Punch and Judy puppetry to the National Folk Festival this weekend. While the art form, which has been around for several hundred years, has fallen out of fashion in these politically correct times, Styles did an excellent job of recruiting a new generation of fans.

The Family Stage was packed at Styles’s final performance of the weekend. It was not quiet, as young and old loudly reminded Punch, the rather naughty protagonist of the art form, that he was not being any too nice to his fellow characters throughout.

Children react to Punch's antics.
Another appreciative fanIn the process of the mini morality plays, Styles’s comedy delivered a bounty of belly laughs.

“Some say it’s politically incorrect and that we don’t want it,” Styles told the crowd after the performance. “But we do want it, don’t we?”

The crowd roared in agreement.

The Professor of Punch receives his reward.

Masks of enchantment

Ariel & Melissa Inc.\RICHMOND, Va. (Sunday, October 14) – People who come to the festival should not overlook the Virginia Folklife Area and the Ten Thousand Villages Marketplace.

Walking through the area one can learn about how to make musical instruments, such as guitars and steel drums, talk to someone about how to preserve fruits and vegetables, and even buy something to take home.

An assortment of African masksFor example, Arielle & Melissa Inc. of New York offers a vast array of African crafts: clothing and fabrics, jewelry, cosmetics, some foods, such as shea butter, and other specialty items.

The most popular offerings, at least for kids, were the drums and masks.

Which one do I want?

D.L. Menard's farewell

D.L. Menard with Terry Huval and the Jambalaya Cajun BandRICHMOND, Va. (Sunday, October 14) – Today is your last day to catch the National Folk Festival here in Richmond. Performances began at noon. D.L. Menard, with Terry Huval and the Jambalaya Cajun Band, played their last show at the festival at the Ukrop’s/First Market Stage at noon.

The crowd was disappointed when Menard announced their last song of the day, but he offered some comforting words:

“Remember, if we don’t go, we can’t come back.”

D.L. Menard

A little help from a lot of friends

RICHMOND, Va. (Sunday, October 14) – Erika Jurkowski seemed to stand at the festival crossroads Saturday afternoon with little to do.

Erika JurkowskiJurkowski, a student at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, stood on a path between the Capital One Family Area and the Ukrop’s/First Market Stage, offering National Folk Festival Pocket Guides to passers-by – most of whom already had them.

Ellen Jurkowski finds a taker.But Jurkowski did not mind. She had enough takers to keep the job interesting. She also realized she was helping Richmond put on a great show.

The National Folk Festival could not succeed without volunteers. Lots of them – about 1,000 according to Francesca Parch, volunteer coordinator for the festival.

Volunteers are involved in almost all aspects of the festival: manning information booths, helping as stagehands and stage security, escorting vans carrying performers and staff through the site, helping performers and staff checking in and out of their hotels and assisting them while there, working as artist buddies to help them on site as well as to help make their stay in Richmond more comfortable, and working in bucket brigades that solicit contributions from attendees.

Jurkowski, who was taking Paige Durham-Hayes’s music appreciation class at Reynolds, was encouraged to volunteer as part of her class. Despite the fact that she had relatively few takers for pocket guides, she was having fun – and looking forward to the opportunity to appreciate some of the festival’s musical offerings once here shift was over.

Marie CHardon (left) and Alyssa Connatser work the crowd as part of the bucket brigade.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Dancing for food

A guest of the Junk Yard BandRICHMOND, Va. (Saturday, October 13) – The Junk Yard Band had fans working for food in the Times-Dispatch Dance Pavilion this afternoon.

They had fans – both young and not-so-young – dancing on stage as well as on the floor. They had fans singing. They had fans cheering. And when the fans had earned their meal, they got an enthusiastic helping of "Sardines, Pork and Beans."

Even then, the band urged the fans to sing along, but no one complained. There was hardly a still body in the tent. The D.C.-based band's Go-Go beat had people moving for some distance outside, too.

A guest of the Junk Yard Band

A guest of the Junk Yard Band
A guest of the Junk Yard Band

The Junk Yard Band approves of the crowd's efforts.

Wish you were here

RICHMOND, Va. (Saturday, October 13) – As predicted, the weather has blessed the National Folk Festival. Clear skies and temperatures about 70 as of 2 p.m. provide a pleasant atmosphere for all.

The music today began at noon at all venues and with a variety of musical offerings. Maggie Ingram and The Ingramettes gave a rousing performance at the Ukrop’s/First Market Stages. Moges Seyoum and the Yared Choir opened at the Genworth Financial Stage. The Jerry Grcevich Tamburitza Orchestra was at the Dominion Stage. Melody of China performed at the Comcast Stage, and the Paschall Brothers opened at the NewMarket Stage.

The Holmes Brothers returned to the stage this afternoon – to a full Times-Dispatch Dance Pavilion and an enthusiastic reception from the crowd.


One of the most stressful jobs of the festival is that of WW. WW, who prefers to remain anonymous, is the transportation guru. His job is coordinate the transportation via shuttle of performers and staff between the festival site and the hotels where performers and staff are staying.

WW juggles several walkie-talkies, one radio, several charts and innumerable pieces of paper to get everyone to their scheduled destinations on time. He has to make sure each vehicle is large enough for the personnel and equipment that need to be moved. WW estimates he had 30 schedule shuttle runs Friday, with 60 scheduled for today and 45 on Sunday.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Show goes on (and does well)

RICHMOND, Va. (Friday, October 12) – Despite the cancellation of a performance by the Holmes Brothers because of the sudden illness of Sherman Holmes, Friday night appears to have been a hit among performers and fans.

Sherman Holmes, 68, suffered a severe asthma attack prior to the Holmes Brothers’ appearance as the final act on the Ukrop’s/First Market Stage last night. He was taken to the VCU Hospital for observation, but was in good condition as of the time of this writing.

Elana JamesLisa Sims, festival director, said she thought attendance tonight was double that of last year. She attributed some of the increased attendance to better weather.

“We were blessed with great weather tonight,” Sims said.

Last year, temperatures were quite a bit colder. The first year of the festival, it was raining.

Karan CaseyThe performers enjoyed themselves. For Vishten, an Acadian band from Prince Edward Island, Canada, the night was special. They had performed one set with other musicians in the Virginia Folklife area at the first festival in 2005.

“We’re so happy to be back at this festival. We have great memories of this place,” said Pastelle LeBlanc. “It’s great to be a part of the lineup with other great bands. It’s inspiring as well to have Acadian music share the stage alongside all the other types of folk music.”

White Smith (center) sings for Cindy Cashdollar and Elana James
Cindy CashdollarWhite Smith, guitarist for Western Swing artists Cindy Cashdollar and Elana James, enjoyed the energy of the crowd.

“There was a great vibe going,” Smith said. “If I had shown up with the flu, I would have been cured by the end. There was a lot of positive energy from the crowd.”

D.L. Menard (left)The crowd felt the energy, too. Dancers abounded for D.L. Menard with Terry Huval and the Jambalaya Cajun Band at the Times-Dispatch Dance Pavilion. Hardly a beat was missed when Latin dance outfit Grupo Fantasma followed.

Susie, a young mother, was energetically dancing with her daughter while Grupo Fantasma played. Her husband and another daughter were enjoying another band at the time. She said she was enjoying herself. When asked why, she said, “Music. All the music.”

Dancers at Grupo Fantasma's performanceEven workers enjoyed themselves. Chris Boyd was part of a trio of city workers picking up the area around the Dance Pavilion, with a little extra pep in their step. He said the festival made him feel proud.

“People from all over are coming and enjoying Richmond,” he said.

The music wasn’t the only thing of interest.

Aurora, a visitor from Texas, was busy taking photographs of some of the exhibits at Tredagar as the evening was winding down.

“I’ve never been here before,” she said. “The American history here is fascinating.”

Grupo Fantasma

The festival begins

RICHMOND, Va. (Friday, October 12) – The 69th National Folk Festival has begun.

The Virginia Intertribal Dance Group and Drum begins its performance.As this year’s festival commemorates the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the English settlement at Jamestown, the festivities began, appropriately enough, with a performance by members of Virginia’s First Nations – the Virginia Intertribal Dance Group and Drum – at the Ukrop’s/First Market Stage.

The group is formed from the eight surviving tribes recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia: the Chickahominy Tribe, the Chickahominy Tribe Eastern Division, the Mattoponi Tribe, the Monacan Nation, the Nansemond Tribe, the Pamunkey Tribe, the Rappahannock Tribe, and the Upper Mattaponi Tribe.

Members of the Virginia Intertribal Dance Group and Drum blessing the ground.The meaning of each dance was explained by Wayne Adkins, second assistant chief of the Chickahominy. The group’s second dance performed by the group was the “Blessing of the Ground.” Traditionally the blessing is offered before dances begin in order to seek the favor of the gods. Usually it involves a handful of leaders who go to the four directions (north, south, east, and west) and sprinkle tobacco or sage on the ground as an offering.

The dance tonight went well, a good omen for the weekend.

Drumming and singing for the Virginia Intertribal Dance Group and Drum

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Finishing touches

RICHMOND, Va. (Thursday, October 11) – The 69th National Folk Festival is less than 24 hours away.

All through the day and into the evening, staff, volunteers, and vendors have been getting ready for Friday’s 5 p.m. start.

Frank Caulder works on raising a banner at the 2nd Street entrance.During the day, much of the activity was on the Richmond riverfront area were crew were installing and testing lights, and sound equipment on the performance stages; setting up chairs and tables; setting out signs and banners; and doing final carpentry and painting work. Vendors, such as the Espresso-A-Go-Go near the Ukrop’s/First Market Stage, were setting up their tents and arranging their merchandise.

Much more work was being done behind the scenes at the host hotel as festival staff and volunteers prepare for the surge of personnel that began arriving tonight.

While some staff helping to set up the riverfront site have been here off and on since the weekend of September 28, many of those involved in managing performance areas, operating lighting and sound boards, or working as stagehands are coming today and tomorrow. Most performers will likewise arrive tomorrow.

Espresso-A-Go-Go employees evaluate their progress.Danna Boshak of the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) serves as logistics manager for the National Folk Festival. She says more than 300 performers and staff are being brought here for the festival. In all about 225 rooms at two hotels – the DoubleTree and the Quality Inn – will be rented.

About 10,000 meal tickets will be distributed to performers, staff, and some volunteers so they can get food on site.

Since nights are expected to be somewhat chilly this weekend, NCTA’s Mike Petillo, production coordinator for the festival, is taking steps to help the performers stay warm. Petillo said that at least 30 pairs of gloves, 100 hand warmers, and 30 sweatshirts will be available for the performers.


Andy McCarty (left) and Bobby Lacey hook up sound equipment at the Ukrop's/First Market Stage.
Andy McCarty and Bobby Lacey of Onyx Engineering were setting up the sound equipment at the Ukrop’s/First Market Stage Thursday afternoon. The setup features a 64-channel house sound board, a 64-channel monitor board, 10 monitors for the performers to hear their own sound, from four to six sub-woofers (they had not yet decided yet how many would be needed), and two strips of main speakers suspended from the corners of the stage’s canopy.


Stephen Bristow checks the lighting equipment at the Ukrop's/First Market State
While McCarty and Lacey were working on the sound, Stephen Bristow was part of a crew from On Stage Gear installing lights on the Ukrop’s/First Market Stage. They had installed 24 Opti-Par stage lights that illuminate the performance area of the stage in a variety of colors. Among the Opti-Par lights were six Source 4 Leko lights that illuminate the stage with a clearer, more powerful beam. They also had eight stage colors mounted in back of the stage.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Building a community

RICHMOND, Va. (Wednesday, October 10) – Today was yet another warm autumn day, but despite the heat, staff and volunteers were busy trying to prepare Richmond’s riverfront for the third and final year of the National Folk Festival.

While many others were working in the sun, sweating appropriately from the heat, two men had what might be a plum job – in the shade of a tent in the festival’s operations area.

The two men were not taking it easy, however.

Terry Smolinski measures a board he will use for a stage platform.Van Mertz, of Bethesda, Md., and Terry Smolinski, of Richmond, were busy in what Mertz called “the M*A*S*H of carpentry,” building stage platforms, drum risers, and other components that performers and exhibitors will need during the three-day festival, which begins Friday.

This year, the task was relatively light. In the first year, many wooden structures, such as steps, had to be built anew. But some things wear out – like the drum risers used last year – and as the performers and exhibitors change each year, so do their needs. The carpentry crew still has plenty of work to do.

Van MertzMertz has been volunteering with the National Folk Festival and some of its spinoffs for 24 years. Many volunteers are invited back to work on the festival year after year, and the veterans provide essential institutional memory of what needs to be done. Every three years, the festival moves to another town, however, and the veterans have to get used to working with new people, like Smolinski – a retired carpenter – who is volunteering with the festival for the first time.

Mertz says the new people in each town are likewise essential: They know the local ways of doing things, where to get things, and whom to talk to for help with bureaucratic and other obstacles arise.

The new people in each town offer Mertz something more valuable than local knowledge, however. It is a greater sense of community.

“I’ve learned a long, long time ago that just about every place I go, people are good,” Mertz said. “People are basically good despite what we see on the news.”

For all the towns Mertz has worked in, he thinks, “This is home, too – a great big community I feel comfortable in.”


Mertz has ties to Richmond through his day job -- he designs and builds museum exhibits, including some at the American Civil War Center at Tredegar as well as at Richmond's Maymont Park. Anyone who has looked at or pushed buttons on the model of the Chesapeake Bay watershed at Maymont's nature center has experienced Mertz's work.


Ralph Derbyshire and Charlie Marcus mark power cables under the Dominion Stage.While Mertz and Smolinski were busy in their M*A*S*H, others were busy all over the festival site. Electricians Charlie Marcus and Ralph Derbyshire were busy running electrical cables to the Dominion Stage. They estimate that the festival uses 3,000 feet of main cable alone. With extension cords and other cables that performers and others bring, the amount of cables and cords increases to about 6,000 feet – more than a mile.

Neither wanted to guess how much microphone, guitar, and other cables will be used on site.


Jermaine Brown gets ready to install stairs on the Comcast Stage.
Jermaine Brown was helping assemble the Comcast Stage on the other side of the Tredegar complex. In two hours, he and another worker had put all but three stage panels in place, but they had to attach crossbars to stabilize the stage supports, finish installing steps, and add the skirting around the edge of the stage.

All the chairs here. . .

Chairs outside the Family Stage

. . . have to go here.

The Family Stage


Correction (Thursday, October 11): As a journalist, I try to get things right, but mistakes do happen. Yesterday, when I interviewed Terry Smolinski, I asked him his name. He said he had to spell it. Unfortunately, he did not say it, and I did not ask him to repeat it. I did repeat the spelling I thought I heard: S-M-O-L-I-N-S-A-I. He actually said (the letters) S-M-O-L-I-N-S-K-I. We both heard the "ay" sound in "K." But I did not hear the "K" sound in what he said and he did not did not hear its absence in what I said. I kept thinking what I originally wrote, "Smolinsai," looked strange, found Smolinski, and got it corrected today.

Raising the Roof

RICHMOND, Va. (Tuesday, October 9) –- The weather has been kind to the National Folk Festival so far this year, and as a result staff and volunteers are comfortably on schedule as they work to prepare Richmond’s riverfront for the festival’s third and final year here.

Ukrop's/First Market Stage areaSome of the setup work is relatively straightforward –- involving the setting up of small tents, distributing tables and chairs, etc. Setting up larger venues, such as the Ukrop’s/First Market Stage, the setup is more complicated.

The Ukrop’s/First Market Stage and the Dominion Stage consist essentially of two components –- the stage structure itself, and a roof that can be raised and lowered.

So what is erected first?

Frank CaulderAccording to Frank Caulder, the master rigger, the roof. Part of Caulder’s job is to put it together.

For example, the roof for the Ukrop’s/First Market Stage is a standard concert roof attached to four posts (towers) that allow the roof to be raised and lowered when needed.

The roof is a square, 40 feet on a side, made of 57 pieces –- trusses, motors, etc. Every junction between trusses is held together by pins: four drift pins and four cotter pins.

Corner of the Ukrop's/First Market StageThe first step is to assemble the outside box –- the frame that holds everything else together. Roller blocks, through which chains are run for the raising and lowering of the roof, are then put in place on the frame. All of this is aligned and leveled, then the lift towers are installed and anchored to the outside box. The motors are installed next, followed by the roof’s skin itself.

Lowered roofOnce the roof is raised, Caulder’s assembly job there is over. Others come in to assemble the stage -– made of Bil-Jax scaffolding.

In the mornings, Caulder will raise the roof and perform a safety check. At night, he lowers and secures the roof. He repeats his ritual on a daily basis until the festival ends, then he takes the roof apart and prepares it for transport elsewhere -– maybe to a festival near you...

Ukrop's/First Market Stage

Monday, October 8, 2007

Are you ready?

RICHMOND, Va. (Monday, October 8) – It’s almost upon us.

The National Folk Festival returns to Richmond’s riverfront for the third and final year this Friday, bringing music, dance, arts and crafts, storytelling, food and more from the nation’s finest traditional artists.

Unloading electrical cablesStaff and volunteers have been working since September 28 setting up for the site for the more than 100,000 people expected to attend this year, the 69th year the event has been held in cities across the nation.

Tents and stages are being built. Electrical cables are being laid out. Signs are being prepared and set up. Despite the heat of this day, staff and volunteers were eagerly working and looking forward to the weekend’s celebration.

“The weather will be kind to us,” said technical director Dwain Winters of this weekend. “The site is in great shape. We’ve got a really, really good program.”

Mary Boeckman, assistant technical director, said the setup effort is going well.

Busy riggerAs in the past, visitors this year will have the option of listening to a wide range of music, including blues, gospel, and rhythm and blues; Cajun and Zydeco; bluegrass, cowboy, honky-tonk and western swing; and tamburitza.

The musical and other performances and crafts will reveal a host of other cultural influences: African, Appalachian, Cajun, Caribbean, Celtic, East Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Native American, and Pacific Islander.

As in previous years, the waterfront site – from 2nd to 5th Street and from Byrd Street to the James River – will feature seven performance stages ranging in size from a 12,000-seat Ukrop’s/First Market Stage to the small, intimate Family Stage. The locations of some stages and activities will be moved as a result of construction in the area.

Jogger on Brown's IslandThe Richmond Times-Dispatch Dance Pavilion, formerly in the Federal Reserve parking lot, will be on Brown’s Island on the site formerly occupied by the Comcast Stage. The Comcast Stage will be in the American Civil War Center courtyard. The Ten Thousand Villages Marketplace, which used to be located along 10th Street near the base of the Brown’s Island footbridge, will likewise be moved to the American Civil War Center.

As in previous years, free shuttles will provided between the festival site and free parking at Cloverleaf Mall and the Diamond.


BLOGGER’S NOTE: Please come back and revisit these pages over the next few days. Each day before the festival begins, I will write about preparations and post information about what to expect.

Each day of the festival, I will post as often as possible, sharing news of hot performances, good food, interesting workshops, and maybe even write about what some of you think about each day’s events.

I look forward to seeing you on the Internet – or even better, at the festival!