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Artists remember past experiences in the Richmond Folk Festival

Cora Harvey Armstrong outside the Richmond Folk Festival
Photo of Cora Harvey Armstrong by Louise Keeton

Established in 2005, The Richmond Folk Festival is one of the river city’s most highly anticipated events. VPM not only streams the festival but we also share exclusive interviews with traditional artists from Virginia and from all seven stages.

The Richmond Folk Festival, in partnership with the National Council for Traditional Arts and the City of Richmond, will take place October 8-10, 2021. You can join the fun at downtown Richmond’s riverfront as well as on VPM’s Music stream. Until then, enjoy these VPM interviews with Folk Festival artists from 2021 and Folk Festival past.

Rare Essence

Photo credit: Pat Jarrett
“We love the Folk Festival! The last time Rare Essence played it, we played two sets. The first set was on a really big stage and the second set was in a tent. That tent was on fire! Everybody in there was ready to party. It was electric. After being shut down for 16 months and having done nothing but virtual shows with no audience, we can’t wait to get in front of a live audience again and feed off their energy. Rare Essence has been out here for 45 years. Almost nightly, young people request our songs because they grew up listening to them on cassette tapes and CDs. It really makes me appreciate that people, who started with us four decades ago, are passing on our music to their kids and that their kids appreciate our music. It’s a really exciting legacy.”
- Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson, founding member of Rare Essence and 2021 Richmond Folk Festival performing artist.

Mickael Rosedale Broth

Photo credit: Maverick Rosedale (Mickael’s 5-year-old son) with support from Brionna Nomi (community organizer, activist, and Mickael’s wife)
“I wound up serving almost a year in jail for graffiti in 2004. I spent the next few years trying to figure out a path forward, both creatively and personally. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time in 2012 to help spark the mural explosion here, both with my own work and through helping curate the RVA Street Art Festival, as well as multiple other public art projects in Virginia. At this point, I can honestly say there are not a lot of projects that I feel truly honored to be part of... but designing the Richmond Folk Festival poster is one!
My inspiration for the poster was my love of the witch as a figure within my work and her place in American folk history. The witch is a figure that is connected to herself, nature, and historical rituals. To me, the witch represents a strong and unique individual driven by her roots and a desire for self-realization. In the poster, she’s holding an acoustic guitar...which I know is kind of predictable but it’s the guitar I bought from Fan Guitar and Ukulele during quarantine to try out a new skill that I’ve always wanted to learn.
I recognize how amazing this event is for the Richmond community and what an important element the poster is to creating the identity of the festival. I couldn’t be more stoked to be asked and I can say the festival organizers have been so fantastic to work with, providing nearly complete artistic freedom and support.”
- Mickael Rosedale Broth aka The Night Owl, 2021 Richmond Folk Festival poster designer


Photo credit: Joey Wharton
“Music was always a part of my life growing up in Puerto Rico but never a serious pursuit. Moving to Virginia really connected me with my roots and the two musical styles for which Puerto Rico is known: Bomba and Plena. Being able to share my culture and its music alongside my father and a great group of musicians fuels me and fills me with pride. I look forward to watching Kadencia and the very talented lineup of musicians featured on "All Together Now." Thanks to Richmond Folk Festival and VPM for supporting diversity in music and presenting it to the world.”
- Maurice Sanabria, Requinto hand drummer for Kadencia and VPM’s “All Together Now” 2020 featured artist

Cora Harvey Armstrong

Photo credit: Louise Keeton
“I don't know if I actually had motivation to become a performer, it was just what God had planned for me even before I came into the world. I started taking piano lessons when I was about 5 years old and my sisters and I could sing and sing in harmony when we were about 4, 5, and 6 years old. I have been singing all my life and as I got older, I got better and people started noticing me more. Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s Tom Width even wrote two shows about me and my family! There have also been many who have let me know that God ministered to them through me. This makes all of the work and challenges worthwhile.”
- Cora Harvey Armstrong, VPM’s “All Together Now” 2020 featured artist

Butcher Brown

Photo credit: Joey Wharton
“Working in a field that involves large gatherings of people doesn't exactly mix well with a global pandemic. That is why we were super excited to learn the Richmond Folk Festival would still be happening this year in an altered, COVID safe fashion and that we would have the privilege to play in their concert music series - “All Together Now.” The whole experience was really awesome. It was an honor and a treat to work with Richmond legend, Plunky Branch. It was surreal to get to perform live with him “on stage” with us. Live streaming and taped concerts like the Richmond Folk Festival have become a great way for bands like us to still play live and reach the people.”
- Andrew Randazzo, Bass player with Butcher Brown and VPM’s “All Together Now” 2020 featured artist

J. Plunky Branch

Photo credit: Louise Keeton
“I’m extremely excited to play at the Richmond Folk Festival. Many people attend the festival not knowing what all of the music is going to sound like. They come with an open heart and an open ear to be exposed to something new. When I came to Richmond in 1974, there wasn’t much market for an avant-garde African group. The fact that Richmond has progressed, and the world has come together in ways that allow us to share different cultures is magical to me! The word “music” itself has similarities to the word magic. There is this ethereal, spiritual thing that happens in music. The idea that you can play an instrument, make some sound, and affect someone across the room - make them smile, give them chills or even bring them to tears - that’s magic. Even without physically touching someone you’re still able to move them in a spiritual way. That is the magic that happens with music.”
- J. Plunky Branch, interviewed during the 2019 Richmond Folk Festival

Guadalupe Ramirez

Photo credit: Louise Keeton
“We had a customer come in looking for something very specific to wear for an animal show she was in that showcased her donkey. She was thrilled when she came to our stand during the Richmond Folk Festival and found that we carried a traditional Mayan Tunic. Not too long after the festival, she came to our brick-and-mortar store and showed me pictures of her wearing the traditional tunic in the horse show. Our relationship grew as her interest in the garment increased, and she wanted to know more about our traditions and culture. In 2017 she and her son came to Guatemala with us to work on one of our stove building projects. She is able to appreciate that our weaving is more than an aesthetic expression, they are symbolic representations instructing humanity how to live in balance and harmony in the web of relations that is creation.”
- Guadalupe Ramirez, owner of AlterNatives and interviewed during the 2018 Richmond Folk Festival

Deborah Pratt

Photo credit: Louise Keeton
“My sister taught me how to open oysters on the back of my parents' doorstep. I shucked oysters for many years and then in 1985, I got into an oyster shucking competition and won for the first time. It took me ten years to become number one in the women’s oyster competitions. After being in the world oyster shucking competition four times, I’ve become famous! Now my son is competing against me. He’s beaten my sister in oyster shucking but he hasn’t beaten me. He is good. He tells me every day, ‘I’m coming to get you.’ I said, ‘If you beat me then I shall retire from oyster shucking.’”
- Deborah Pratt, Oyster Shucking Champion and interviewed during the 2018 Richmond Folk Festival

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