Folks, young and old: The Folk Fest’s celebration of Va. mentorship

The next generation of folk musicians alongside those who are handing down their knowledge. Catch a ton of Virginia musical history in one weekend.

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Photo by: Marcus Ramberg

The Richmond Folk Festival celebrates traditional music from all sorts of cultures, and the fest’s expansive reach is what makes it so popular. But there’s a reason it’s not called the Richmond World Music Festival–there’s a carefully and jubilantly curated Virginia component as well. 

In essence, you can get really deep into Virginia traditions. And here’s the thing, I feel like we kind of forget about them. Sure, we eat the comfort food and we have the accents, but it’s not often that we take the time and the pleasure to learn about our own little, rich, weird, charming, and fascinating culture. It’s not navel-gazing, it’s being more aware of what makes Virginia Virginia.

In years past, the festival has focused their Virginia Folklife Program on the older generations–the ones who are our most direct link to the past. This year, its the young people who take the spotlight (along with their older mentors). Folk art has to be passed down through generations in order for any of our cultural history to be preserved. 

So here are the ones to keep an eye on (and an ear open for). They’re doing the good, banner-carrying work.

Anhayla 

  • Performance: Saturday, October 10th, 5:15 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage
  • Music: R&B
  • Hails from: Richmond
  • Lineage: Classical to gospel to rhythm and blues
  • Interesting fact: Anhayla’s mother is a preacher, her brother is a violinist, and her other brother is a pianist! She started playing guitar in high school and “takes a little bit from every genre.” I enjoy the above video because it makes it clear that the life of a recording artist is an exhausting one.

Ash Breeze 

  • Performance: Saturday, October 10th, 2:00 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage
  • Music: Appalachian bluegrass/country, heavy on the fiddling!
  • Hails from: Fayetteville, North Carolina, but they spend most of their time fiddling around the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia
  • Lineage: Drawing on traditions of Virginia bands like the Carter Family and the Stonemans.
  • Interesting fact: Singer Nellie Smith is impossibly young–17 years old with a voice talent that is blowing my mind right now. The rest of the group ranges from 14 to 20 and include Nellie’s brothers and her father. It must be super nice to just be able to yell at your band because hey, they have to love you. They’re your family.

Bud’s Collective

  • Performance: Saturday, October 10th, 4:00 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage
  • Music: Bluegrass
  • Hails from: Winchester, Virginia and Wardensville, West Virginia
  • Lineage: Shenandoah Valley traditional influences mixed with some modern Washington D.C. sensibilities.  Mandolin player Jack Dunlap is being taught by Danny Knicely in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program.
  • Interesting fact: I do not understand how they move their fingers so fast.

The Church Sisters

  • Performance: Saturday, October 10th, 12:05 PM, Union Bank & Trust/University of Richmond Virginia Folklife Stage AND Saturday, October 10th, 1:30 PM, CarMax Family Stage AND Sunday, October 11th, 4:45 PM, VCU Health Stage
  • Music: Bluegrass gospel
  • Hails from: Galax, Virginia
  • Lineage:  They were born in Dickenson County, moved to Haysi, then Danville, and are now settled in Galax, “a community deeply steeped in bluegrass, old-time, and mountain gospel music.”
  • Interesting fact: The twin sisters who front this band-their last name is actually Church! That sure is convenient.

Close Kin

  • Performance: Sunday, October 11th, 12:05 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage
  • Music: Old-time/bluegrass
  • Hails from: Galax, Virginia and Round Peak, North Carolina
  • Lineage: The youth in Close Kin are ages 11 to 17 years old. What.
  • Interesting fact: Mountain music is not synonymous with bluegrass music! Old-time music is bluegrass’s predecessor, and it was born out of the combining traditions of European and African musical styles.

Frank Newsome

  • Performance: Saturday, October 10th, 12:00 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage AND Sunday, October 11th, 12:00 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage 
  • Music: Old Regular Baptist a cappella gospel
  • Hails from: Haysi, Virginia
  • Lineage: Kentucky, Virginia coal mine country, and the very small Old Regular Baptist congregation. 
  • Interesting fact: Every single thing about Old Regular Baptist a cappella gospel is interesting!! It’s an art form that is so close to dying out–the tradition is that there’s no musical instrumentation, and the pastor does a call and response thing with the audience. The resulting sound is totally unique. Also Frank Newsome sings like this despite contracting black lung disease after working in the coal mines!

The Ingramettes, in loving memory of Maggie Ingram

  • Performance: Sunday, October 11th, 4:15 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage 
  • Music: Gospel
  • Hails from: Richmond
  • Lineage: Maggie Ingram, an evangelist gospel singer who accomplished a lot of amazing things, passed away this year. She got into the gospel and playing piano while young, working on a tobacco and cotton plantation in the 1930s and ’40s. This weekend, her group, Sister Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes, will perform a tribute. 
  • Interesting fact:The video above, taken at the 2012 Folk Fest, features Maggie herself in one of her last few years of performances. It will make you feel.

Johnny and Jeanette Williams

  • Performance: Sunday, October 11th, 2:15 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage
  • Music: Bluegrass
  • Hails from: Galax, Virginia
  • Lineage: Grayson County bluegrass and old-time music, via Johnny’s band Clearwater, which performed with Allison Krauss, Ralph Stanley, and Larry Sparks.
  • Interesting fact: Both Johnny and Jeanette have independently won songwriting awards, but they prefer to play together because of love, etc.

Kitty Amaral and Presley Barker

  • Performance: Saturday, October 10th, 4:45 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage AND Sunday, October 11th, 2:00 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage
  • Music: Old-time and bluegrass fiddle and guitar
  • Hails from: Elk Creek, Virginia and Traphill, North Carolina
  • Lineage: Kitty learned fiddle from her neighbor, Jerry Correll, and has gone on to play with Eddie Bond, Kirk Sutphin, Erynn Marshall, and Kyle Dean Smith. Presley has been mentored by Wayne Henderson and Steve Lewis.
  • Interesting fact: These two prodigies win a ton of the awards–even in the adult contests–and they have band together called ShadowGrass. Oh, she is 13 and he is 11. Yes, 11.

Sammy Shelor

  • Performance: Sunday, October 11th, 2:15 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage AND Banjo Contest directly after
  • Music: Bluegrass banjo
  • Hails from: Meadows of Dan, Virginia
  • Lineage: His family, along with eight others, are held to be responsible for keeping Patrick County’s musical traditions alive and well. Sammy heads the Lonesome River Band.
  • Interesting fact: He began playing banjo at four and started playing in local bands at age 10. 

Washington Balalaika Society Orchestra featuring Andrei Saveliev and Aaron Mott

  • Performance: Saturday, October 10th, 1:00 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage
  • Music: Russian folk
  • Hails from: Fairfax
  • Lineage: This is the largest balalaika orchestra outside of Russia! We tend to think of Virginia’s music as being influenced by immigration movements done long ago, but today’s immigrants’ music is being blended in as well. Andrei’s mentee Aaron Mott is from Burke, Virginia, and they’ll both be performing this time around.
  • Interesting fact: A balalaika is that Russian triangular guitar-type thing. It makes you want to give someone a huge bear hug and then invite them to raise a glass, drain that glass, and dance.

Wayne Henderson

  • Performance: Workshop on Sunday, October 11th, 3:00 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage
  • Music: Bluegrass
  • Hails from: Rugby, Virginia
  • Lineage: Wayne’s father and uncle were string musicians for Estil Ball, whose steel-string guitar Wayne admired. When the Sears version did not impress him, he learned how to make his own. 
  • Interesting fact: Wayne has won the Galax Fiddler’s Convention guitar competition so many times that he now has his own festival, the Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition. He also tells stories.

Zion’s Voice

  • Performance: Sunday, October 11th, 4:15 PM, Virginia Folklife Stage 
  • Music: Gospel
  • Hails from: Richmond
  • Lineage: The members of this choir range in age from 13 to 32 and are one giant mentee to the Ingramettes!
  • Interesting fact: They also do service projects around town, w hen they’re not winning awards and stuff.
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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