RVA East End Festival brings the gift of music to Church Hill neighbors, schools

Richmond Symphony’s David Fisk weighs in on how he intends for the RVA East End Festival to help the community—and he reveals what’s on the symphony’s program!

As the weather warms up and we set our sights on spring, festival season will soon be in full bloom in neighborhoods across Richmond. And this year, Church Hill neighborhood, riding a wave of recent growth, will hold host to its own music festival this May.

The East End Festival, scheduled for May 6th – 8th, promises an eclectic lineup of performers under the cover of the Richmond Symphony’s enormous 70-foot tent, which inspired the festival itself.

Last year, the symphony embarked on the “Big Tent Initiative,” which raised $500,000 in funds that were matched by the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation for a total of $1 million, allowing its 70-piece orchestra and 150-member chorus to bring its music to the community with a series of free neighborhood concerts.

“Since the time we purchased [the tent], it was always our intention to move it around,” said David Fisk, Executive Director of the symphony, a major partner in the festival. “We were in conversations with [Mayor Dwight Jones] about where the city thought would be good locations.”

Fisk says one of the mayor’s first suggestions was Chimborazo Park. He says that, upon visiting, symphony staff were immediately blown away by the beauty of the park and its views. That, along with the timing of the nearby Black History Museum’s opening, made the spot an obvious choice for the symphony’s first neighborhood festival.

Fisk and his staff worked in tandem with Richmond City Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille to assemble a festival steering community comprised of Church Hill neighbors to round out the particulars of the event. The diverse group, which organizers felt represented a cross-section of the East End area, helped the symphony develop an eclectic mix of music.

“We’ve invited input and come up with a nice mixture of traditional orchestral music like Beethoven’s 7th and William Tell, along with more contemporary music from Star Wars and Michael Jackson.” Symphony members will also collaborate on stage with No BS! Brass Band and Desiree Roots, both of whom are scheduled to play their own sets as well.

Proceeds from the festival will benefit the music programs of several Richmond Public Schools-another decision made exclusively by the steering committee. “We’re helping to support afterschool programs in schools like MLK Middle, where we’re setting up a ‘little orchestra’ with the help of the Boys and Girls Club,” Fisk said. Organizers, armed with a wish list from music educators, also plan to purchase instruments for students at all three levels, starting in elementary school. “By providing instruments for elementary schoolers, we (hope to) create a continuum through high school.”

Grants from Bon Secours-another partner in the festival-along with private donors will help fund the instruments. Fisk says the cast of AMC’s period drama TURN: Washington’s Spies, which recently filmed in locations around town, also banded together to purchase instruments for students. Stone Brewing Co., which recently opened its doors just down the hill from Chimborazo Park, has also offered to donate three days of beer sales towards the project, which will be administered by the RPS Education Foundation. In all, five elementary schools, at least one middle school, and two high schools-Amstrong High and Franklin Military Academy-will benefit from the donated funds and instruments.

“We want this to be a party with a purpose,” Fisk continued. “It’s great to have a festival that brings people together, but we also want there to be lasting benefits to the community.”

Fisk says the symphony hopes to host a festival in other up-and-coming and lesser-known neighborhoods to spotlight their people and culture on a city-wide scale.

To learn more or to volunteer for the East End Festival, visit the event website.

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The Symphony will be holding a companion festival on May 20th – 22nd in Jackson Ward’s Abner Clay Park. More information here.

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Trevor Dickerson

Trevor Dickerson loves all things Richmond and manages RVANews’ West of the Boulevard and West End community sites.

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