From the Dean’s Desk: Folk Festival, Round 1

Not sure who to keep an eye (or ear) out for at the Richmond Folk Festival? Here our main music guy fills you in on the first round of announced performers and what to expect when they take the stage.

Editor’s note: As the names of the artists scheduled to perform at the Richmond Folk Festival continue to be released over the coming weeks, Dean Christesen, our main music guy, will be offering insight on these performers and what you can expect when they take the stage. (Be sure to click on the name of each artist to read their professional bios and to listen to sound clips!)

Bonsoir, Catin

  • Cajun
  • Lafayette, Louisiana

Learn your two-step dance moves now. The four women of Bonsoir, Catin play traditional cajun music that will take you to the Louisiana bayou, their accordion and violin mingling with vocals full of twang.

Watch them on YouTube

Boukman Eksperyans

  • Haitian mizik rasin
  • Port au Prince, Haiti

Haitian mizik racin (“roots music”) sprung up around 1987 after a long dictatorship when the people of Haiti were allowed to freely practice the vodou religion. Enter Boukman Eksperyans, who would let their music be shaped by vodou, African and Haitian rhythms, and American rock and roll, and would become national treasures and cultural symbols for suggesting an uprising against military coups d’etat. Like modern African music, there’s layer atop layer of percussion and vocals, and some ripping Hendrix-style guitar.

Watch them on YouTube

Donald Harrison & The Congo Square Nation

  • Jazz & Mardi Gras Indian traditions
  • New Orleans, Louisiana

“Big Chief” Donald Harrison Jr. is a saxophonist, singer, percussionist — whatever it takes to play the styles of music he frequents like jazz, traditional Mardi Gras Indian music, smooth jazz, and hip-hop. With The Congo Square Nation, the Big Chief dresses in big, feathery, and traditional garb while singing and chanting over bouncy Mardi Gras beats. This one will be a guaranteed party.

Watch them on YouTube

Ensemble Shanbehzadeh

  • Bushehri music and dance of Iran
  • Paris, France

From Bushehr in southern Iran — and before that, east Africa — originates the music that Saeid Shanbehzadeh and son Naghib practice around the world, whether in performance or political rally. The reedy sound of the goatskin bagpipe may be your prime focus, but listen for rhythms in the percussion from which reggaeton and other contemporary danceable beats could be derived.

Watch them on YouTube

La Excelencia

  • Salsa dura
  • New York, New York

Self-described as revolutionary warriors in the salsa world, La Excelencia is a New York-based group devoted to telling the stories of the people. They specialize in the harder, more intense salsa dura, compared to the more commercialized salsa romantica. It has the spicy vocals, blaring brass, and driving percussion of salsa, but with the edge you never thought possible.

Watch them on YouTube

Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials

  • Chicago blues
  • Chicago, Illinois

Think Little Richard’s energy combined with Chuck Berry’s chops. Slide guitarist Lil’ Ed Williams has been at it playing the loud and electric Chicago blues style since the 80s. Sporting his signature fez hat (and usually a shiny vest) and with his ever talented Blues Imperials at his side, the guy can and will shred on the guitar until the sun comes up. Recommended if you like Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy (Robert Randolph & The Family Band, and Jimi Hendrix if you want to stretch it a bit).

Watch them on YouTube


  • Irish
  • Ireland

This band is an instrumental quintet of some of Ireland’s best musicians. Together as Lúnasa, they make up one of the world’s most popular Irish bands, most likely because of the way their music grooves. As Nickel Creek is to bluegrass, so is Lúnasa to Irish music. The acoustic guitar and double bass use modern rhythms and styles to update the Celtic sound as the fiddle, flute, and pipes weave around their dancing backdrop.

Watch them on YouTube

Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band

  • Bluegrass
  • California

With a voice clear like Willie Nelson and soaring and lyrical like Bill Monroe, Peter Rowan is a bluegrass boss. While this current band has only been together for a couple years, guitarist and singer Rowan has been around the block, getting started in the master Monroe’s band and playing now for fifty years. The same things that got him into bluegrass keep his music as passionate as ever: a dark, lonesome sound and a connection to the blues.

Watch them on YouTube

For more on the Richmond Folk Festival and its scheduled performers, stop by the RVANews Richmond Folk Festival Guide.

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Dean Christesen

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