Raising Richmond: You, your kids, and the Richmond Folk Festival

Six pointers to help make the Richmond Folk Festival a thoroughly enjoyable experience for everyone in your family—tiny tots and all.

Just three more days, guys. Three more days and we’ll all be hanging out around Brown’s Island and partaking in the glory that is the Richmond Folk Festival. Like many of my fellow Richmonders, I’m so excited I can hardly stand it—for the weekend of free, world-class music, yes, but also to share the experience with our son. At almost four, he’s attended three installments of the Richmond Folk Festival, but this is the first year he’ll actually have a clue as to what he’s hearing and seeing. It feels like a big milestone for us.

While the Richmond Folk Festival promises (and delivers) three days of fun for the whole fam, we can’t forget that any festival-like experience, while wonderful, brings with it the potential for some serious meltdowns. Think about it: crowds, waiting in the occasional line, and just the overall tendency of children to act batshit crazy simply because they’re out in public. However, it doesn’t have to be like that—not this year, not at our Folk Festival. Here’s a handful of tips to help you and your family make the most of this very Richmond event…

1. Get the lay of the land

This is the Richmond Folk Festival map. Review it now. Look at it again before you leave the house this weekend. Grab a hard copy once you reach Brown’s Island (there will be plenty available, I’m sure). Note key attractions like the main stages, family area, and food court, as well as the various routes to arrive at each. Now I’m not saying you need to develop a strategic plan to navigate all that the Folk Festival has to offer. But I am saying that there few things capable of destroying your soul faster than wandering around aimlessly whilst trailed by a flock of children crowing, “Where are we gooooooing? What are we dooooooing?”

(Now that I’ve convinced you, here’s that map again.)

2. Consider the “drop-and-park”

There will be a variety of parking options in the general vicinity of Brown’s Island this weekend, but even the closest lots require a bit of a hike to reach the festivities. If you can swing it, have one parent drop the other off with the kids as close to the festival entrance as possible. He or she can then meet up with everyone after finding a place to park. The success of this attempt will depend greatly on the level of traffic when you get there, but it’s worth a shot—especially if you follow my next suggestion…

3. Ditch the stroller

Wait, just hear me out. Here’s what you need to remember: the Richmond Folk Festival is The Big Event in this town. There are going to be lots and lots of people there—at least if 2011’s final tally of 200,000 attendees is any indication. It’s my experience that large crowds and strollers just do not mix. You spend the day blinded by hatred for everyone who won’t get out of your way, and they spend the day giving you the stink-eye for taking up too much space. That, my friends, is not what the Folk Festival is about. It’s about culture! It’s about music! It’s about spending time with your fellow Richmonders! It’s about wearing your kids out so they’ll sleep for days and days and days! So tuck those tiny ones in your baby carrier of choice and let the big kids put some mileage on those sneakers—you’ll thank me once bedtime rolls around.

4. Find the folks in blue

Our son doesn’t tend to wander off, but I figure there’s a first time for everything. In the off chance that—God forbid—we get separated, I like him to know what to do and who to go to for help. Thankfully, the Richmond Folk Festival makes those people really easy to spot. This year’s volunteers will sport these bright blue T-shirts:

(Image courtesy of Venture Richmond and the Richmond Folk Festival)

Once you arrive, take a minute to point out the Folk Festival volunteers to the little ones you’ve got in tow. That way, if your kid suddenly looks up to find he’s been following the wrong pair of legs for the last 10 minutes, all he needs to do is stay put until he sees one of those blue T-shirts—which will take all of three seconds because the place is always teeming with these friendly folks who are more than willing to help you out.

5. Pack (many, many) snacks

While I’m a big fan of fully surrendering to the temptation inspired by food prepared in a truck and/or presented on a stick, I’m not a big fan of standing in line with my “staaaaarving” child to get it. And with all that walking, I can guarantee you your child will be starving. All the time. In fact, she will probably declare she is starving as she shoves her fifth baggie of goldfish crackers into her mouth. We’ll surely partake in some of the Folk Festival’s fantastic culinary offerings (I mean, La Milpa and Croaker’s Spot?), but you can bet your sweet bippy we’ll have every snack we can think of tucked away in every pocket of every backpack on our persons—even if we only end up using them to hold off hunger-fueled tantrums while we wait in line for the legit festival fare.

6. Embrace the chance to escape

The Richmond Folk Festival is a great place to bring your kids to experience new and different kinds of music—but all of that auditory learnin’ can overwhelm some kids. Give your kids a chance to take a break from the hubbub with a stop in at the American Civil War Center (free admission during the festival, holla!) or find one of Brown’s Island’s many nooks and crannies for some river-watching or rock-throwing (into the water, of course, not at each other).

7. Bring change

As in years past, the Bucket Brigade will be out in full force this weekend, encouraging attendees to contribute a little cash to the cause of keeping the Richmond Folk Festival free—to “put a drop in the bucket,” as they call it. Divvy up your spare change into plastic bags for each of your little ones and let them experience the satisfying “kerplunk” of each coin hitting the bottom of those big, orange buckets. They’ll love the big fuss sure to made over them by the members of the Bucket Brigade–and the stickers they get for each donation shouldn’t hurt either.

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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