The folks behind the festival

With the Richmond Folk Festival just a few weeks away, programming committee members Chris Bopst (pictured) and Tim Timberlake share exactly what goes into the musical selection process… and their personal perspectives on who they like to see on stage.

The Richmond Folk Festival is the melting pot of music. Take a little go-go, bluegrass, Eastern European throat singing, and salsa dura and you have something for every ear. Obviously the festival is known for the variety and quality of the music offered. For this we can thank the programming committee — the group of music enthusiasts responsible for choosing exactly who and what is going to be featured at the festival. Committee members Chris Bopst (pictured above) and Tim Timberlake shared with RVANews exactly what goes into the musical selection process and their personal perspectives on who they like to see on stage.

Meet the Music Lovers

Committee members are selected for their contributions to and immersion in Virginian’s music scene. They are, as Bospt says, “music nerds.”

Bopst is known in Richmond for playing in rock bands such as Alter Natives and GWAR and is a DJ and a promoter of RVA music. He also podcasts The Bopst Show on RVANews, which he describes on Myspace as “your musical penicillin in a world trying to give you audio syphilis.”

Tim Timberlake is a bluegrass and country music enthusiast who has been immersed in the genres for 30 years. Throughout his career he has been a radio show host, stage manager, and producer, and has become acquainted with bluegrass greats such as Sam Bush and Bill Monroe. Timberlake also started the non-profit JAMinc which seeks to keep American folk traditions alive. JAMinc will be selecting six musicians from this year’s folk festival line-up to perform at Richmond public schools.

The Guiding Theory

The folk festival’s programming committee always aims for diversity; with that comes a broad definition of folk music determined by the National Council of Traditional Arts, the organization that helped Richmond start the festival in the first place. Basically folk music is any that is “rooted in the cultural life of a community [and] shaped by values and standards of excellence that are passed from generation to generation.” As Bopst says “it is any form of music indigenous to a culture.”

Due to this principle, programming meetings tend to be about pushing for music within your genre but appreciating other styles.

“A lot of us have been hearing things that we haven’t before,” Timberlake says about their discussions. “There is so much good music that you did not even know existed.”

Of course there is always your occasional “purist that wants what classifies as traditional folk music within a genre culture,” Bopst says. He points out that some who favor bluegrass, gospel and country are the sticklers for what should and shouldn’t be allowed for their genre. But generally, “everyone is on the same page over half the time. No one is a fascist.”

Personal Opinion

Timberlake shares the views of most committee members: folk music is all encompassing. Outside of his genre, he seeks to counteract the “stereotype that folk music is a bunch of guys in button down shirts like in A Mighty Wind.” Within his genre he is, “looking to find artists who have the legacy of growing up in bluegrass but have taken it to their own place.” He tends to select music that has educational as well as entertainment value. He approves of the selection of the Boukman Eksperyans for their music on recovery after the earthquake in Haiti and Donald Harrison and the Congo Square Nation for theirs on the effects of Katrina on New Orleans. Timberlake refers to music as the “wonderful common denominator that can be the solution to the world’s problems.”

Bopst says of his choices that the committee “knows they can always get the weirdo vote from me.” He was adamant about the selection of Ensemble Shanbehzadeh for their use of the “ney anban” (Iranian bagpipe). He loves different and eclectic instruments and is tired of just the “bass, drum and guitar,” of much of American music. Bopst also favors political lyrics to match edgy musicianship which draws him to Middle Eastern musicians such as Ensemble Shanbehzadeh. Due to his taste for the unconventional, his picks branch off from their traditional roots. About his preferences he says, “It’s exciting when music goes through a change where the purists don’t like it.”

More Information

For more information about the Folk Festival and its line-up, stop by the RVANews Richmond Folk Festival Guide.

For more about Tim Timberlake’s non-profit, JAMinc, stop by

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Leah Small

Leah served as our editorial intern during the Fall of 2009. She is a VCU student who thoroughly loves Richmond, its niche culture, and all there is to see and do.

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