Monday, October 12, 2009

The Best Weekend of the Year (Richmond, VA)

Yesterday, as I was walking towards the river to attend the third day of the Richmond International Folk Festival, I was thinking that this really is quite a wonderful place to live.

A mere half an hour before the 12:15 start-time of Jorge Negron's Master Bomba Ensemble, whose music I was planning to dance to, I had wandered down the hill to the riverfront. I found a parking spot only two blocks from the pedestrian bridge I'd have to cross to reach the festival site.

The weather was gorgeous: cool, clear, and sunny. A light jacket countered the chill.

Food vendors were already selling to the "early" risers: frozen cheesecake on a stick and fried fair-style food (blooming onions, made-on-the-spot potato chips, and other artery cloggers), Thai curries, Jamaican stews, Greek kabobs, and more. One operation hawked vegetarian global cuisine, so even animal lovers would have no beef.

When I arrive at the Dance Stage, the band is sound checking. I'd already heard them the day before and they sounded even better. I strap on my dancing shoes and start tapping my toes, heels, and thighs to the beat.

The leader of the band is a former Richmonder who'd returned to Puerto Rico. He founded the group a mere six months ago, and I believe that this festival hosted their first public performances.

Two women and two men dance (mostly individually), challenging the drummers to mimic their rhythms. Three men play the drums (sorry if I can't tell you more about the different instruments, but the musicians certainly knew how to bring out the best in percussion). I dance to the infectious rhythms by myself and with others.

Later I mosey over to another stage. While others sit on the hill overlooking this outside venue, I stand unstill watching Greek cabaret singer Sophia Bilides, whose Arabic sounding melodies make my belly and hips ache to swivel.

Tuvan throat singers follow with their own remarkable performance. Sounding like frogs, birds, and humans all at once, they warble their immense love for their horses and, maybe a little less fervidly, their passion for their women. I am less inspired to dance than I am to try to figure out how many simultaneous notes and harmonies originate with each performer or to examine their interesting garments and footwear. (I am close to the stage, so it is pretty easy to do the latter, but not the former; I guess I would have to be peering down their throats....)

Phil Wiggins and Corey Harris sing and strum the blues, Joel Rubin plays klezmer music, the Hummingbirds soar with gospel. I stagger back to my car, hearing the sounds still emanating from the other venues.

All the above takes place on Sunday. I'd already spent hours dancing nonstop on Saturaday to Colombian brass papayera, New Orleans jazz, and Swamp Dogg's rhythm and blues. I'd heard the incredible Indian slide guitarist, Debashish Bhattacharya, and attended a presentation-explanation-demonstration by masters of slide guitar from different countries and styles. I'd listened to Irish musicians and watched Korean dancers. Friday night I'd danced to a zydeco band and an East African group.

I've seen a zillion people I know, sweated in the sun, been moistened by the rain. Music reverberates in my head for days afterward. Not a terrible thing. As a matter of fact, I highly recommend it.

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