Despite Saturday’s relentless rain, the Richmond Folk Festival drew a steady flow of festivalgoers, though seemingly far fewer than usual. Organizers hope to attract many more people today with drier weather.
Today’s high is expected to be in the mid- to upper 60s, with about a 30 percent chance of rain, a welcome reprieve from the constant rain Saturday.
“We would do it no matter how bad the weather was. We love the Folk Festival,” Richmond resident John Hay said Saturday while standing in the rain, beer in hand and smiling.
Many carried umbrellas and wore rain jackets, and people with boots were glad to have them as the festival terrain became very muddy.
While organizers did not provide any attendance estimates for Saturday, they had hoped to attract about 200,000 people over the course of the festival, which ends today.
The Fairfield Four, a gospel quartet, helped kick off Saturday’s performances by drawing whistles and a standing ovation under a packed tent.
Food vendors had mostly short lines during the afternoon hours. At one point, a server with no customers spotted a festivalgoer who had paused briefly to look at the food options before continuing to walk, prompting the server to holler: “Hey, hey, come back!”
A member of the so-called Bucket Brigade, the crew that accepts donations for the free festival, stood on the Dominion stage and welcomed the audience to the second day of the festival in what she called “beautiful weather.”
Before Saturday’s performances, festival director Lisa Sims said she hoped the rain wouldn’t be enough to stop people from coming out to see the array of performers.
“Bring your rain gear, and get your folk on!” Sims said.
“This is the best thing that Richmond does,” said Elizabeth McQuiddy, who lives in Chesterfield County. “It’s so diverse. The feeling of people together is the strongest draw for me. You really feel linked.”
“Once you come just once, you’re hooked,” she said.
Curtains of rain fell on every side of The Community Foundation’s tent, where spectators nodded their heads in unison, listening to Irish folk musicians Paddy Keenan and Jimmy Noonan.
When the musicians began playing a particularly upbeat Irish reel, one man stood in the aisle and danced a jig.
Richmond resident Craig Wilson clapped along with the other spectators. He said the rain didn’t make him hesitate to come to the festival, which he has been attending since its inception.
Wilson is a fan of Irish music, but he said he returns to the Folk Festival year after year because of the variety.
“You hear music here you’ll never hear anywhere else,” he said. “And (the festival organizers) have kept it that way over the years.”
McQuiddy and Richmond resident Peter Antinoipoulos went to Ireland earlier this year, which was one of the reasons they wanted to see the Irish musicians.
“It should be called the International Music Festival,” Antinoipoulos said. “The quality of the music is incredible.”
Jenny Friar and Chris Milk, a young couple who live in Oregon Hill, near the annual festival at Brown’s Island, said they are excited to be able to hear the festivities from their house. They have gone to the festival every year since its inception.
The event is so popular that free parking is extremely difficult to come by. They said many Oregon Hill residents leave their vehicles parked near their homes throughout the festival, knowing they would have a hard time getting a spot back if they left.
Friar said the festival exposes people to diverse cultures, far more so than what Richmonders might otherwise see.
“It can be sort of an island culturally,” Friar said of Richmond. “This is sort of flinging the door open to different cultures.”
Richmond resident Grace Muth brought her siblings — Madeline Muth from Philadelphia and Parry Muth from Baltimore — and their significant others, Pedro Purcell and Marisa Harris, to the festival this year, after they had attended three years ago and enjoyed the experience.
It rained the first time they attended, too. But Purcell said this year the rain made the festival even more fun.
“Richmond’s a really awesome city,” Madeline Muth said. “It’s very pretty.”
“It has the same historical vibe as Philadelphia,” Purcell said. “It’s really cool.”
Under the Richmond Times-Dispatch tent, St. Louis beatboxers Ed Cage and his daughter Nicole Paris talked about the history of beatboxing and what it’s like performing with family members during the newspaper’s 67th Public Square.
“The only type of instrument I had was making beats with my mom,” Cage said. “That’s our music, that’s how we communicate with each other.”
When Paris was young, Cage would beatbox her to sleep, and sometimes she would join in with him.
“I knew she had the gift,” he said.
Paris became serious about beatboxing in college, she said. Now that she performs with her dad, she said every day is a jam session.
“Sometimes it will start up with Pops, and he’ll start beatboxing and I’ll get really excited,” she said.
Beatboxing originated in New York, Cage said. In the early 1980s, when the music reached St. Louis, he and other beatboxers would stand next to the DJ and emulate the music to see if they could do what the DJ does.
But since then, he has pulled away from imitating different songs with his voice. He now tries to express himself by coming up with different beats off the top of his head, as well as encouraging his daughter to explore the different types of sounds she can make.
“Her sound is so unorthodox,” he said. “Sometimes we’d be onstage and she’d do a beat and I literally have to contain myself because the compilation of beats she’s doing is just fantastic.”
For Cage, the best part about performing is being onstage with his daughter.
“Twenty years ago, I never would have thought in a million years I’d be standing side by side with her, beatboxing,” he said. “I was a young father at 16 in the street life, and I was able to transform my life. I enjoy talking to young men about that, and the proof is my daughter sitting next to me — that’s the proof of the transformation.”
Cage and Paris performed Saturday and are scheduled for a performance today at 4:15 p.m. on the Community Foundation stage.
The weather didn’t dampen the Strickler family’s spirits. Christina and Mark Strickler, who live in Henrico County, said they encourage their relatives Joyce and Kevin Strickler, who live in Fairfax, to come down almost every year for the Folk Festival.
“It’s just wonderful,” Christina Strickler said.
And they said they refuse to let the weather put a time limit on the experience, either.
“We’ll be here all day,” Mark Strickler said. “We’ll have a great time no matter what.”