The National Folk Festival was held in Richmond, Virginia, from 2005-2007, serving as the springboard for the Richmond Folk Festival, widely considered the “crown jewel” of the city’s annual cultural calendar. Local nonprofit Citycelebrations, working in collaboration with Richmond Renaissance and several other local groups and special initiatives, led the city’s effort to bring the festival to Richmond. These groups initially envisioned the National Folk Festival as a signature event in the commemoration of Richmond’s 400th anniversary, one which would showcase the city’s newly revitalized historic downtown riverfront. Presented in this beautiful and deeply historical setting along the James River, the National Folk Festival residency in Richmond would become one of the most successful in the festival’s ’s long history.
Richmond was founded on land formerly inhabited by the Powhatan confederacy of tribes. Established as an European trading post in the early 17th century, the future capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia would play a central role in some of the most defining events in American history. The city where Patrick Henry cried “Give me liberty or give me death!” at the dawn of the Revolutionary War would also become the second largest point of entry for enslaved people in North America and the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War. This dichotomy and complex history is still felt by Richmond residents today, and reflects the ongoing national pursuit to fulfill the country’s founding principles of equality, liberty, and justice for all people.
The National Folk Festival, with its broadly inclusive cultural representation and egalitarian stance, provided joyous inspiration as this venerable city has reimagined itself in the 21st century. Residents regard it as the event that bridged longstanding community divisions to bring all of Richmond together in ways long hoped. By 2007, the final year of the National, attendance had more than tripled, to 175,000. Building upon this resounding success, in 2008 the Richmond Folk Festival debuted, and set a new attendance record. Produced by Venture Richmond, a downtown development nonprofit organization that emerged when Citycelebrations, Richmond Renaissance, and several other community organizations joined forces, and the NCTA, this free, 3-day event features more than 30 performing groups on 7 stages, the vibrant Virginia Folklife Area & Stage celebrating regional traditions, a family area programmed by the city’s Children’s Museum, an arts marketplace, and a broad selection of regional and international cuisine served by dozens of local vendors. Drawing enthusiastic, passionate crowds regularly numbering over 200,000 in good weather, the festival is among the most beloved cultural events in Virginia. Showing no signs of slowing down after more than 15 years, it’s no surprise that the Richmond Folk Festival’s unofficial designation is “the best thing Richmond has ever done.”