Saturday, October 15, 2011

Good God, Paul, Never?

I wouldn't have thought it possible, but I have a musician friend who had never been to the Folk Fest.

Not during the three years it was the National Folk Fest and not during the three years since RVA took it over.

Good god, I had no choice but to pop that cherry for him.

In my effort to ensure that he enjoyed himself, we saw six of the seven performances tonight, requiring that we we cross back and forth between the hill and Brown's Island four times.

Luckily, neither of us minds a walk.

We began under the "Richmond at its Best" banner with Cape Breton duo Mary Jane Leonard and Wendy MacIsaac doing their new/old take on Scottish music.

Introducing a Gaelic love song, Mary Jane explained the lyrics she'd be singing in Gaelic. Girl loves boy, boy dumps girl, girl is heartbroken, Mom says if he returns she won't be sad.

"That's as upbeat as Gaelic love songs get," she said to laughter.

Jamaica's The Mighty Diamonds were next for us and their first song was a perfect analogy for the pastiche that is the Folk Fest.

This reggae band, who've been around since 1969, started with their version of Dave Brubek's "Take 5" from 1959.

Not that I knew that.

And therein lies the beauty of having a musician as a festival companion, even if he was a first-timer.

Our initial trip across the bridge was for Qi Shu Fang Peking Opera, a spectacle to be sure.

Part acrobatic with gravity-defying flips, part theatrical with elaborate costumes and staged fights, and completely compelling music with instruments I couldn't identify, it was a huge crowd pleaser, especially for the novice.

Our first foray into the dance pavilion was for Pedrito Martinez Group doing Afro-Cuban house party music that had more than a few people dancing.

Late in their set, a band member asked the crowd, "Who's going to come up here and dance with me?"

"I'm pretty sure it's not going to be me," my companion said drolly.

Two women made the cut before Pedrito removed his shirt to cool down from all the dancing and percussion-playing he was doing.

From behind me, I heard a mild-mannered-looking woman say, "I want that shirt!"

Which is to say, the band had the crowd seriously worked up.

It was a very different crowd for 74-year old blues guitarist Magic Slim and his group the Teardrops, who, while he needed to sit to play, still managed to impress on the guitar.

The last performance of the evening was Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys doing the Cajun thing back at the dance pavilion.

By that point in the evening, the tent was filled and enough alcohol had been consumed that lots of people were dancing.

One guy had his hat tied to his arm, a half-finished bag of popcorn tied to his belt, a big-old fanny pack actually on his fanny ("Probably full of gorp," my friend observed) and light-up Mardi Gras beads around his neck, but was dancing sweetly with his wife in spite of his pack load.

There were also plenty of girl couples dancing, either because they'd come with girlfriends or their men-folk didn't want to dance.

As we stood near a support pole for the tent listening to the accordion and multiple fiddles, my friend mentioned that he might resort to dancing with it.

I'd already instructed him not to tell anyone that he was a first-timer since I had a reputation to maintain.

"Oh, my status as a first-timer is the least of your worries," he'd assured me. "I could ruin your reputation any number of ways."

Now I realize he was talking about doing a pole dance to Cajun music.

That would have been a rookie mistake. Fortunately, he'd been warned.

But what a picture that would have been for one of the many Folk Fest photographers.

Richmond at its best indeed.

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