GREENSBORO — Peppe Delatore waves a red and white Peruvian flag as his charges arrive in the lobby of the Marriott hotel downtown.
His primary duty at the North Carolina Folk Festival on this afternoon is to make sure Peruvian brass band La Patronal gets to the stage on time.
But his job is also to connect Greensboro with the world and make sure the artists “feel at home.”
Delatore is one the 53 green-shirted “artist buddies” at the Folk Festival this weekend.
They drive the performers around, keep them hydrated and help carry their instruments. They even do some interpreting. This year’s roster of artist buddies includes speakers of Spanish, Mandarin, Portuguese and Russian.
“We try to make the process as easy as possible for the artists,” Delatore said. “You’re a host. Some of these are experienced musicians, but some are newbies. They’re far away from home. We’re the connection between them, the festival and the people.”
Born in Italy, Delatore grew up in Argentina and Peru, and speaks several languages. He has lived in the United States for about 20 years, and in his professional life he works as a medical interpreter.
Three years ago, seeking some volunteer work that would use his language skills, he became involved with the National Folk Festival, the precursor to the North Carolina Folk Festival. He has been an Artist Buddy since.
Though he describes himself as a rocker, listening to artists like Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis in his free time, he said working the festival has given him an appreciation for different types of music.
“Two years ago, they told me I was in charge of a group of Mariachis,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Mariachis, four guys in sombreros playing around the table while you eat.’ But when they came, they were a 13-piece group. And every trumpet, violin and voice was explosive. Everybody was dancing. It was amazing. This really opens your eyes.”
Delatore and the other volunteers say the most difficult part of their job is keeping track of everyone, especially when dealing with the larger groups.
“Sometimes it’s like herding cats,” artist buddy David Wright said. “Last year, I took a group to the stage. Ten minutes before the performance, one of them said, ‘I’m hungry’ went to grab lunch. I had to go chase him down, and the band was already on stage before I got him back in the proper place.”
Delatore recalled one band member who failed to show up on time after a night of drinking. He was eventually found in his hotel room.
Some of the artist buddies occasionally find themselves in a position to help the performers with the music itself.
Peg Parham, who helps coordinate volunteer activities for the festival, said the husband of one of the artist buddies works on violins and repairs bows.
“And (bluegrass fiddler) Bobby Hicks needed his bow rehaired. So she, at 10 p.m., took his bow and brought it to her husband.”
At the Marriott, all 13 members of La Patronal along with their manager gather and walk outside to a van. Delatore shuffles them in and then boards another van carrying their instruments. They arrive at the Dance Pavilion, where Haitian Afrobeat group Wesli is still on stage. The musicians gather up their instruments, and slip on some blue vests. Some also put on masks. To a solemn brass tune, they march to the stage, where they come alive. Several of the members hop down and begin dancing with the audience.
Delatore stands to the side and watches. After their first song, he hands towels to one of the musicians. He offers up some compliments, among them “muy lindo” — very beautiful.
“This is the wonder of being a host,” Delatore said. “You get to talk to the artists and get acquainted with them, make them feel important, because they are important. They bring a lot of happiness to people.”