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N.C. Folk Festival in Greensboro attendance grew to about 156K this year

GREENSBORO — This year’s N.C. Folk Festival attracted an estimated 156,000 people to center city, an increase over the 2018 festival.

About 4% more people attended the free, three-day outdoor multicultural celebration from Sept. 6 to 8 under hot but clear skies. It featured hundreds of musicians, dancers and storytellers, and craft, food and beverage vendors.

“It shows we have got a strong base of support,” festival Director Amy Grossmann said Wednesday. “Each year, that is increasing as we expand what we are doing in programming and promoting the festival.”

Because it’s a non-ticketed event, organizers based attendance estimates on information from the city, merchandise and beverage sales, vendor reports and drone photography.

September marked the second year of the N.C. Folk Festival. It spun out of the National Folk Festival’s three-year residency in the city from 2015-2017.

This year featured 106 performances and workshops by more than 45 different artists at five outdoor performance venues and nine indoor venues.

Grossmann attributed the rise in attendance to the lineup of performers, and to the weather.

Among the most popular acts: renowned soul musician Booker T. Jones, who attracted an audience that overflowed the Lincoln Financial parking lot at East Market and Davie streets.

Also popular were the Irish band Lúnasa and Mount Airy sacred steel band The Allen Boys.

The new Folk Fest Music Spots program — presented in partnership with the Fiddle & Bow Society and Downtown Greensboro Inc. — placed several performing artists inside downtown businesses.

The 2019 festival also introduced two ways for people to support and enjoy the celebration: the N.C. Folk A’Fare culinary fundraiser two days before festival weekend, and The Lounge, a ticketed and catered area hosted with NAI Piedmont Triad.

Although the festival is free to attend, it’s not free to produce.

ArtsGreensboro and the city government produce the festival, with financial support from sponsors and the labor of volunteers. It costs about $1 million in cash and $500,000 in in-kind contributions of equipment, space, advertising and time.

Organizers asked audiences to donate $10 per person per day to the blue Bucket Brigade that circulated through the crowd. That brought in about $70,000.

Dollars raised from the Bucket Brigade and beverage sales increased by more than 15%.

More than 70 sponsors and 100 Friends of the Festival made it possible to produce the event and pre-festival performances for children at seven Guilford County public schools.

TowneBank, which has expanded from Virginia into Greensboro, became the presenting sponsor for this year’s festival.

Scott Baker, president of TowneBank Triad Market, called its sponsorship “a great way to introduce ourselves to the market.”

The festival, Baker said in a news release, “brings both economic and cultural development while providing a fun, engaging and family-friendly weekend for our citizens. We were thrilled to support this gift that the N.C. Folk Festival and City of Greensboro have worked so hard to develop.”

Because of that support, Grossmann said, early indications are that the festival will be in the black. “We had an incredible year,” she said.

Early Halloween tricks and treats

Families got to celebrate Halloween a little early Wednesday at Summerfield Farms’ 5th Annual Tractor and Treat. The event featured trunk-or-treating, inflatables and food trucks, along with hot cocoa and apple cider to sip by a fire pit. Pony rides and tractor wagon rides were also offered, and families could show off their creative sides in the costume contest.

Skepticism grows on Medicaid overhaul rollout for February

RALEIGH — Skepticism grew on Wednesday that a massive change in administering North Carolina Medicaid’s program will start as scheduled early next year as a state budget stalemate continues and doctors and hospitals worry whether details are ready.

The shift to managed care benefits for 1.6 million of the state’s 2.2 million Medicaid recipients is supposed to begin Feb. 1, but final funding and details are hung up in a legislative showdown between Republican legislators and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. One rollout date for covering patients in one-quarter of the state’s counties — previously set for Nov. 1 — already has been pushed back to the statewide date.

Speaking to House members during a hearing, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen expressed optimism that the “right budget” could still be hammered out before mid-November, which she describes as the deadline to go online in February.

“I know that there is a package there that can work for everyone,” Cohen told the House Health Committee.

But a key Republican lawmaker on health care matters said a budget agreement was unlikely and suggested the start be pushed to next summer.

“I would advocate for some realistic review of this schedule and even considering pushing this off until July 1,” Rep. Donny Lambeth of Forsyth County, the committee’s co-chairman, told Cohen. “I just don’t see that that’s a realistic timeline with where we are today. And I know you don’t want to do that. I know there’s consequences of delays.”

Rep. Verla Insko of Orange County, the Democrats’ leading expert on Medicaid, said pushing back the rollout also sounded reasonable.

A lot is riding on the move, which Cohen called the biggest change to N.C. Medicaid since it began decades ago. Failure would reflect poorly on both Cooper and GOP legislators.

Medicaid is moving from a traditional fee-for-service model to one in which four private insurers and a physicians’ partnership awarded contracts by the state will receive fixed monthly payments for every patient seen. Health officials say the changes should lead to improved health outcomes and more fiscal stability for Medicaid, which spends about $4 billion in state tax dollars annually. The federal government covers an additional $12 billion.

The shift is a monumental effort that includes enrolling Medicaid recipients, setting payment rates, building and testing information technology systems and preparing counties who enroll beneficiaries and providers who treat them.

“This is really years of work in the making,” Cohen said. “This is big and this is hard.”

So far about 70,000 enrollees have chosen one of the statewide or regional coverage plans, and about 40% of the medical providers who have seen a Medicaid patient over the past year have entered into service contracts, said Dave Richard, a deputy secretary who leads the Medicaid program.

The potential delay surfaced when the governor vetoed the overall two-year budget bill in June that contained the transition funds to complete “Medicaid transformation.” He cited in part the lack of Medicaid enrollment for hundreds of thousands of additional adults through the 2010 federal health care law.

Republicans are largely opposed to this Medicaid expansion, but they also lack veto-proof majorities in both chambers. Their disinterest in negotiations involving expansion contributed to the four-month impasse. GOP legislators approved a stand-alone bill in August addressing only the managed-care matters, but Cooper vetoed that too, saying health care needed to be addressed “comprehensively.”

Cohen said any agreement also needs to ensure that $42 million in administrative cuts to DHHS in the vetoed budget are restored and that the department isn’t forced to move out of Raleigh. The budget law directed DHHS move to Granville County.

Even should an agreement be reached in the next three weeks, representatives of trade groups for the state’s hospitals and physicians raised warning flags about whether colleagues will be prepared by February for the exponentially complicated process.

“We’re trying to guard against any kind of failure,” said Chip Baggett, senior vice president at the North Carolina Medical Society.

An interesting article in today's newspaper

New moniker: N.C. A&T names business school in honor of alumnus and donor Willie A. Deese. Page A3