When beaming city leaders announced in 2014 that Greensboro had been awarded the National Folk Festival, we politely applauded.
Winning was good, we thought, even though we weren’t entirely sure what we’d won.
Sure, we were told during a Carolina Theater news conference, it was a big deal. But seeing was believing.
The festival’s three-year stay here was so successful (rave reviews from the public and more than 400,000 in total attendance) that we didn’t want the party to end.
So when the national event moved on, as it always does, to other cities, we created our own. The National Folk Festival begat the North Carolina Folk Festival in 2018, a spicy array of music, dance, food, crafts and craft beer in a colorful village of stages and tents in downtown Greensboro.
The three-day party starts Friday and is co-sponsored by ArtsGreensboro and the city of Greensboro. But in truth, it belongs to the people. And, as usual, expect a little bit of everything, 45 performances in all, from R&B to Irish to Cajun to Afro-Cuban to Hawaiian slack-key guitar to Highlander pipes to sacred steel.
Don’t have a clue what some of these genres are?
That’s cool. Neither do we.
One of the sweetest pleasures of the Folk Festival is the sense of discovery — as in getting really into a type of music or dance you didn’t know existed.
And every one of the concerts is free. Everybody is welcome. But the “free” part does come with an asterisk: If you’re able to donate to the festival, please do. Corporate and foundation sponsorships cover the lion’s share of the festival’s expenses, which total about $1.5 million. Another $100,000 would come from the state, if deadlocked Raleigh lawmakers ever pass a budget.
But community support remains critical. In past years the festival has dispatched “Bucket Brigades” to solicit contributions from the crowds. They’ll be out and about again this weekend, seeking $10 cash donations, which are tax-deductible. But there will be other ways to give this year.
If you’re not the type who carries cash, this year’s festival also will feature “DipJars,” which allow you to donate literally by dipping a credit card into the device. Or donors may contribute through the festival’s mobile app. New VIP attractions will provide yet another revenue stream.
For the record, the 2018 Bucket Brigade raised $60,000, down from the previous year’s take of $77,000. This year’s goal is to exceed $60,000. We can do that.
Another addition to this year’s festival will be special performances in some downtown businesses called “Music Spots.” The mini-concerts will feature 11 bands in eight businesses over two days and should expand the festival’s footprint and help boost foot traffic beyond the main stages. (One of the few complaints about past festivals is that they can shift the center of gravity so far away from downtown shops and restaurants that it hurts business.)
So buckle up. All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes and a willingness to explore.
Which brings us to the biggest charm of the Folk Festival: the folk. So many of so many different hues and languages and ethnicities, having a good time together in the sun-splashed heat of the day and the cool breezes of late-summer nights.
It recalls Greensboro’s now-defunct downtown street festival called CityStage.
Only it’s bigger and it’s better and it has an accent. Actually, it has a lot of them.