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VPM Music Broadcasts Virtual Richmond Folk Festival

Maggie Ingram and The Ingramattes (Photo by Michael G. Stewart)
Maggie Ingram was considered the queen of gospel music in Richmond. Her 2007 performance will be one of 22 different performances broadcast this weekend on VPM Music. Photo by Michael G. Stewart. 
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Joshua Nelson (Photo by Skip Rowland)
Joshua Nelson is a member of a Black Hebrew congregation in New Jersey but he grew up listening to his grandmother's records of Mahalia Jackson. He sings "Kosher Gospel," combining Jewish liturgical texts with gospel musical traditions. (Photo by Skip Rowland) 
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Dr. Michael White (Photo by Skip Rowland)
Dr. Michael White has dedicated himself to keeping alive the traditions of early New Orleans Jazz. His performance with the Original Liberty Jazz Band will kick off the Virtual Richmond Folk Festival Friday evening at 6 on VPM Music. (Photo by Skip Rowland)
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The pandemic has caused everyone to rethink plans for live events. The Richmond Folk Festival, which brought in about 220,000 people last year, isn’t going to happen in the same way this year. But there is going to be a VIRTUAL festival. Online, on television and throughout the weekend on VPM Music. 

Julia Olin is the artistic director and former executive director at the National Council for the Traditional Arts. She sifted through thousands of hours of music captured between 2005 and 2019  to put together a program featuring 22 different groups.  

“We really are trying to give the listener a feel of what it would really feel like to be at the festival live,” Olin says. “We're trying to capture as much of that feeling through the variety and diversity of the artists presented in the virtual festival.” 

That diverse program features artists from home and abroad, secular and sacred, including three distinct gospel traditions from Virginia. 

A performance by Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes is scheduled Friday evening. 

“Maggie Ingram was considered the Queen of Richmond gospel,” Olin says. ”When she passed away in 2015, 4,000 people attended her memorial service.’ 

Unaccompanied sacred music will be the focus Sunday at noon, beginning with the haunting sounds of Reverend Frank Newsome, who preaches at a church in Buchanan county and sings Old Regular Baptist hymns. He will be followed by a quartet from Virginia’s Tidewater region: The Paschal brothers, who Olin describes as “an a capella group… that is heir to the legacy of great, great groups like the Golden Gate quartet. So it's an African American gospel quartet style.” 

A very different type of gospel tradition is found in the music of Joshua Nelson, who calls his style kosher gospel. 

“I can't talk about Joshua Nelson without a smile on my face,” says Olin. "He's a melding of the gospel vocal style of Mahalia Jackson, with traditional Jewish liturgical music. He belongs to a black Hebrew congregation in New Jersey that is a very, very old congregation. But when he was a kid, he got into his grandmother's 78s and fell in love with Mahalia Jackson. So he is singing gospel music in Hebrew… It's just the most amazing thing."

The folk festival always includes music from other countries and continents. This year’s virtual lineup is no different with artists from points all over including Ireland, Jamaica, Africa, Italy and Russia. One of the most exotic sounds is the throat singing of Altai KAI, from the Altai Republic in Central Asia, part of the Russian Federation. 

They were the first group to bring throat singing to the festival, says Olin. "(It) started a mini-explosion of interest in throat singing in Richmond. And they're just superb." 

The acts mentioned so far just scratch the surface of what’s being offered this weekend. There’s blues, gypsy jazz, Indian slide guitar, traditional music from Quebec, fado music from Portugal and more. 

Go here to find the schedule of performers on VPM Music throughout the weekend. Find more information on the Virtual Richmond Folk Festival, including performances being made available online and on VPM PBS Plus at vpm.org/folk.