An Argentine tango quartet, a band that plays West African “highlife” music, Japanese taiko drumming, a troupe that does South Indian dance and about 296 other acts – over three days on seven stages.
All this on the streets of downtown Greensboro, 90 minutes up I-85 from Charlotte. Head there next week – Sept. 11-13 – for the National Folk Festival, one of the biggest cultural events in the Southeast this year.
The National Folk Festival is a free-admission outdoor array of performances that celebrates high-caliber American and international music and dance and other ethnic crowd-pleasers.
“The National” (www.ncta-usa.org) is one of the largest folk festivals in America: It attracts crowds of 100,000 during its annual run. And it is considered the oldest multi-cultural arts event in the country. It began in St. Louis in 1938 and has been on the road ever since; in recent years, most residencies have been three years.
It resumes after a multi-year hiatus: It was to be held in Nashville, Tenn., 2011-2013, but a disastrous flood after its first year there caused its parent organization, the National Council for the Traditional Arts, to pull the plug for 2012 and 2013. 2014 was used for city selection and planning.
It returns in 2015 for its 75th incarnation, and for the first of a three-summer engagement in downtown Greensboro. ArtsGreensboro is co-producing the residency; Belk is a major sponsor.
The three days offer 300 artists showcasing everything from traditional music of Newfoundland and Belize to rod puppets from China and oud music from Iraq.
Big-name performers include Mavis Staples, the gospel/soul/R&B singer who was part of The Staples Singers, and The Monitors – the soul/jazz/R&B band whose former lead singer was Roberta Flack.
The Monitors cut their teeth in Wilson. Other acts during the festival run also represent the Carolinas. The N.C. A&T State drumline is leading the opening parade. Stage acts include Bobby Hicks (bluegrass fiddle), The Buckstankle Boys (old-time and bluegrass), Down Home (Americana), The Harris Brothers (Appalachian bluegrass, blues), The Jeff Little Trio (bluegrass piano), John Dee Holeman with Williette Hinton (Piedmont blues), The Branchettes (African-American sacred music), Wayne Henderson (Appalachian guitar), clogging by the Todd Family Dancers, The Welch Family (Cherokee gospel), Cherokee dancing by the Warriors of AniKituwha and Cherokee storytelling by Lloyd Arneach.
One entire stage will be given over to N.C. performances.
In addition to the seven stages, there will be events at Center City Park and an N.C. Folklife Demonstration Area (pottery is showcased). There is also an N.C. Arts Marketplace with food and arts/crafts vendors.
All but two venues are within three blocks of North Elm Street and Friendly Avenue; transportation in the immediate area will be restricted. (The two other venues are off South Elm Street.)
City-owned parking decks in the festival area will provide up to 2,300 spaces ($10). To cut down on traffic and parking hassles, city buses will operate free of charge during the festival. There are two shuttle stops in the festival area.
Worldwide fun – for free
National Folk Festival hours: 5:45-10:30 p.m. Friday, noon-10:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday (Sept. 12-13). Details (including schedules and maps): www.nationalfolkfestival.com.