Singing in the Rain: Why the Folk Fest Brings out the Best of Richmond


About the Project

Every year, on the second weekend in October, roughly 220,000 people descend on Richmond’s historic downtown riverfront to enjoy music and cultural traditions performed by artists from all over the world, from Tuvan throat singing to the Delta blues. The Richmond Folk Festival brings the world to Richmond, featuring 40 of the “best artists you’ve never heard before” who perform on 7 tented stages. The FREE 3-day event also includes a massive Folklife exhibit, a crafts marketplace, family area and more. But, ask anyone who has been to the Richmond Folk Festival about what it is that makes it special and you’ll hear that it’s so much more than the music. It is a feeling that is hard to describe because sometimes words alone fail to communicate how a festival celebrating obscure, generations-old traditions can bring out the best in our community. That’s why, in 2016, we asked our client, Venture Richmond, the organization that puts on the Richmond Folk Festival, to let us produce a documentary-style video that would convey the experience to those who have not yet attended. We had no idea what we would be up against.
video production - Richmond Folk Festival
“It was the worst single weather day we have had in 12 years, without a doubt,”  Venture Richmond executive director Lisa Sims told the Richmond Times Dispatch in 2016.
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Richmond Folk Festival Production Schedule

The general game plan was to produce a 2 minute, documentary-style video featuring Richmonders of all walks of life sharing what they love best about the festival. 

We had it all worked out. The big idea was to talk to some festival organizers and volunteers on the job, hold some man-on-the-street interviews with various attendees and film a little b-roll on site and around Richmond to capture the essence of the festival.

We coordinated with our film crew from Let People See and landed on a two-camera set up that would allow us to capture various elements of the festival’s sights and sounds. We lined up a schedule of interviews with staff and volunteers, prepared questions, man-on-the-street interviews and created an itemized shot list of b-roll that would convey the general festival experience. 

And yes, we checked the weather. We knew we’d probably have to contend with a little rain. We almost always do.

The worst weather event in the festival’s history

Less than a week before the Richmond Folk Festival, Hurricane Matthew, then a category 5 storm, was barreling toward the Caribbean and was set to hit the US east coast just days before the 3-day festival was scheduled to begin. 

Since its debut in 2005, the Richmond Folk Festival has seen it through its fair share of inclement weather. One year it’s a crisp and cool autumn, the next it’s a hot, muggy Indian summer. In between, there have always been bouts of rain.

But, nothing like this. As the threat of a hurricane loomed, we were faced with the possibility of torrential downpours and powerful wind gusts. 

Everyone wanted to know: would the Richmond Folk Festival still go on?

In short, yes. Matthew was downgraded to a tropical storm and gone was the threat of forceful winds ripping through the festival. All we had to face now was the rain. And the forecast was predicting a lot of it.

Credit: WTVR-TV/CBS6

Grey clouds rolled in on Friday, the first evening of the festival, as the bagpipes played for volunteers who had chosen the site for their wedding nuptials. Our camera crew came in from a shoot in DC to scout the area and shoot whatever b-roll they could between Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting.

But it did not just rain on Saturday. It poured. That morning, we woke to buckets of rain dousing the city like a forgotten water faucet. And we wondered, what on earth are we going to shoot? Would anyone bother to come to the festival on a day like this? How do you shoot a festival without crowd shots? 

Look for the diehards

We had to film a few of our staff indoors and got creative to change up the scenery. Our intern followed the crew around with an umbrella as they sought to capture performances and interview artists backstage. With fans quickly ducking in and out of tents for rain cover, we nixed our plans for man-on-the-street interviews. Instead, we resolved to film a few close-ups of some of the festival’s die-hard fans (I mean, who else would show up on a day like this?). 

Venturing out to see what we could film, I remember thinking to myself how strange and sad it would be to see these artists, who had come from all over the globe, performing for tiny crowds. 

But, the tents were full of people. Happy, drenched Folk Festival fans hunkering down with their neighbors, smiling ear to ear. The diehards had come. And there were thousands of them. 

Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Here comes the sun

We went home that night exhausted and soaked to the bone, but with the reassuring feeling that we had made the best of it. The weather forecast for Sunday was clear and sunny, so there would still be a chance to shoot some brighter, drier footage. 

Indeed, the skies were clear and the sun came out that morning. But the festival grounds had turned into a mud pit from all the rain. Discarded shoes and other debris were stuck, abandoned in the thick mud, making it look more like a warzone than a family-friendly festival. But none of this deterred the crowds, who came in record numbers, buoyant with enthusiasm and gratitude.

The crew divided into teams, interviewing families, couples, and music fans sporting their Richmond Folk Festival tee-shirts. We snagged b-roll footage of people lining up at the stages, including closeups of food vendors preparing meals and wide shots of crowds clapping to the music along with their neighbors. 

Style Weekly called it “Richmond at its Best.” And to think, we caught all on camera.  



Help people who have never been to the Richmond Folk Festival understand what to expect from the experience.


Capture the spirit of the festival in a 2 minute video that can be shared with partners to promote the event. 


The Richmond Folk Festival costs approximately $1.5 million to produce, but it remains free to the public thanks to contributions from corporate sponsors, volunteers, and individual donations. Had festival organizers not already invested in its fan base, we would not only have had very little to film, but the shortfall in donations would have been especially difficult to overcome. 

But thankfully, despite the weather conditions, approximately 125,000 people came out to Richmond Folk Festival that soggy weekend in 2016 – and contributed $75,000 to the cause.

The video we produced after the festival ended has provided valuable content that the Richmond Folk Festival has used for promotion since 2017. The National Council for the Arts liked it so much, they also used elements of the video to support the marketing efforts of the National Folk Festival.

“From the festival website to press coverage across diverse media in Richmond to special projects like an e-newsletter and a very successful promotional video (filmed in hurricane-like conditions, no less), the team working to promote the Richmond Folk Festival has matured significantly due to the vision and leadership of VANCE.” – Blaine Waide, National Council for the Traditional Arts
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