Friday, October 12, 2012
Richmond Folk Festival: It's Diatribe Time!
I consider myself a pretty fair-minded guy. I don't normally go around looking to tell people how to live their lives or do their business -- unless it's my daughter and it's homework time. I'm told I can be pretty tenacious when I want to know something, or when I feel that some public figure is hiding something that they have a public obligation to reveal. As a journalist, I can be kind of weird about all that. But as a guy just walking around, living the life and shooting the shoot, I don't go looking to scold or foist my feelings on people willy-nilly. Maybe I did when I was much younger but not so much these days.
So it really pains me -- causes me heartbreak and makes me almost break out in a rash -- to have to tell certain people who attend the Richmond Folk Festival to please shut the fuck up.
Let me explain. Earlier tonight, I -- seated with a mass of first-night folk fest attendees -- found myself treated to a transcedental performance by the great Hector Del Curto Tango Quartet, a four-piece ensemble from Argentina led by the master bandoneon player Hector Del Curto. This exceptional quartet, augmented by an erotic and affecting tango dance duo, absolutely twisted my heart up with impassioned playing and exotic, intricate sounds that summoned up reservoirs of meaning and feeling. I nearly cried during some of their selections, and I'm not really the blubbery type.
Let me stop here and say that there are many great performers on tap for this year's installment of the folk festival, which has grown into the largest and most successful festival of its kind. There are so many wonderful acts that one simply can't catch them all, even with three days of trying. But if you intend on going to this year's installment, scheduled through Sunday, treat yourself to one of this group's performances -- you need to surrender to this music and allow it to take you over. And if you listen, really listen, it will happen. I guarantee it.
Let me put it in a more personal way: After being treated to this group's 45 minute set at the MWV Stage, I already began plotting the ways in which I would learn the bandoleon, the German-derived accordion that was handled in such a masterly way by bandleader Del Curto. It's an insane dream, I know, like saying that you intend to learn how to pilot fighter jets, practice brain surgery, or do the New York Times crossword puzzle with a pen. What folly! To think that you will ever play like this third-generation tango master plays is as futile a hope as wanting to learn to write like William Faulkner, box like Mike Tyson or dance like Michael Jackson. Del Curto displayed a virtuosity on his beautiful instrument that was as mind-boggling as it was soulful, and he made the whole thing seem so easy. Don't get me started on the rest of this band, who jelled in such a fragile and intricate way that they may as well have been miming to a recorded tape that took months to craft in a studio with Pro Tools.This was a performance that I will carry with me for some time, and the kind of experience that I always seem to have, once or twice, during the annual folk festival.
So why, during the show, was I fighting to actually HEAR this great music?
That's because the crowd on display insisted on jabbering, chit-chatting and blandly yakking its way through it - to the extent that the more subtle points of the sound were blurred and hard to hear. I'm not referring to the people who became lost in the music and had to express it -- the fans who found themselves whooping and clapping and interacting with the chord changes and stylish arrangements. Not at all. I certainly couldn't help but be vocal at times. I don't see how anyone could keep totally quiet when presented with art like this.
No, I'm referring to the people who used the occasion to foist their offhand chatter on the rest of us, and in tones as loud as possible, preventing their neighbors from actually hearing the music being presented.
I have no doubt that the experience that you had at Kroger earlier in the day, when you couldn't find those veal cutlets, is important to you. I'm sure it was. And your vocal opinion of Yankee skipper Joe Giraldi's managing skills is, for all I know, pressing enough that you needed to express it. Right now. And, yeah brah, it's a real shame that the beer vendor line was longer than your thirst could possibly bare. I have every confidence that, to you, the wait was an American tragedy.
But this is not the time nor the place to express any of those things in the way I heard them expressed tonight. And if you really think that it is, bless your heart, can you somehow find a way to whisper those concerns? The Lord above gave us the gift of voice but he also blessed us with a volume control. Try it out some time. Seriously, magpies, if you could please summon the ability to quietly share how much poundage your friend Edwina lost by using that Weight Watchers program, and maybe even do it after the show, those of us who are there to actually listen to the performers on display would greatly appreciate it.
This kind of thing seems to happen every year at the festival, unfortunately. And it's getting worse. As record crowds join in mass to attend this popular community gathering, it is inevitable that there will be more and more people who are there simply to see and be seen, to turn what is a stellar series of concerts into loud social club meetings with their pals.
At the same time that I spew all of this, I don't want to downplay how happy it makes me to see all of you chatterers there.. It's a fantastic thing that you and your friends and family want to come down to the folk fest and experience this event, for free, but these are performers who may never pass this way again. And I, and many others, actually want to hear them.
If you must loudly talk about how unfair Aunt Brenda was to Uncle Ted at the wedding last week, or how you felt when Paul Ryan wouldn't explain at the debate how those Romney tax cuts would be administered, do it elsewhere... not in the music tents. There are plenty of places throughout the festival site where you can hold those no-doubt-pressing conversations. There are many performers at the festival who play loud dance music which can mask your yips and your yaps, but there are just as many offering music that relies on contemplation, owes its power to subtle nuance -- like the Hector Del Curto Tango Quartet. And these loud conversations you are having about the bar you intend to frequent after the performance is over, or how you feel about Short Pump traffic snarls, are simply not as important to the rest of us as they are to you. And especially not here.
At the same time, don't misunderstand me. I don't want to be the kind of insufferable music snob who shushes people, like those anal-retentive presenters of classical or folk concerts who insist that all crowd involvment needs to be policed like it is a violent crime (I'm looking at you, Birchmere). I don't want to have to be the one giving you the death ray eye because you simply have to tell everyone in your party how much you enjoyed last week's episode of "Hawaii Five-O"... but we just aren't interested. Some of us are there to listen. To the performers. Not to you.
As much as I greatly enjoyed the music on display during tonight's memorable tango tutorial, I was alternately embarrassed for Richmond that so many of you were unable to turn your own personal gossip off for less than an hour to honor this great band with your full attention. Is it really that hard? And if it is, why are you here exactly?
This is a long and windy spiel, I know, but I've kept this sentiment bottled up for some time. And as a fan, as a music lover, as a member of the folk festival programming committee (who speaks for himself only), as a writer who has covered the festival from its earliest beginnings, let me say once again that it makes me proud that so many of you take the time to patronize this amazing event.
But, from the bottom of my heart to the pleasure centers inside my ear cavity, I have to ask you to show some decency, some real respect, some sense of genuine participation, and shut the fuck up.