Folking in Greensboro

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brian_clareyby Brian Clarey

Hometown girl Rhiannon Giddens took to the Lawn Stage early Saturday afternoon at the National Folk Festival in Greensboro to pay homage to the old-time music that lured her away from opera and inspired her to form the Carolina Chocolate Drops with her friends.

Surrounding her was a throng of her friends and neighbors, some of whom had watched Giddens rise through the ranks from as far back as her days with the Greensboro Youth Chorus and others who just caught on after her stunning performance of “Water Boy” on “Late Night with David Letterman” in its last days on the air just a couple months ago.

I put the crowd at about 4,000 — huge for this little corner of downtown — that included a crew of folks situated on a nearby rooftop to catch the set.

Man, that’s cool, I thought. Like a Beatles concert.

Within about 20 minutes, uniformed police broke up the rooftop party and sent everybody back down to Earth.

#SoGSO.

But that momentary flash of annoyance was the only stain, minor as it was, on my weekend at the National Folk Festival.

Parking was plentiful, food was copious, the acts — one after the other, staggered so that we had a chance to see everything we wanted to — were amazing.

But more than that, I saw a city coming into its own.

Greensboro hasn’t had a moment like this in years, if ever.

More people walked the downtown streets than I have ever seen before. Music filled the air, as well as a vibe of good fellowship that still permeates. We celebrated our own history, our own culture and our own cuisine even as we integrated the tastes and sounds of the entire country into this new thing we have that will run every year until 2017 and perhaps even longer.

There was a moment like this in New Orleans in 1984, when the World’s Fair galvanized a generation to appreciate the charms of their city. There have been moments like this scattered throughout the last couple years in Winston-Salem, where the people began to realize the charms of home.

Greensboro hasn’t had a moment like this in years, if ever.

My own highlight came on the first night, when piano professor Henry Butler took the Belk Stage for a twilight performance. Though thousands had come out to see, my wife and I marched right up to the front of the stage to watch the man’s hands up close. By the end of the set, there were dozens of us dancing in the pit as Butler’s piano sent peals ringing through the streets.

That, too, was #SoGSO.

  • I hope the city finds a way to bring a festival to downtown Greensboro annually after the National Folk Festival moves on in two years. I danced to Trouble Funk on Saturday night (Don’t Touch That Stereo!) at the Dance Pavillion and the diversity and culture of all Greensboro people were represented, everyone having a ball. AMAZING weekend! With lots of volunteerism and enthusiasm we can all make an annual downtown festival a permanent tradition, so that the good vibes, warm feelings and fun continue to bring us together.