There’s plenty to be excited about at this year’s National Folk Festival in downtown Greensboro, but one act stands shoulders above the others: the legendary DJ Grandmaster Flash.
Considering the breadth of music, the free buses, the convenient location and, most importantly, the solid booking, the free festival deserves even more credit than it receives. We truly enjoyed last year — the first in a three-year run in Greensboro — with Mavis Staples, bluesman Marquise Knox and the Japanese taiko drummers. But Grandmaster Flash is one of the founding fathers of hip hop.
There’s no good excuse for not being aware of Flash at this point, especially given his high-profile portrayal in Netflix’s new series “The Get Down.” The Baz Luhrmann epic chronicles the birth of hip hop, including the monumental influence of Grandmaster Flash on the genre’s style. It’s a fast-paced, engaging look that Flash and other greats directly helped mold.
Flash said in an interview with Triad City Beat that he got “quite emotional” the first time he saw part of the show because of how adeptly it translated what he and others had relayed about the time. Flash, who acted as a producer, called the final product “totally incredible.”
In many ways, Grandmaster Flash is the perfect fit for the National Folk Festival. As a DJ, he’s long sampled from disparate genres including Latin music, disco, jazz and rock. His style hasn’t changed from the same precision and technique that made him famous decades ago, spinning two copies of a record at once and pioneering a form of turntablism that extended beats and clips. Back then he didn’t have the internet, a studio or much at all beyond his fingertips on a record, and when Flash takes the stage at the National Folk Festival, it will be much the same.
Spend a little time looking up videos of Flash’s “quick-mix theory” to see his raw talent in action, the sort of live sampling that is a far cry from what most DJs do today. But it’s that approach that allows Grandmaster Flash to change on the fly — he’s constantly watching his audience, he said, figuring out what they’re into and honing his set to the crowd. What works in France won’t work in Germany, Flash said — he returned from a tour in Europe just last week — and he’ll put forward something fresh and unique at the Folk Festival as well.
“For me, it’s candy,” he said of the festival during a phone interview. “It’s wonderful.”
In many respects, the National Folk Festival transcends what many Triad residents might imagine when they hear the word “folk.” But interpreted as something like “the people’s music,” the festival draws on deep-seeded musical traditions from this region and others around the world. The diversity of the music makes attending a profoundly interesting experience. And that’s a huge part of Grandmaster Flash’s appeal, too; he isn’t just a living legend and a pioneer who’s still practicing the craft, but his DJ set promises to be an embodiment of the symbiosis that the festival itself aims to achieve.
Don’t miss DJ Grandmaster Flash when he takes the stage at the Dance Pavilion on Saturday at 9:15 p.m. He’s the kind of artist that’s worth seeing over and over, especially since his sets will be tailored to the crowd, so find him again on the same stage on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.
Beyond that, here’s a curated list of the most significant, interesting and out there performances to catch at this weekend’s National Folk Festival, running from Friday through Sunday, Sept. 11. We picked out highlights and made a schedule of our own — there’s too much happening at once to see it all — to help you find your way.