May 9, 2015: the first Virginia Avenue Folk Festival took place. 70 performances took place on nine stages, with over 10,000 people coming out to support local and Midwestern musicians. This year, on May 14, the festival will return, bigger and louder than last year.
Patrick Burtch and Mike Angel thought up the idea of the festival at Rocket 88, Burtch’s doughnut shop.
“We were having coffee a year and a half ago, and hatched an idea to do some music at Rocket 88, and that grew into the festival,” Burtch explained. “It’s grown bigger than anything either of us ever thought. I wasn’t envisioning it as this big thing. It’s awesome.”
“Originally, I think we were planning on having 10 bands,” Angel said. “And that blew up really quick.”
Along with 13 music stages, 100 art vendors will get a chance to share their work with the community. Along with this, some environmental organizations will be at the event to promote their work.
In order to make the festival more accessible, it was a conscious decision to make the event free and open to all ages.
“We wanted to include everyone, right off the bat,” Angel said. “We thought it was a great way to introduce local bands and regional music to people who otherwise wouldn’t see it, or who would love it but just haven’t taken that step yet.”
The family-friendly environment allows parents the ability to enjoy a day out with their kids. It can also help the children gain new experiences and understanding.
Sarah Grain, guitarist and vocalist of Sarah Grain & The Billions of Stars, understands the importance of introducing children to music from a young age.
“As our society is pushing individuals more and more to be connected all the time, music has a true potential to offer children and adolescents a true escape from those pressures, Grain said. “As a child, I spent hours on end in my room listening to music, writing poetry and sewing. I knew what it was like to be "in the flow," which is not a luxury that kids these days are privilege to.”
“Every moment is scheduled with homework, activities, commitments, and now social pressures from online networking sites,” Grain continued. “Helping children develop a passion for music is a way get them listening to their own inner voice and to cut off the social feedback loop that they have become so dependent on. And getting them out in their community to experience the joy of live music, helping them figure out what music they like and why, and encouraging them to find joy in the fun and fellowship of a vibrant city, well, it’s simply just a good thing.”
Festival-goers will hear more than what is typically thought of as “folk music” at this year’s festival.
“The true definition of ‘folk’ is ‘all people’,” Angel said. “ I think if you have a story to tell, you should be able to do that, no matter what genre of music you’re telling it in. Unless it’s heavy metal, we don’t want any of that rubbish (laughs).”
Rapper Pope Adrian Bless doesn't fit the traditional category of "folk," but will be performing at 2:30 p.m. at the Big Car Stage.
"January or February they hit me up, it felt like it would be like Ghostface Killah performing at Riley Children's Hospital," Bless said. "I'm kind of nervous and excited about it. I'm prepared for reactions, people saying, 'oh my God there was this rapper with contact lenses and his face painted.' I'm going to keep my show the same because regardless it's going to be new."
Pope joked about needing to bring a banjo player and his flannel shirt to the show but knows that music is universal.
Burtch and Angel still look for artists, mainly through online submissions, that are passionate and are “telling the world something," Burtch explained.
For some, folk music is synonymous with “activist.” Protest songs of the 1960s ring in the memory of many individuals. Today, that isn’t truly the case.
“In the ‘60s and ‘70s, musicians played a vital role in social movements, not just in writing and recording protest songs, but also in being physically present at demonstrations, marches, and direct actions,” Grain said. “I think specifically of Pete Seeger and musicians like him, who were on the front lines of the social movements of their time, writing political speeches through their songs, and playing those songs at protests.”
“I think folk music has evolved from those past decades, Grain continued. "Political messages are more subtle today, and wrapped up in messages about the songwriter's emotional conflicts. I find that folk artist's today, including myself, tend to put themselves in the center of political questions, which is different than in the times of Pete Seeger. We are all conflicted. We are all struggling with our own small contributions to the destruction of this beautiful planet, and I hear that struggle and emotional conflict in modern folk songs.”
With about a month left until the day of the festival, Burtch and Angel are anticipating a great turnout and a great experience.
“For that day, I want weather exactly like this,” Burtch said, motioning towards the clear sky. “I’m just excited to see a lot of people having a good time. In the future, I would love to make this a true street festival, and basically shut down the entire stretch of Virginia that we have music on. That would be my dream: just people taking back the street.”
For more information on the Virginia Ave Folk Festival, visit: