Fall In: The River City’s Season
of Cultural, Musical and Theater Events
By Bonnie Newman Davis
Now that the Richmond 2015 UCI World Road Championships have come and gone, Richmonders can focus on typical fall activities such as raking leaves and Friday night football, right?
October is so crammed with all-star musical and theater performances, along with annual festivals and street celebrations, that some may wonder whether Richmonders ever sleep or work.
Certainly, it takes tons of work and sleepless nights to assemble the hit list of upcoming performances scheduled throughout the city for next month and into next year. The Modlin Center for the Arts ushers in Tony and Grammy Award-winning actress and singer Audra McDonald on Oct. 1 at the Carpenter Theatre. Rhythm & Blues megastars Gladys Knight and The O’Jays appear Oct. 10 at the Altria Theater, and the beloved 2nd Street Festival in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood serves up Con Funk Shun and James “Saxmo” Gates on Oct. 3-4. Also, Richmond’s Folk Festival will introduce tap dancer Leonardo Sandoval and The Republic of Georgia’s medieval musical group, Zedashe, Oct. 9-11. At Richmond CenterStage’s Carpenter Centre, the Jimmy Dean Music Festival features The Oakridge Boys on Oct. 4, and three famous brothers known as The Jacksons will evoke sweet memories Oct. 6.
Urban Views Weekly (UVW) interviewed three women who routinely monitor Richmond’s cultural, entertainment and musical pulse, working hard to ensure that it doesn’t miss a beat. Sharon Bassard is events and booking manager for Venture Richmond, which sponsors the 2nd Street Festival and the Richmond Folk Festival. Cindy Creasy is the Media Relations Representative for SMG Richmond, a venue marketing, management and development company that works with Richmond CenterStage, the nonprofit that oversees The Carpenter Centre and Altria Theater at Monroe Park. Deborah S. Sommers is executive director of the Modlin Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Richmond, steering numerous public and community programs that include dance, musical and theater performances.
Interview with Sharon Bassard, Events and Booking Manager, Venture Richmond
UVW: Jackson Ward, where the 2nd Street Festival takes place, has drastically changed over the years with new housing, residents, restaurants and businesses. How has the 2nd Street Festival adapted to and evolved during such change?
Bassard: Venture Richmond is constantly aware of the changes within the Jackson Ward community; we change different aspects of the festival site to respect and showcase the residences and businesses. We will not put a vendor in front of someone’s home nor will we place a food vendor in front of a restaurant.
UVW: What do you attribute to the 2nd Street Festival’s longevity?
Bassard: This event is like a family reunion, high school reunion, neighborhood reunion. People come back year after year to see old friends and meet new friends.
UVW: This year’s Folk Festival lineup looks great. I’m excited about Zedashe and Leonardo Sandoval (such unique artistry)! Who among you finds such performers and how do you gauge whether they will engage Richmonders?
Bassard: The National Council of Traditional Arts, along with local programming committee does a great job each year.
UVW: Over the past few years, it seems that such activities and events have tripled in RVA, and that corporate partners/sponsors are “all in” as supporters. Do you agree? And if so, why is this affirmation from our civic and business community important?
Bassard: It’s a real endorsement of the power of free cultural festivals to bring our community together.
UVW: What is your advice for Richmonders who plan to attend this year’s 2nd Street and Folk Festivals?
Bassard: Wear comfortable shoes, get ready to hear great music, enjoy good food and have a good time!
UVW: Which performance(s) will leave audiences exhausted from dancing, singing or simply having too much fun?
Bassard: With four stages at 2nd Street and seven stages at the Folk Festival, both events feature great artists. There’s something for everyone.
Interview with Cindy Creasy, media relations representative for SMG Richmond, Richmond CenterStage
Cindy Creasy contends that anyone who says there is nothing to do in Richmond hasn’t spent much time looking. The city’s array of restaurants, museums, parks and The James River offer a “wealth of activities,” she said. Creasy provided some other details about how and why the city and Richmond CenterStage increasingly attracts audiences from Richmond, as well as Charlottesville, Northern Virginia and the Tidewater area.
UVW: How did you land the Jacksons (Tito, Jackie and Marlon, formerly of The Jackson Five)?
Creasy: It’s a new tour and our booking manager, Jackie Knight Naparlo, has been doing a great job securing such acts. You will be seeing all events and resident companies. Audience attendance has been wonderful, and we see repeat audiences coming back. They (patrons) find that parking is not an issue and enjoy the caliber of acts.
UVW: What do you attribute to the uptick in audience attendance and interest in Richmond events?
Creasy: The City of Richmond has embraced events such as the Richmond Folk Festival and the Maymont Jazz Festival. Magazine articles about Richmond as a tourist attraction, the state of Virginia’s lower unemployment rate and overall quality of life make it attractive for artists and performers. Richmond also is now one of the top stops for comedians.
UVW: With so much to do, how do audiences pick and choose?
Creasy: Isn’t that a wonderful problem to have? October is the perfect month to be outdoors. It’s a great festival month. From October to May, theater kicks in.
UVW: How do you get it all done?
Creasy: It’s amazing when you think about the amount of work. It’s a big, huge, collaborative effort.
Interview with Deborah S. Sommers, Executive Director, Modlin Center for the Performing Arts, University of Richmond
Deborah S. Sommers assumed leadership of the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center For The Arts five years ago and hasn’t slowed down since, overseeing the center’s 45-event Great Performances Series, four main stage productions by the University’s theatre and dance department and the University Players and Dancers, 30 musical performances in the Department of Music’s Free Concert Series, plus community events and performances throughout the year. Sommers also directs and teaches Richmond’s arts management program and works with faculty across the disciplines to design academic components that coordinate with the Modlin Center’s artistic programming.
UVW: How do you handle such a massive undertaking each year?
Sommers: I have a great team of people that I work with. I can’t do it without them. Every year there are so many interesting programs, and being a part of the university, it has to do with the many disciplines offered.
UVW: Many of this season’s performers and performances truly are world-class. Do you agree?
Sommers: Yes! I’m just so excited to have Audra McDonald. To fit her in among her Broadway shows and other work is such an accomplishment. Jeffery Tabor, who has had great roles from comedy to inspirational characters, will allow people to connect in their own way. We also have Bluegrass music and jazz artists Regina Carter and Christian McBride. Classical musician Lawrence Brownlee is a “voice from heaven.” There will be fun, quirky things (that enable) the audience to become part of the production itself. Then there is puppetry in late April. They are amazing. I just feel that we are so lucky to have this season full of talented people.
UVW: Who are some of the other artists and performers on your roster?
Sommers: Michelle Dorrance and Toshi Reagon (Dorrance Dance with Toshi Reagon and BIG Lovely, The Blues Project, Oct. 22). Toshi’s mother (Bernice Johnson Reagon) founded Sweet Honey in the Rock. I listen to her voice and she just takes me somewhere else. Other artists include Mavis Staples, Joan Osborne, Suzanne Vega and Duncan Sheik.
UVW: Why are so many events occurring in October?
Sommers: I think that the (UCI World Championships) bike race taking place in September affected people who were trying to program.
UVW: How will that affect attendance at certain events?
Sommers: There is a lot going on here with a wide range of events. A lot of people are comfortable exploring the arts, and there are a lot of curious Richmonders who want to come out and see and experience new things. I find a good deal show up to explore. We kind of go on a journey together.
Bonnie Newman Davis is a veteran journalist and journalism educator who has written for several local and national news outlets. Davis currently is a visiting professor in School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.