Published September 11, 2018
Carnival costume by Kenley John, Shortmus Productions.

The Virginia Folklife Program joins the Richmond Folk Festival in announcing the Virginia Folklife Area theme for the 2018 Richmond Folk Festival: “Masquerade.”

When: Friday, October 12, beginning at 6:00 PM, through Sunday, October 14 at 6:00 PM (Virginia Folklife Area open Saturday and Sunday, October 13 and 14, from 12:00 PM until 6:00PM)
Where: Richmond Folk Festival, Brown’s Island, Richmond, Virginia
Cost: FREE
More Information

Through the theme of Masquerade, the Virginia Folklife Area will explore various costuming and adornment traditions in Virginia, including the intricate and delicate ceremonial ensembles from the region’s Cambodian masters, the deeply expressive handcrafted Buddhist t’sam ceremonial masks of Northern Virginia’s vibrant Mongolian community, and the truly spectacular, colorful, and labor-intensive Carnival costumes of the mid-Atlantic’s Caribbean community. These and other costuming arts will not be simply displayed but donned, with featured master crafters joined by a cadre of dancers, stilt walkers, contortionists, and revelers.

Sochietah Ung and his apprentice Lena Ouk dressed the dancers at the Cambodian New Year celebration at the Cambodian Buddhist Society in Silver Spring, Maryland on 4/16/17.
Pat Jarrett/The Virginia Folklife Program

“Masquerade is not just pleasurable, it carries the potential to articulate a community’s deep-running values, celebrate sacred rituals, and challenge and critique old power structures,” state folklorist Jon Lohman said. “These traditions helped anchor cultures as they traveled to our region—preserving what they knew while adjusting to a new land. Our version of masquerade is less about what we hide, and more what we reveal about who we are and what it means to be a Virginian.”

Lohman has curated and produced the Virginia Folklife Area and Stage at the Richmond Folk Festival since the festival’s inception in 2005 as the National Folk Festival. While the Festival’s other six stages feature performers from around the country and the world, the Virginia Folklife Stage and Area focus on Virginia and the region’s finest tradition-bearers, with an annual unifying theme to showcase particular art forms of significance in the Commonwealth. Some think of the Virginia Folklife Stage and Area as “a festival within the festival,” and past themes have included Virginia’s instrument makers, National Heritage Award winners, family bands, foodways, and sacred music and crafts.

Gankhuyag “Ganna” Natsag sculpts a mask from clay. (Pat Jarrett/The Virginia Folklife Program)

A scholar of Mardi Gras and other festive celebrations, Lohman reflects on the human impulse for disguise: “Often our masquerading is purely frivolous in nature—our chance to try on new personas for the day, briefly live out our fantasies, make spectacles of ourselves, or perhaps disappear unnoticed. The peculiar joy in ‘playing dress up’ seems virtually ubiquitous in childhood and stubbornly persistent into adulthood—a uniquely human activity that transcends historical time and cultural context.  And while the act of masquerade can prove itself distinctly pleasurable, it also carries with it the powerful potential for communities to expressively articulate their deepest values and aesthetics, carry out their most sacred rituals, playfully challenge previously accepted truths and power structures, reify and perpetuate their own cultural identities, and reconnect and reinvigorate their beloved connections to home in new, unfamiliar lands.”

The Virginia Folklife Stage will also, as always, deliver Virginia’s finest styles, such as bluegrass, old time, gospel, and blues, in addition to a new infusion of jazz and swing. This year, performances will also include musicians from lesser-known Virginia-based communities that originated from the Middle East and Vietnam.

In October, the 2018 Virginia Folklife Area welcomes the following performers and material culture demonstrators:


  • The Chosen Few featuring Tarrence Paschall (a cappella gospel)
  • Corrina Rose Logston and Jeremy Stephens (bluegrass and old time duets)
  • Danny Knicely Quartet featuring Bert Carlson (jazz)
  • Scott Fore and Brandon Davis (flatpick guitar masters)
  • Legendary Ingramettes (gospel)
  • Mandkai Erdembat (Mongolian contortion)
  • Mason Via and Hot Trail Mix (bluegrass)
  • Nader Majd (classical Persian music)
  • Nguyen Dinh Nghia Family (music from Vietnam)
  • New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters (old time)
  • Reverend Frank Newsome (Old Regular Baptist hymns)
  • Sherman Holmes Project (blues/Americana)

Material Culture Demonstrators

  • Kenley John and Shacomba Phipps (Caribbean Carnival traditions)
  • Gankhuyag Natsag (Mongolian mask making)
  • Sochietah Ung (Cambodian costume making)
  • Clyde Jenkins (colonial dress and apple grafting)
  • Deborah Pratt and Clementine Macon Boyd (oyster shucking)
  • Frances Davis (fried apple pie making)

The Virginia Folklife Stage and Area is sponsored by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The Richmond Folk Festival producing partners include Venture Richmond Events LLC, the City of Richmond, the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA), the Children’s Museum of Richmond, and the Virginia Folklife Program at Virginia Humanities. To learn more about the Richmond Folk Festival visit

Video of the Chosen Few

Comments (2)

Learning Experience

Virginia History in Song

What can songs teach us about history?