National Folk Festival
Downtown Greensboro
Friday, September 9-Sunday, September 11, 2016

It’s like a free, all-you-can-eat buffet. The National Folk Festival’s second coming to Greensboro makes you want to load up your plate with goodies and gobble ’em up till you’re so full you can’t move. It may be a three-day event, but once it’s laid out in front of you, it will be hard to resist taking it in as much as you possibly can.

Although the festival officially began Friday night at six p.m., Saturday’s noon kickoff seemed like the best starting point. Eleven-year-old N.C. native Presley Barker‘s performance on guitar with the young bluegrass group Shadowgrass was mesmerizing, his little fingers flying as he picked at warp speed like a grizzled vet.

You’ve got to have some kind of a plan to navigate this circus, but sometimes you find the best stuff when you stumble upon an act you’ve never heard of. The thirteen-piece Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano sounds like an orchestra with every instrumentalist doubling as an operatic vocalist.

“If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, too bad,” fiddler/leader Jesús “Chuy” Guzmán joked as he introduced the band. But there was no need for a translator. By the time the “Jarabe Tapatío” chorus came around, everybody in the packed lawn stage tent recognized the tune and started clapping along. The interactive performance had the three unamplified fiddlers out in the crowd with a call and response from the miked horns onstage for the “ay yi-yi-yi” chorus of “Cielito Lindo,” followed by trumpeters Fernando Ortiz and Fernando Velásquez’s instrumental dialogue, one call from the back of the tent answered on stage by the other.

Hen whisperer Super Chikan was on the to-do list. The Clarksdale, Mississippi, native and nephew of blues legend Big Jack Jackson claims his ability to speak fowl language enables him to communicate with chickens. In his version of “Little Red Rooster,” played on a repurposed ceiling-fan-bodied guitar, he clucked in chicken-speak on the choruses. Slim Harpo’s “Scratch My Back” also provided a good vehicle for the Chikan’s chicken-pickin’ guitar skills and clucked vocals.

Jeffery Broussard and the Creole Cowboys packed the dance tent with sweaty celebrants writhing to his frenzied button accordion. In addition to creole dance tunes, Broussard adapted Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” to a Zydeco beat as well as a tune that sounded suspiciously like Jumpin’ Gene Simmons’s 1964 hit, “Haunted House” sung in French. Broussard cooled down the crowd with a swamp pop version of “Richest Man (If Teardrops Were Diamonds),” recorded as a duet by Dwight Yoakam and Willie Nelson and by C. J. Chenier.

The Quebe Sisters vocals have been promoted as in the vein of the Andrews Sisters, but there’s more of a high and lonesome element to their harmonies. Frontwoman Hulda hit a sour note when she said the group was glad to be in Greenville, but the crowd on the lawn of midtown’s new LeBauer Park quickly and loudly corrects her. She redeems herself quickly as the sisters whip out a western swing take on “Flatbush Waltz.”

The Irish group The Alt and Canada’s Le Vent du Nord have a lot in common musically, but when they followed each other on City Stage, they got two radically different responses. For the Alt, the crowd was rapt, glued to their seats throughout the performance, which finished with a set of reels that had onlookers in the unshaded parking lot staging area slapping their sunburned thighs to the rhythm. But the Canadians had the crowd leaping about, largely due to their audience and the attendees’ fascination with the band’s hand-cranked hurdy-gurdy.

With feathered costumes that resemble Mardi Gras Indians in New Orleans, The Bahamas Junkanoo Revue may be the sharper dressers, but Mangum and Company‘s trombone shout band outdid them with jubilant brassy gospel. There was a bit of a flap when the Junkanoo parade got too close to the shout band’s Wrangler stage and the Junkanoo drums drown out the praiseworthy gospel. But it shut down quickly and the shouting went on, led by Cecil Mangum’s Fred Wesley-style high-register trombone praising.

That’s all we could manage. Seven hours of the heat and the mileage wore us down. We wanted to see soukous ambassador Samba Mapangala and Orchestra Virunga, and the Afro-Colombian sounds of Grupo Rebolú, but had no stamina left. But there’s always next year, and from then on, as Greensboro has claimed the festival in perpetuity. Stay tuned.