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One Man's Answer To Life's Little Questions: Rick Ceballos & The Champlain Valley Folk Festival

Photography by Bear Cieri

At A Glance

When: July 29th-30th
Where: Waterfront, BVT
Cost: $30/day Saturday and Sunday;

$15 Saturday after 5pm;

$15/day Friday; $60/weekend pass

Rick Ceballos was a late-comer to music. It wasn’t until he was into his 20s that he started playing guitar and writing songs. This was in Maine, about forty years ago, and he happened upon a bluegrass band without a banjo player. “It’s been a slippery slope ever since,” he reminisces with a laugh.

Then Rick, a handsome, gregarious gentleman, not only continued as a musician on the semi-professional level, but became the Artistic Director of the Champlain Valley Folk Festival. This is the festival’s 28th year, but due to its relocation to the Burlington waterfront in 2010, and with new board members, the festival is reinvigorated since its days at Kingsland Bay, a state park in Ferrisburg, VT.

“We can’t get the big names,” Rick shrugs. “You know, the quality of the performers is as good as any big name acts that you could get, but people aren’t aware of that. I mean, people come every year and know the festival. One woman said to me last year, ‘You know, I don’t know how you do it. Every year I look at the line-up and I don’t really know any of these people, but they’re all incredible.’ And that’s sort of the story of our festival.”

Some festival-goers have been coming for decades, never expecting the big acts, but to draw in a new crowd might mean big names, and Rick shakes his head that some big names “Give riders that are a mile long. Do you go that route and basically change the atmosphere of the festival?”

So far, no, but noon to midnight for three nights each year Rick books about 23 different acts on three stages, with food vendors, workshops, and a dance tent. “That thing is rocking from the minute we open,” he laughs. Each year his job is to book the spectrum of “folk music”: Bluegrass, Old Time, Blues, Québécois, Irish, Scottish, and the list goes on. This year, like last year, there’s a Malian group, a group from Glasgow, Scotland that Rick describes as “Gypsy Jazz”, and last year there was a Swedish Nordic group.

“I always look for people that are entertaining. That’s the real beauty of youtube,” Rick laughs. “In fact, I get very few CDs anymore. When people submit they give me links. I’m always looking for entertainment value, people that have something other than just chops.”

Rick recalls one group in particular; a group from Ontario called Shesham and Lotus. “I’ll tell you, in all my years I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group that was more entertaining. They had it all,” Rick says. “They didn’t even submit anything. I just happened to get a folk newsletter from Montreal.”

In fact, Rick brought them back this year to play the Burlington farmers market, the Ripton Coffeehouse, and Langdon St. Café. This is part of Rick’s job, too. “I just thought the festival needed more of a year-round presence,” Rick explains about how he got his start on the festival board. He was asked what he’d like to do and he replied Special Events, leading to holding concerts throughout the year. The festival even collaborates with the Burlington Queen City Contra Dance, an annual June benefit. “It’s really hard, especially with local, well-known performers, to get people out,” Rick shakes his head, but, “If you have a good band for a contra dance, you’ll get the crowd.”


0 # D Lathrop 2011-06-05 22:23
thanks Rick


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