Soul of RVA: 2nd Street Festival

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2nd Street festival

Young ladies dance at Richmond’s 2nd Street Festival. (Photo provided by Sharon Bassard)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — For many Richmonders, the 2nd Street Festival is a homecoming. People from all over the Richmond-area, Virginia and other states get together to bond over music and celebrate a historically Black neighborhood and its culture.

The festival is organized by Venture Richmond and puts on two days of live musical performances, cooking demonstrations, neighborhood testimonials, walking tours and more in Richmond’s Jackson Ward community.

This fall, the 2nd Street Festival is commemorating its 33rd anniversary. Over the years, the festival’s popularity and reach have grown, making it one of the Mid-Atlantic’s largest street festivals.

2nd Street festival
Artist performs at the 2nd Street Festival in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo provided by Sharon Bassard)

In 2019, approximately 40,000 people came to Richmond for the festival. Half of all the attendees were from the Richmond region, 25% were from other parts of Virginia and 25% were from across the United States and the world, according to a survey from Venture Richmond.

Venture Richmond’s Booking and Events Manager, Sharon Bassard, is the woman in charge of booking the festival’s main attraction — entertainment.

Bassard has been working with the organization for 18 years, since before it even became Venture Richmond and was known as Downtown Presents.

Sharon Bassard
Sharon Bassard has been working with Venture Richmond, formerly known as Downtown presents, since 2001. She is the booking and events planner for the 2nd Street Festival in Richmond. (Photo provided by Bassard)

Not only does Bassard book the main musical acts but she takes pride in being able to create an atmosphere where families can gather, bond, laugh, dance and have a good time.

“It actually started as one block, one tent in front of the Hippodrome [Theater] that’s on 2nd Street. It was a very dressed up affair,” Bassard told 8News.

Now, the festival takes up more space in what was once known as The Deuce. The historical Jackson Ward area was the center of Black life in Richmond. 2nd Street was known for being the center of black-owned businesses, restaurants and stores. This area was also where African American entertainers could play and feel safe during racial segregation.

“That was like the heart and the soul of Richmond’s African American community and it was also known as the Harlem of the South.”

The festival is a way to honor Jackson Ward for its contributions and history.

“Our festival is a nod and a way to say — thank you, we honor you,” Bassard said. “Because they had entertainers from Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, and you know back during that time they were high end, very popular entertainers and actually that section of town was the only place they could come to perform and have lodging and they were accepted there.”

2nd Street festival
Young ladies dance at Richmond’s 2nd Street Festival. (Photo provided by Sharon Bassard)

The 2nd Street Festival has expanded from that one block and one tent. It now takes up Broad Street into Jackson Ward and features musical entertainment from a variety of genres including R&B, gospel, jazz, go-go, and neo-soul.

“We have four stages of live musical entertainment. We have a kids zone. We have lots of food vendors and a marketplace,” Bassard said.

The festival also has an Artist’s Row to shop and the Richmond Metropolitan Antique Car Club stops by.

2nd Street festival
A band team member performs at the 2nd Street Festival in Richmond. (Photo provided by Sharon Bassard)

Every year, when organizers walk the site in preparation for the festival they are seeing more and more businesses pop up. Bassard said the festival has had an impact on the community and economics.

“We are kinda outgrowing the area along 2nd Street and the other beautiful thing about having festivals is that it brings business to the area. And that has happened,” Bassard said.
“When we started not many businesses were there but now there are a lot shops, restaurants … That’s what you want. You want to have that kind of impact.”

2nd Street festival
People gather at the Jackson Ward mural to hear live performances. (Photo provided by Sharon Bassard)

Bassard and her team are currently preparing for this year’s festival in October. She said they are being cautious and optimistic while exploring ideas for their fall events. A decision whether to hold the event in-person or virtual, like last year, has not been made.

But one thing is certain — the 2nd Street Festival isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“As far as the future, of course, we would love for it to go on and continue to grow. It would be nice if we could enlarge the footprint of the area,” Bassard said. “We are currently on 2nd street but who knows hopefully we can grow it out to be larger.”

Visit VentureRichmond.com or the 2nd Street Festival’s Facebook page to keep up with updates from this year’s festival.

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