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Celebrating the future by learning from the past

When the Guilford County clerk was going through the city’s archives, he found pre-Civil War deeds for people. The shocking documents, which listed slave sales alongside that of plows and horses, were a perfect fit for the city’s National Folk Festival, and more particularly, part of The Fabric of Freedom event.

The National Folk Festival, co-produced by ArtsGreensboro and the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA), is a three-day festival free for the public that will feature 300 artists on seven outdoor stages and other venues. The various performances will take place in downtown Greensboro Friday through Sunday.

Part of the festival is the Fabric of Freedom event, which includes performances, events and exhibits that highlight the city’s history and role in the fight for equality and social change since the American Revolution.

“Greensboro is a unique place,” said Eleanor Schaffner-Mosh, organizer and deputy director of ArtsGreensboro. “Since pre-Revolutionary times it has been a haven for people looking for justice.”

The event combines various art forms, including music, staged performances and even exhibits, to tell the city’s story.

“The coolest thing about it is how proud everyone is to be a part of it,” Schaffner-Mosh said. “It really reverberates with people.”

Setting the stage for the Fabric of Freedom event is a Songs of Hope and Justice concert Thursday evening, organized by local songwriter and performer Laurelyn Dossett, who has also collaborated on many Triad Stage productions.

“Folk music in general has a long tradition of songs that speak about peace, poverty and injustice,” Dossett said. “In some instances the songs themselves have become a part of protest—a way for people to raise their voices together. I wanted to tie that folk tradition of social justice with the songs of today.”

Not only does the concert combine older songs with newer ones written about today’s events, but Dossett said the lineup of musicians includes a wonderful juxtaposition of different ages, races, genders and song-writing styles, too. They’re different, but they also complement one another. “It’s like a tapestry of old and new,” she said.

Other musicians to perform include Rhiannon Giddens, Alice Gerrard, Molly McGinn, Bhi Bhiman and Django Haskins.

Saturday at noon, a host of participants will chronicle the struggle for freedom from the 1700s to the present at the Church Street Stage. And later in the afternoon, Rahim Al- Haj, Aurelio, Dock R’mah (Montagnard), The Ingramettes and Sheila Kay Adams will share music and personal stories at Lawn Stage.

Other events include a gospel and traditional music performance on Sunday, a film, live music and weaving demonstration on Saturday and Sunday, and the exhibit of the Bills of Sale: Slave Deeds of Guilford County all weekend at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. To complement the exhibit, the museum has even arranged for staged readings of slavery and abolition narratives.

“(Participants) are going to feel pride, but also some horror at the events,” Schaffner- Mosh said about what to expect . “The fact that people bought and sold people—it’s going to be sobering, but also uplifting (to see how far we’ve come).”

“They’ll realize that Greensboro hasn’t been afraid to face change head on, and that it isn’t afraid to move forward and lead the way,” she continued.

Fabric of Freedom is funded by an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and co-sponsored by the AJ Fletcher Foundation and Lincoln Financial. !

WANNA go?

Fabric of Freedom performances and showcases will be presented on several stages at both the Greensboro Historical Museum and the International Civil Rights Center and Museum Friday through Sunday. The kick-off concert is Thursday evening. For more information on event listings visit nationalfolkfestival.com/fabric-of-freedom/

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