Folk festival organizers may not want to admit it, but their events have an image problem: Too dull. Too crunchy. Too, well, educational. Deserved or not, they often sound like events you should attend rather than ones you want to attend.

But that isn't the case at the 67th National Folk Festival, a free three-day event starting Friday in Richmond. With performances by bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, top right, and blueswoman Marcia Ball as well as lesser-known acts such as Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars and the religious "shout" ensemble, the Madison Hummingbirds, the weekend shapes up to be an intriguing musical summit.

The celebration will boast more than 30 groups on seven stages, performing traditional American music from many cultural backgrounds, including Native American, African, Asian, Celtic and Hispanic. Instrument makers will also show off their techniques for fashioning mandolins, fiddles, steel drums and flutes.

"Virginia is a very diverse state musically," says John Cephas, bottom far right, with partner Phil Wiggins of the blues duo Cephas and Wiggins. The Washington native now lives in Bowling Green, Va., and will perform two sets on Oct. 9. "You've got bluegrass, country, blues, jazz and R&B from our state that have been influential all over the country," he says. Richmond will host the event through 2007, giving it a Virginia flair with an emphasis on traditional music, food and crafts from across the state.

"I think this is a wonderful opportunity for the folks here to see and hear the music of Virginia," Cephas says, "and some of the other ethnic music and artistic contributions from people around the world."

Joe Heim

Friday, 6-10:30 p.m., Saturday, noon-10:30 p.m. Oct. 9, noon-6 p.m. Downtown Richmond's riverfront, Second through Seventh streets. 804-788-6466.