Floydfest 5: Roots Alive
"There's a garish, yellow thing in the sky we've never seen here at Floydfest before," remarked guitarist and vocalist Jeb Puryear of Floydfest veterans, Donna the Buffalo. "I think we'll call it the sun." This year, among several additions to Floyd, VA's near perfect annual music festival in the Blue Ridge Mountains, was agreeable weather. Though the sky remained cloudy for most of the weekend and spilled a slight, ten-minute rain in remembrance of last year's downpour, festival goers celebrated the fifth anniversary of Floydfest with kites, sunglasses and closed umbrellas.
Under much brighter skies, visitors, which were expected to reach ten thousand in attendance, had a clearer view of the Dreaming Creek Amphitheater rising over the tree line as they winded their way down the majestic Blue Ridge Parkway. This main stage sits on the shoulder of a rolling hill that juts out from the mountain and holds the festival grounds, which opened on Thursday evening this year, adding a fourth day of celebration in Floyd. Visitors were shuttled in from the parking area, a mile or so away, by Boy Scout buses, which ran continuously from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. each day of the festival.
It was on the buses that evidence of the type of people who were in attendance first surfaced. Fans were tightly packed, some three to a seat, some standing, some tie-dyed and dreadlocked, some who looked as though they had just picked up their kids from soccer practice, some who looked like they had just left their work on a farm, some who were on summer break from classes, all laughing and chatting about music and festivals, remembering school bus seats being much larger and all thanking the driver on their way off the bus.
A fan's journey began beneath the wooden entryway on a well-groomed mulch path, lined with flowers and tiki torches, which curved its way up a slight incline. The first stage encountered was the VA Folklife Workshop Porch, a weathered structure built to resemble the front porch of an old-time country store. In front of the porch, audience members sat on makeshift benches and enjoyed interactive discussions and performances from talents such as ukelele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, Appalachian vocalist Emily Spencer, Big Country Bluegrass, The Wolfe Brothers, and many others. One particularly riveting Sunday workshop was by traditional blues legend, Rory Block and resident blues expert, Scott Perry. During this afternoon workshop, jaws remained close to the ground as Ms. Block delivered a powerful A Cappella performance of The Last Leviathan.
Down the hill to the left was the Hill Holler stage and amphitheater that resonated performances by genre-blending, four-part harmony singing Eddie from Ohio; pop inflected Old-Time singer, Adrienne Young (with Little Sadie); gentle and honest folk singer, Devon Sproule; the ferocious nugrass of The Avett Brothers; Brazilian percussionists and dance troupe, Cyro Baptista and Beat the Donkey; and Toubab Krewe, an Asheville NC group whose smooth guitar licks over African rhythms closed the stage on Saturday night.
At the top of the hill, facing the Hill Holler stage, was the entrance to the beer and wine garden. Fenced in and shaded from the canopy of tall oaks with Christmas lights winding up their trunks, breweries Star Hill of Charlottesville, VA and Magic Hat of Vermont served beer alongside neighboring wineries Chateau Morrisette and Villa Appalachia in this actual garden. Here people relaxed in hammocks and in the grass next to small ponds and listened to the powerful vocals of Kat Mills, acoustic and electric sets by William Walter & Co., humorous Old-Time and Bluegrass by Kill Basa Bill's Roadshow and other acts.
Alongside the Beer and Wine Garden, a trail led through the wooded campgrounds and into the open air Global Village, which contained Healing Arts tents, a large fire pit and workshops on ethical consumerism and eco-conscious development solutions. At the bottom of the field campgrounds of the Global Village, campers could join drum circles and mingle under the dance tent.
Another, larger dance floor was positioned on the main festival grounds below the artist and vendor tents. The Blue Ridge to Bayou Dance Tent roofed a continuous pounding of feet dancing to Cajun pickers, Charivari and folk violinist, Tim O'Brien with Cornbread Nation. Sunday's closing group, The Lee Boys, whose pedal steel gospel inspired arguably the most raucous dancing the tent had seen all weekend, ended their set by coming into the crowd to hug everyone they passed on their way out.
Upon the main grounds, a sea of smiles and swishing clothes set the laid back, positive vibes that permeated the entire festival. One patron who unknowingly stepped in the way of a fast plummeting kite, simply laughed and with a wave, continued his way to the main stage. During the most populated hours of Saturday afternoon, widely stretched frisbee games and hacky sack circles materialized amidst jugglers and spinning hula hoops. Everyone was well contented, including small children who had their own area to learn clogging, stilt walking, taekwondo, and even get their hands on some musical instruments.
Beneath the joyful community of festival goers was a masterfully organized network of volunteers and staff that made sure artists and audiences were well supplied, kept performances running on schedule and managed to never let a trash can overflow, all the while enjoying the festivities as much as everyone else. The result being constant activity on the grounds in front of the main stage that was never hurried and seemed to move in time with the headlining acts.
Key performances from headliners on the Dreaming Creek Stage included an opening night set by Railroad Earth; the world-fusion jazz of Garaj Mahal on Friday; on Saturday, the "Sacred Steel" sounds of the Campbell Brothers, Floydfest regulars Donna the Buffalo, Jake Shimabukuro, and closers Los Lobos. Sunday saw performances by Rory Block, the lightning fast bluegrass of No Speed Limit, and the clever song writing of David Bromberg and the Angel Singers.
It's been said before that Floydfest has taken the best elements of most festivals and put them together to make a completely unique experience and the truth of this is quickly earning Floydfest and the community of Floyd, VA a growing reputation as an important event in the festival circuit. Blue Cow Arts and Across-the-Way Productions, who work year round in preparation for Floydfest, have managed to turn a five-year-old idea into a glowing promise of success, one that shines as bright as the oversized treble clef that lights up the hillside each night as the sun sets over the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.