Pop’s Farm Comes Alive: Highlights from Rooster Walk 2024

Article Contributed by PhotoFooFoo | Published on Sunday, June 2, 2024

Just outside Martinsville, tucked away down amongst a hollow of southern Virginia, you will find Pop’s Farm, the home of Rooster Walk. The Rooster Walk Musical Festival started in 2009 as an annual party to honor high school friends and to raise money in their names for charity. It has since become one of the finest regional music festivals in the nation, with a dedicated fan base eager to ‘get their strut on’ every Memorial Day weekend.

Rooster Walk 2024

early set up time at Rooster Walk

I have known about Rooster for years, but 2024 was my first opportunity to experience it for myself. The site is beautiful, the staff has their stuff down, and the community is warm and welcoming. Pop’s Farm sits on 150 acres of rolling fields and forests; Rooster uses about two-thirds of that space with five stages of music and various camping spaces throughout the property. There are numerous food and shopping booths, mostly congregated around the Pine-Lawn-Lake stage corridor.

Rooster Walk 2024

Lawn Stage is the largest and central area of the fest, and its natural bowl area provides great sight lines with plenty of room for boogieing. If a band is playing on the Lawn Stage, the Pine and Lake stages are idle.

Pine Stage | Rooster Walk 2024

Pine Stage is closest to most camping areas and is tucked amongst a grove of tall, thin pines. It is the smallest of the main three and hosts the most eclectic blends of acts, including many newcomers. Pine Stage is fairly flat, with only a slight rise mostly towards the rear. Due to the trees, sight lines can be challenging in the rear. The shady beer tent at the rear of Pine has the coldest beer on site by a factor of at least two.

Rooster Walk 2024

Lake Stage has a steeper bowl compared to Lawn Stage and overlooks a pretty little lake. It's a larger stage than Pine and is also the closest to the Kids' area.

Rooster Walk 2024

The VIP area has its own brand new stage across the lake from Lake Stage and is restricted to those patrons who opted for the VIP strut experience. It hosts a full menu of musical delicacies, including some unique performances.

Rooster Walk 2024

The Eye Level Stage is far removed from all the others and is right on the main road in the GA Car Camping area. It is very small and poorly attended as it's frankly a hike (uphill both ways, not kidding) if you're already in the main fest area. It is right next to one of the shower stations, however, which makes for some great in-line entertainment before one's daily cleanse. Showers everywhere are free.

Cory Wong | Rooster Walk 2024

Being a dedicated event space, Pop’s Farm has better-than-average roads, electricity, and water access. There are also three cabins in the VIP area for those festivarians who prefer not to camp. The fest allows arrival on Thursday morning at 9, with the first music starting Thursday at 3 or 4, and music concludes Sunday evening about midnight, leaving Memorial Day free to travel back home. Rooster Walk has plenty of room to grow larger and currently adds 10-15% more visitors annually. Everyone who comes to Rooster comes back and brings friends.

Rooster Walk 2024

The community at Rooster Walk and fellow Virginia fests like Floyd, Galax, and Red Wing Roots is close-knit while also being welcoming. Tons of smiles and high-fives, and I didn’t witness a single altercation of any sort within camping or stage areas all weekend. The fest is largely volunteer-staffed, and I have never seen less security staff at a fest; they just are not needed. Folks are there to have a good time, and it's a very family-friendly atmosphere with everyone happy to do their own thing and let everyone else make their own choices. This is aided by the experienced Rooster Walk staff who weave amongst the crowd, ferrying supplies and people around. For 2024, Rooster purchased and operated a 60-foot-long people shuttle to help get people from the campgrounds to the fest area, which isn't a long walk but does involve some steep hill climbs. Designated shuttle stops throughout the property were regularly serviced by both the new big white worm-mobile and a golf cart battalion. After a rain downpour soaked some high-traffic areas during the fest, the staff spread hay to cover the mud and dry it up almost immediately and added more as needed throughout the weekend. Tidy Sanitation does a great job of not only emptying the various port-o-lets but of actually cleaning them as well, multiple times a day. I was also pleased to experience my first motion-activated toity lights at Rooster; let's hope more fests steal that idea.

Sticks N Thorns | Rooster Walk 2024

The 2024 edition of Rooster Walk continued its proud tradition of offering unique music pairings that won’t be heard elsewhere. ‘Sticks N Thorns’ started the fest off on the VIP stage on Thursday. Jon Stickey (Guitar) of JS3 and Andy Thorn (Banjo) of ‘Leftover Salmon’ have been playing together since middle school in North Carolina. They ripped a rain-delayed set of traditional grass tunes mixed with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dead Milkmen covers, which was a wonderful way to get things going. To my shock, Jon Stickley is a helluva singer; his own band, the ‘Jon Stickly Trio,’ is largely instrumental. You always know when a set is special by the number of other musicians that show up to watch, and there were quite a few bopping along while S/T debuted the all-new VIP stage.

Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band

Jon and Andy moved to Colorado eventually and, in 2003, formed ‘Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band’ with Anders Beck on dobro, Travis Book on bass, and Robin Davis on mandolin. They recorded one album together and won the Rockygrass band competition before splitting up and all joining other groups. Robin formed as a duo with his wife Jimi, Travis Book hightailed it east and founded the ‘Infamous Stringdusters,’ and Anders joined ‘Greensky Bluegrass.’ All of these highly talented gentlemen were together in a band that didn't last but was never forgotten. They reformed in 2019 for a reunion gig at Telluride Bluegrass Festival and have had a few joint gigs since for fun but have not played east of the Mississippi in over 20 years. Thursday night on the Lawn Stage, that streak was reset, and I got to check off a personal bucket list item. They gathered around a cluster of microphones, huddled stringed necks together, and flat-out shredded. Each of them traded leads and vocals, seemingly time-warping back to 2003 in Durango. I found it interesting that, like the Stringdusters, each wandered back and forth, up to and back from the mics, and generally focused on whomever was soloing at that moment. Greensky, JS3, and Leftover are largely stationary onstage, and it was great to see the way the players jammed together and moved around, each with a big ol' smile plastered on his face. The band played "Broke Mountain Breakdown," of course, as well as "Why Cry" and the title track from that record released in 2003, "Cabin in the Hills." Anders spoke to the crowd during the set: “When we started, I was the worst musician in this band, and now 20 years later, it's great to get up here and find out I am still the worst musician in this band!” But what a band, and what a great night! It's rare for me to watch a full set of music at a festival; there are more pictures to take and other bands to hear. I did not miss one second of Broke Mountain. I actually went and sat down in the back and just soaked in the experience, possibly the only one I will ever get from this great band that never made it. If you get the chance to see them, do it!

Might Joshua | Rooster Walk

Ron Holloway | Rooster Walk 2024

Jeff Sipe | Rooster Walk 2024

Josh Shilling | Rooster Walk 2024

Friday started with four hours of morning rain, which was wonderful for resting up for a full day of tunes. Mighty Joshua got the day started with some tasty reggae jams I could hear all the way from my camp, and I got down there in time for a morning dance yoga session to limber up. Mountain Grass Unit started out the Lawn Stage offerings with some sweet Virginia grass picking, and then Travis Book and Friends formed up on Lake Stage. Rooster Walk has a large number of ‘Artists at Large,’ and they join together to do a house band jam each day. Travis was an artist at large on Friday only, and both his set and the Jimmy Jam had similar feels, both anchored by Jeff Sipe on drums (Keller, Col Bruce, Warren Hayes, TAB, Leftover Salmon) and the legendary Ron Holloway (Dizzy Gilespie, Warren Hayes, Tedeschi/Trucks, Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule) on tenor sax, along with Josh Shilling on all things keys and vocals. Watching these complete professionals explore different songs and genres together all weekend really made RW14 special. They covered everything from gospel to the Dead and Hendrix to a crazy funk session on Saturday that didn’t miss a beat when the kids' parade led by ‘Sol Driven Train’ choo-choo’ed through their set, and they jointly busted out some sweet New Orleans Dixie jazz.

Isaac Hadden

Isaac Hadden is going to be a force in music, much the way that Marcus King and Billy Strings have become. I saw him at Floyd in 2021, and he was great then but still clearly developing who he wanted to be. Now at 21, he is a musical explosion every set, and he played twice over the weekend. His band defies all genres, easily slipping from super tight vocal songs into long jams that then slide into space jazz before somehow ending back with the vocals they started with. It's enthralling, and I advise you to catch them at any fest you can, as they will be on bigger and bigger stages as the years roll by.

Kanika Moore with TAUK | Rooster Walk 2024

TaukMoore | Rooster Walk 2024

TaukMoore closed out the night on Lake Stage. I am a long-time TAUK fan and was pleased to see them start the set with a handful of songs themselves before Kanika Moore joined them onstage to deliver an incredible set. Her vocal style is the perfect counterpoint to the band’s incessant groove, and the crowd was both younger and far more party-ready at this set than at any other of the weekend.

Arkansauce | Rooster Walk 2024

Seldom Scene | Rooster Walk 2024

Ozark prog-grassers ‘Arkansauce’ got Saturday started, and then the ‘Seldom Scene’ kept the progressive vibe going before teeing up Virginia faves ‘Yarn’ for a Pine Stage set that was ‘fervent.’ Yarn has a die-hard fan base, and some come from as far as Colorado to see their band rip it up. They also perform a theme set every year on Sunday evening, this year being the music of Dire Straits.

Emmylou Harris | Roosterwalk 2024

Emmylou artwork during her lovely set

Emmylou Harris filled the Lawn Stage area pretty much the only time Saturday evening. Seemingly timeless, her voice and songs thrilled the crowd for an extended feel-good set that was smooth and gentle, the complete opposite of the heavy blues sounds of ‘North Mississippi Allstars,’ who finished out the night for the Lake Stage. Luther and Cody have been thumping along at these festivals seemingly since they were in nappies and, as always, churned the crowd into a frenzy.

North Mississippi Allstars | Rooster Walk 2024

Other notable acts of the weekend included Daniel Donato's Cosmic Country, who debuted here on the Pine Stage, moved up to both Lake and Lawn sets this year, and are getting a huge buzz in the scene currently. And my ‘find’ of the weekend; ‘Holler Choir’ out of Asheville has definitely got something special going on. An amazing interplay of harmonies and musicianship that seamlessly weaves into itself in a complex fashion. Helena Rose on banjo vied with Andy Thorn for Best Pluck of the weekend… catch 'em.

Holler Choir | Rooster Walk 2024

Rooster Walk 2024

Rooster Walk is doing all the things they need to do to become a world-class music festival, and I can foresee attendance of 10,000 in their future. Go see one now while there is extra room to dance. Rooster Walk has also expanded their musical calendar and will host ‘The Infamous Weekend’ on Sept. 19th, also at Pop’s Farm. Anchored by the Infamous Stringdusters and featuring the Jon Stickley Trio, The Last Revel, and Lil Smokies. Tickets are available for both the Infamous Weekend and next year's Rooster Walk at roosterwalk.com