Floyd Fest VII
July 24-27, 2008
I told my friends that I was going to FloydFest this year.
“FloydFest? Like Pink Floyd?”
“No”, I’d say, “The Town of Floyd, in Virginia.”
I pulled into the town of Floyd. VA, early in the afternoon on the Thursday of Floydfest. My directions said to take a left at the only stop light in town. Easy enough. This southwest Virginia hamlet had an official population of 435 people as of 2007 and it’s probably no bigger today. There really is only one stoplight. Nevertheless, the town of Floyd has a flourishing music and arts scene.
I’m fan of smaller music festivals, in the 1500 – 5000 person range, so I was getting a little edgy when I heard that FloydFest had record pre-sales of about 12,000. To my delight, the woods around FloydFest comfortably absorbed all of the happy campers offering them “Quiet” and “Not So Quiet” camping areas.
The venue is well planned and easy to navigate – it was never more than a five or ten minute walk from one stage to another. There were two main stages, the Dreaming Creek Stage and the Streamline Hill Holler Stage, both beautiful timber-framed structures. There was also a big dance tent, the Workshop Front Porch, the Village stage, and stages in the Beer Garden and Children’s Universe.
The theme of this year’s FloydFest was “A Family Affair,” reflecting a deliberate and successful attempt to make the festival more family friendly. Unlike some festivals that pay lip service to kids with a few crafts tables using second hand scraps, FloydFest offered a huge, fenced-in play area with its own stage, supervision and age appropriate acts and activities. In spite of the “family” theme, the festival offered an abundance of attractions for all ages and tastes.
While alcohol could not overtly be brought onto the site, FloydFest had a spacious, generously tabled, shaded and centrally located beer garden offering great wines from several local vineyards and an assortment of small brewery beers. Bands from the Emerging Artists series provided continuous entertainment from PinkFloyd Beer Garden stage daily from 11am until late into the night.
At any given time, there were as many as seven or eight simultaneous performances, so I quickly abandoned my compulsion to see and do everything. As a result, my words will reflect my personal experience and I won’t be commenting on all of the acts.
The first act I caught was the Cashmere Jungle Lords a self-described Southern Fried Salsa Surfabilly group. Shortly after that I quickly made it over to the main stage to see bluegrass favorites, the Chatham County Line who showcased songs from their newly released CD IV. FloydFest regulars Donna the Buffalo played a dynamic crowd pleasing two-hour set on the Dreaming Creek main stage to headline the evening. Laura Reed and Deep Pocket capped off my night on the Streamline Hill Holler stage. Not bad for a Thursday night.
William Walter & Company took to the Hill Holler stage around 1pm on Friday. This Charlottesville band impressed me as being both visually and musically engaging. They truly look like they are having a good time on stage, and that counts a lot for audience appeal. They were so well-liked that the audience voted them as favorite Emerging Artist of the festival, an honor that gets them 15 hours of recording time, some cash and a slot on the main stage next year.
Richmond-based Indigenous Gourd Orchestra grows, makes, and plays their instruments. Outfitted in hats and masks made also made from gourds, they played the Village stage and were, as their Web site indicates, “outstanding in their field.”
Friday evening started with parallel religious experiences that couldn’t have been more different. Rev Frank Newsome and Elizabeth Laprelle sat in on the porch stage. Pastor Newsome heads the Old Regular Baptist Little David Church in Haysi, Va. His music is sung in an old style without instruments and is rarely heard outside of the southern Appalachian Mountains.
Meanwhile, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band was in the dance tent at the very same time. Rev Peyton looks like a deep hollow moon shiner and has a peculiar set of insane looks. His wife, Breezy, is the punkest washboard player you’ll ever see.
After what seemed like a painfully long and annoying (“Check, check, check….”) sound check, Tea Leaf Green played a fantastic set on the Holler stage. I’ve wanted to see these guys for a while and I wasn’t disappointed when they finally started. Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band seems to be everywhere these days. On Friday (and Saturday) night they were in the dance tent as the late night act. I hit my tent around 2:00 AM and drifted away to the sounds of Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad.
The David Grisman Quintet provided us with two performances on Saturday. The first was billed as a mandolin workshop and many musicians showed up with their instruments hoping for an interactive experience. However, the popularity of long time Jerry Garcia friend Grisman may have been underestimated and an overflow crowd packed the small area for an up-close concert on the Workshop Porch. A short time later, the group took to the main stage and played to FloydFest’s biggest audience in its seven year history. Particularly notable were flutist Matt Eakle and guitarist Frank Vignola. A stand-out song was "Dawg’s Waltz" that Grisman wrote for Garcia and which appeared on their 1992 acoustic album Gracia/Grisman.
I’m still kickin’ myself for not seeing Amos Lee. I did hear him though and he’s great. So next time…
In keeping with their World Music tradition, FloydFest brought in Oliver Mtukudzi and his band from Zimbabwe. Oliver is an African music legend. His rhythmic Afropop music and on stage dancing stirred us all and reminded us of the true roots of modern music.
Next up… Rusted Root. I must’ve been in a coma for the past 14 years to have missed Rusted Root, an incredibly talented, percussion-rooted band from Pittsburgh PA. I was enthralled by Liz Berlin’s voice and rhythms. Having been to Graceland earlier this year, I was having flashbacks when they did the best version of "Suspicious Minds" that I’ve ever heard.
I rushed over to catch most of Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, before finishing the night, once again, with the Booty Band. They got me and the rest of the crowd when they slid into a wicked funk version of "Sympathy for the Devil." Goosebumps! (Check out a version on You Tube if you get a chance.)
Two late nights of the Booty Band? Yep! And…..as Ian Neville and his lady friend walked up to watch the Booty show, Al Al (bass) and Derrick (trombone) spotted him and coaxed him to the stage for a song or two. If that wasn’t enough, Josh Phillips was back for both nights. For me, it’s just not the same when he’s not there.
Headliners the Avett Brothers closed out FloydFest 7 on Sunday afternoon. I have to confess that I had returned to Raleigh for family matters, but my colleague, Roger Gupta reports that the Avett’s were stellar as usual, with high energy and the remaining crowd ate it up!
There wasn’t much negative to report on Floyd Fest. Maybe a little too much dust from the road where we were camping, or too many acts that I wanted to see playing at the same time. That’s about it. We’ll be there next year. The positive energy is a strong pull.