Words & Images by: Stratton Lawrence
FloydFest 8: Revival :: 07.23.09 – 07.26.09 :: Blue Cow Pavilion :: Floyd, VA
Fancy Gap. Meadows of Dan. Rolling up the Blue Ridge Parkway to FloydFest, even the names of towns ease one into a more simple time and place. Cell phones stop working long before we arrive, and weaving through lush, narrow hollows, the road is wet from a just-passed rain cloud. Turning a corner, one catches a first glimpse of the idyllic ridgeline and valley adorned with wooden stages and all manner of art, fancy and merriment as the sun shines brightly down on a perfect mid-70 degree afternoon. FloydFest's magic is evident before even stepping through the front gate.
After catching a moment of The Old Ceremony's opening set, Nathan Moore's solo set was first on the official agenda. Moore wittily sang about wanting to be the next Abbie Hoffman and how to "survive some grizzly summer learning which berries are safe to eat." The songwriter only learned that he was part of FloydFest's "Emerging Artist" competition as he took the stage. "If anyone needs ice or their tent set up after the show, just call me gopher," he joked. "I'll draw the line, but not where you think I would." Moore's style, reminiscent of Greg Brown, worked well with tales like the time he spotted Drew Emmitt on the street, then ran alongside him, singing. The weekend's first magical moment came when a particularly stiff breeze rustled the grass and trees behind the stage just as Moore sang about "each way the wild wind blows."
Emmitt himself, along with Billy Nershi and band, provided the evening's next highlight with a set that peaked during a tremendous cover of Dylan's "The Mighty Quinn." The two veterans showed off the instincts that set them above the pack, masterfully handing off the solos to the next player in line. Dressed in a psychedelic purple shirt and gold Mardi Gras beads, Emmitt was clearly having a ball. The band ended the show by inviting Jason Hann on stage for a song by bassist Tyler Grant (the 2008 National Flatpicking Guitar Champion), before a rollicking "Restless Wind." About midway through the show, a woman in the front row offered up a bottle of tequila to Nershi, but it was snatched away by security as he leaned forward to take it. After the show, Michael Kang emerged from the side-stage, smiling big as he handed Billy the bottle.
|Nathan Moore :: FloydFest 8|
For those String Cheese Incident fans hoping for some collaborative work between the members present at FloydFest, Thursday may have been a disappointment. Panjea, Kang's post-SCI project, entertained with their worldly funk grooves, but the music never came close to the epic peaks of String Cheese lore. Nershi watched from the side, but never joined them on stage.
It's obviously difficult to be the frontman in a band where you're not the biggest name, but Panjea's lead vocalist Chris Berry becomes borderline obnoxious at times. The songs' messages were poignant ("Why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing people is wrong?") but the over-the-top dancing and frantic jumping between congas and the microphone by Berry was distracting and may actually hold the very capable band (Kang and Berry plus sax, bass, drums) from reaching musical points they otherwise might reach.
|Emmitt-Nershi Band :: FloydFest 8|
The night ended with a third String Cheese offshoot, EOTO on the Hill Holler Stage. Billy Nershi sat on the grass near the back and watched, and the dichotomy between his epic acoustic build-ups and the monotonous, electronic ramblings of EOTO was striking. Nershi said that SCI loved playing together at Rothbury and that he believes it'll happen again before too long. "We talked about it and understand that we all need to give each other latitude to explore our own pursuits on stage," he said.
Walking back to camp, a meteor shower decorated the night sky, ripping across the intensely bright Milky Way. Witnessing three String Cheese products in a row proved insightful. Despite all the skills Kang, Hann and Michael Travis possess, Emmitt-Nershi Band sounded the most like a real band, utilizing all their members and together taking the sound to exciting places.
Continue reading for Friday's coverage of FloydFest...