As two hurricanes bore down on the Carolinas and Virginia, I went to my fourth music festival of the year, in Floyd, Virginia, August 12 - 15. While music festivals all have certain similarities they are as different from each other as
snowflakes. Some have no on-site camping, others are nothing
more than a big party, and others have a "Save the Earth"
consciousness about them. Each has its strengths and weaknesses,
from the quality of the performances to the layout of the
festival site, to that most innate of attributes, the vibe.
In just its third year, FloydFest has managed to take the best of
each of the other festivals I've been to and meld that into a
cohesive whole. By adding a multitude of ideas unique to itself, it has become a sophisticated, well organized, and well conceived
festival. Put all this onto a picture perfect postcard setting
and you have potential for this festival to become world class.
My biggest concern for the future of FloydFest is how it will
Attendees arriving at FloydFest park in a remote lot and are
shuttled the five minute ride to the festival entrance. The
school busses and drivers are the same ones who transport more
than 10,000 people a day at MerleFest, so the system runs
effortlessly at a festival with roughly 4000 attendees total. Everyone
is wristbanded and enters the site on a pathway lined with signs
reading "Share more," "Kindness," and "Leave your troubles at the
The site sits on a spur that juts out perpendicularly from the Blue
Ridge Parkway. The new, gorgeous Dreaming Creek stage sits at
the far end of a meadow that is ringed with vendor booths selling
quality crafts. Closer in are food vendors and the ubiquitous blue bus, the Joyful
Cup, purveyors of fine coffees at many festivals. A ring of
tents forms a healing arts enclave, and a fenced area in the
woods serves as a beer garden with a stage. A third stage sits
low in a hollow, while a fourth stage, made to look like an old
home or storefront porch, sits along the entrance path.
FloydFest by Pat Spino
FloydFest bills itself as a world music festival, and on the
other side of the site, down a long hill, several
grass-roofed huts are set up as an African village. The late night drum
circle is here, as is a huge fire pit, and eclectic acts such as
the African Showboys. The Temple of Oracles was off
to the side of the tiki torch-lined path to the village--next year I
will have to visit to see just what the Temple is all about.
While most folks who come to FloydFest camp, some in tents and
some in RVs, others stay in the many near by cabins, bed and breakfasts, or
other off-site lodging. On-site
parking (for an extra fee) was available in a field just through
the service entrance. There were many port-a-johns, although
either not quite as many as last year or just not in all the same
locations. They are cleaned twice a day. A trash crew worked
constantly emptying the trash and recycle bins. New this year
was a set of solar-warmed gravity-fed showers.
FloydFest by Pat Spino
The attention to detail all over the site was incredible. There
were flower gardens everywhere--on a hillside near the front
entrance was a 40-foot "G cleft" planted in celosia that was
visible from the parkway. In the center of the site were two
water gardens, new this year, and a series of small gardens with
designs: a peace symbol, a yin-yang, and a smiley face. Tiki
torches lined all the main paths, while a footpath through a
section of the woods had every tree wrapped in white Christmas
lights that sparkled magically when lit at night.
But this was a music festival, and I would be remiss if I didn't
write about what most people came for to begin with (although I
am convinced that you could come to FloydFest, never go see a
band and still have a great time). Sam Bush headlined Saturday
night, Del McCoury on Sunday, and a whole slew of artists played
on the stages all weekend. We heard reggae from Culture and Eek-A-Mouse; Celtic meets Metallica from Enter The Haggis; zydeco
from Keith Frank; weird, entertaining stuff! from Cyro Baptista; the funky groove from Donna the Buffalo; and a truly
inspired set under the dance tent late Saturday afternoon from
jamgrass band Railroad Earth.
Railroad Earth by Emer O'Loghlin
It was under the dance tent Friday night, grooving to "that Donna
chick" as followers of Donna the Buffalo jokingly refer to the
band, that I came to a startling realization. Diane poked me in
the ribs and said "Isn't this great--everyone here is our age!"
And it was the truth. At 1:30 in the morning on a cold and misty
night in the Blue Ridge Mountains, under a circus tent at
FloydFest, several hundred folks, 35 to 50 years old, were all
bouncing and swaying to the music.
Donna the Buffalo by Todd E. Gaul
It wasn't all about being an adult, however. There is a
children's universe, a hay bale-encircled world full of
activities for the kids. We witnessed the main parade the last
two years and brought funky hats to join in this year. The
director, Claudia, led all the kids, young and old, around the
festival site and even got the folks directly in front of the
stage to part so we could all troop past the band that was
playing. At FloydFest being an adult doesn't mean leaving your
inner child at home.
Two years ago this festival was in its infancy, dealing with both
a hurricane and all the problems that a first year festival
encounters. Last year it was a teenager, struggling as it grew,
feeling like it was all grown up in so many ways when it just
wasn't. This year two hurricanes were predicted but produced a
total of 20 minutes of rain the entire weekend. In the cool,
overcast mountain air, though, FloydFest matured into an adult
festival, both in the make up of its patrons and its own growth.
FloydFest by Mara Roberts
They say Floyd County rests atop an aquifer, that it is a source
of pure water. Perhaps it is from drinking this water that the
folks who put together this festival have derived their inner
strength and vision. With their exuberant energy FloydFest will
continue to grow and thrive. May that water be akin to the
fountain Ponce de Leon sought, so this festival may never grow
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