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.

Floyd, Virginia
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 handle success.

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 gate."

FloydFest by Pat Spino
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 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.

FloydFest by Pat Spino
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.

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.

Railroad Earth by Emer O'Loghlin
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.

Donna the Buffalo by Todd E. Gaul
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.

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.

FloydFest by Mara Roberts
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.

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 old.

Doug Corkhill
JamBase | Virginia
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[Published on: 8/27/04]

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