FloydFest 9 - Breaking Ground

A perfect conglomeration of music, art, food, people and one of the most breathtaking venues in the country.
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There is something to be said about how festivals are created, maintained and the overall feeling one gets when it's all said and done.  Some festivals seem to get a little overcrowded creating a sea of trash that is blatantly disregarded, some are in vast open fields with absolutely no shade causing utter frustration among attendees and then there are the rare ones that bring everything together so perfectly.  Floydfest is just that, a perfect conglomeration of music, art, food, people and one of the most breathe taking venues in the country.  Floydfest is located on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway near the small quaint town of Floyd, VA. This was the 9th annual Floydfest with the theme "Breaking Ground." What does it mean to break ground? I take it as the fundamental beginnings of life or consciousness by planting a seed that will one day break ground flourishing into something beautiful.  I see Floydfest as a growing seed planted 9 years ago that has broken ground and flourished as a festival that has so much love into its creation that the energy created brings people back year after year.


Crowd2The layout of the festival runs seamlessly from the front entrance to the Main Stage. Coming in from the entrance on the right is the Virginia Folklife Workshop Porch where artist are showcased and interviewed in a beautiful intimate porch setting. "The Porch" was conceived by John Lohman and built by Bob Forman from planks of wood that were abandoned on the side of the road for month until Bob figured he could make something out of it and out came a very homey, down to earth setting for artist to come and share great stories with their adoring fans. Following the path on the left was the beautiful natural amphitheater called the Hill Holler Stage and further down was the Dreaming Creek Stage (Main Stage). From the entrance to the Main Stage a mulch filled path was filled with vendors from everywhere like Home Grown Music Network, Synergy Organic Clothing, Carroll Creek Glassware and many others. The other stages within the venue were the Beer Garden (Pink Floyd Stage), a favorite for most people throughout the weekend because of the wonderful shade that masked the intense heat plaguing the weekend, The Global Village (Village Stage), a place of entertainment, enlightenments and empowerment, The Blue Ridge and Beyond Tent, Forever Young Tent (Children's Universe), and The Performing Arts Space.


Thursday, July 22nd

Rising Appalachia

Today was a half day of music with bands I was excited to see for the first time as well as some well-known veteran artists. The first band of the day was Rising Appalachia for us. These two sisters eat and breathe the strings of folk with a new age twist.  The perfect harmonies between Leah and Chloe Smith are like perfect vibrations that get stronger and stronger, rhythmically consuming the body and soul. While I was enthralled by the music I was visually stimulated by the Aerial Fabric Acrobatics on stage which flowed seamlessly with the music.  On the Dreaming Creek Stage later that day I was very excited to see Cornmeal who I had heard so much about from the time of their winning the "new groove of the year" award at the 7th annual Jammys back in 2008.  This band knows how to push the boundaries of Blue Grass and Americana.  What surprised me the most was violinist/vocalist Allie Kral, she was amazing from start to finish.  I believe they have begun a new genre in the Blue Grass movement and it is "Jam Grass", very similar to New Grass but with an extra oomph to it.

Cornmeal

After such an amazing set it was time for the winners of last years "Under the Radar" band The Mantras. (Floydfest has put a great emphasis on new up and coming bands from the region called the "Under the Radar Music Series" these bands get to showcase their talent throughout the weekend then fans get to vote for their favorite. Floydfest then gives The Mantrasthe winner some amazing things like a spot on the Main Stage the following year, 25 hours in Blackwater Recording Studios, as well as a $500 merchandise credit.) This set by The Mantras was probably one of the most memorable for me. The music itself was on fire; Keith Allen and Marcus Horth seem to be on the same page intertwining their rocking, layered guitar licks. {Miguel's Dream > Electric Moment > Hill Holler Jam > Hobo Ken > Spirits In The Material World > Is That What You Want > Magillicuddy > Dharland} After an appropriate "Is That What You Want" butterflies were floating in my stomach and anxiety to the 10th power was overcoming me because of what was to happen next.  Keith told everyone that I had a special announcement to make, so I hopped up on stage where I nervously took the mic and yelled out "How about The Mantras!" then went on to ask my girlfriend to marry me. Woah!  What a relief to finally get that out, she was helped up on stage where I then took a knee and did the formal proposal. With sweat beading down my face I found myself in a momentary lapse of reason, until I heard the words "yes, I do".  I quickly jumped off stage and fell to the ground in utter relief and joy. The Mantras continued with a fantastic rendition of Magillacuddy with Brian Swenk from Big Daddy Love on electric banjo. Right after The Mantras it was time for New Orleans Galacticpower house Galactic. Tonight Galactic had the pleasure to have on stage Corey Henry from the Rebirth Brass Band singing and raging on the trombone.  Corey just about stole the show but how can you steal the show from Stanton Moore and Company? Hard at work promoting their new album Ya-Ka-May, Galactic shows just how to get your soul moving with their ability to mix New Orleans funk, jazz and rock together in a funkalicious manner.  The late night for Thursday goes to the one and only Eric Krasno and his new band Chapter 2. Accompanying Eric is Nigel Hall on vocals and keys, Adam Deitch on drums, and Louis Cato on bass and vocals. Taking music to a new level is what this night was about.  One of my favorite shows for the entire weekend Mr. Krasno set the bar to the top with his performance.  Cato was also a big surprise; he played a REAL mean bass. I picked up that he could play the hell out of the drums and guitar as well.  I heard that one time he scared Adam Deitch right out of the room when he started playing drums, now that's talent! Eric played straight through keeping a nice bluesy feel, his guitar sounded as if it had vocal chords.  Its raw rocking tones from one song to the next put everyone in a musical whirlwind.


Friday July 23rd

Boulder Acoustic Society

Friday started off very early with Yoga with Jeff Tiebout at 8am in the Beyond Dance Tent and Mindfulness Meditation in the Imagine Tent down in the Global Village.  The Imagine Tent is where one is enlightened throughout the weekend with different awareness and inner peace discussions, good for those who need a piece of mind and to get away from it all for a bit.  Music started around 11am on the Dreaming Creek Stage with another must see for me, The Boulder Acoustic Society.  BAS threw down the accordion heavy Colorado style Blue Grass / Folk.  A highlight for the weekend and improv at its best, this quintet seems to have momentum on their side with 5 established albums under their belt the newest being "Punchline," I think they have what it takes to propel to the next level.  Throughout the day I had the pleasure of seeingLefty Williams, The Budos Band and an Juggle This!entertaining juggling act by the name of Juggle This! The Lefty Williams set was an unbelievable show, when you see this guy you can see the passion he puts into his playing it's not just music to Lefty its life. When you put that much into playing it shows! The resonating sound from his guitar and harmonious vocals shot out like glimmers of a Cajun southern delight. I looked around while people were dancing and I could see the impact his music seemed to have on everyone watching and that's why Lefty will get my "Under the Radar" vote. While walking over to the Main Stage I was captured by the comic duo "Juggle This."  A crowd pleaser, the duo knew just how to get a crowd going by their comical gestures and whimsical juggling act.  Not wanting to miss the ever popular Budos Band, we hurried over to the Dreaming Creek Stage where they had already started showcasing their afro funky soulful instrumentation. During the melodic but intense drum beats and a mind blowing horn section extravaganza, the bassist Dan Foder was very interesting to watch as he held his bass out from his body where the front of the bass was facing the crowd and he managed to rip it up with this entertaining style.  Later on that evening it was time to get down with some real African beats.  Konono No 1 took the Dreaming Creek Stage by storm.  This 16 member band was founded back in the 1960s by Mingiedi, a virtuoso of the likembe (a traditional instrument sometimes called "sanza" or "thumb piano", consisting of metal rods attached to a resonator). The band's line-up includes three electric likembes (bass, medium and treble) and is backed by a stellar rhythm section using traditional as well as makeshift percussion such as pots and pans. The musicians come from an area which borders the Congo and Angola in West Africa. Their repertoire draws largely on Bazombo trance music which originated in West Africa.  After about an hour of African throw down it was all starting to sound the same to me so we decided to catch some of the Papadosio set down at the Hill Holler Stage.

Flam Chen

On the way there I witnessed a feat that should never be tried at home; Flam Chen a pyrotechnic group who specialize in extreme theater and aerial acrobatics started blowing up 10 to 12 balloons as big a ten man tent, and then lifted up a woman on stilts at least 10 stories up in the air!  As she spun around she lit a small flare and mesmerized the surrounding area with her aerial acrobatics.  While this stunt was going on Papadosio was starting off strong with their electronic synthesizer beats but was soon cut off by a loss of power from a blown transformer which consumed every stage for about an hour or so.  Deciding to rest up I went back to camp and waited for the headliner of the night, Railroad Earth and a late night set by Soullive.  Seeing Railroad Earth countless time my fiance and I decided to take it easy and listen from our camp which was conveniently behind the Main Stage. From what I heard RRE put on a hair raising show. {Where Songs Begin > The Green Roots of Erieann > Like A Buddha > Walk Beside Me > Been Down This Road > Bread & Water > For Love > Right In Tune > The Hunting Song > Mountain Time > 1759 > Fisherman's Blues > Warhead Boogie > Soul Of A Man >Bringin' My Baby Back Home.} After listening to that set I really wish I had gone and seen them play an intimate Eric Krasnoset on "The Porch" earlier that day.  The Late Night again goes to Eric Krasno and Soulive.  Right out of the gate Soulive proved to be the heat. {Instrumental > Jam/Band Intros > Instrumental > Turn It Out > Uncle Junior > Hat Trick > Something > Come Together > Eleanor Rigby > I Want You (She's So Heavy) > One In Seven} I mean come on that set about put me into a musical coma getting to hear Eric play his rendition of 4 Beatles songs in a row I about melted. It was also a treat to hear some good songs off of their album Get Down as well as some classics from their 2001 album Doin' Something.  I know that faces were melted during Eleanor Rigby; All I can say is Wow!


Saturday July 24th

    Again Floydfest amazes me because of the diverse activities going on like Yoga, Clogging, Folktales, Tai Kwon Do, DrumSTRONG Drum Workshops (drumming against cancer), as well as "The Back Yard Revolution" which is a family oriented celebration of the regions culture and agricultural heritage.  With cow milking demonstrations, raising sheep and spinning their wool, arrowsmithing (the ancient art of building arrows), soap making, and fire starting with a bow and drill.   The music today started off with Sol Driven Train on the Main Stage for 30 min. Now tell me, how can a band convey their music in 30 min? It probably takes longer to setup and break them down then it did for them to play their set, what a bummer, it's a good thing most bands get to play more than once throughout the weekend. Next on the agenda was supposed to be Rising Appalachia who I loved on Thursday and want to see again but walking past the Main Stage we were William Walterdrawn to William Walter & Co from Charlottesville, VA who I had never heard of. A bit of a show boat, William Walter had an impressive poppy acoustic sound and perplexing fun lyrics that kept the crowd enthralled the whole show. During his set, he was very into throwing things out into the crowd, like small bags of coffee, t-shirts, cd's and how about this, girl's panties with his name on the ass. To funny! I highly recommend looking him up.  Following this nice fresh set we set of for some intimate time with Joe Pug & Bucky Baxter on The Porch.  Another newbie for me, Joe Pug has Bob Dylan written all over him, this singer song writer has blown up in just 2 years and has managed to make a name for himself by giving out 15,000 CD's in 50 states and 14 different countries.  The meaningful thought out lyrics can move your soul and make you reflect on the simple things in life that make it so special.  It was an added treat to witness old timer Bucky Baxter on the pedal steel guitar who has had an awesome career playing with artist such as Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, R.E.M, and Ryan Adams. Later tonight he was going to play with the legendary Levon Helm. Shortly after, the African beats were back for one more day with the band Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba taking the Dreaming Creek Stage.

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba

Bassekou is a master of the Ngoni.  An Ngoni is the Bambara name for an ancient traditional lute found throughout West Africa. Its body is a hollowed-out, canoe-shaped piece of wood with dried animal skin stretched over it like a drum. The neck is a fretless length of doweling that inserts into the body.  It is also the African ancestor of the Banjo to get an idea of its sound.  The worldly tones and vocals being portrayed were very genuine and graceful.  The band consisted of 4 musicians all playing different sized Ngoni's, a female vocalist, and a couple of percussionist.  After being moved by the JJ Greysounds of Africa later that day JJ Grey and Mofro played on the Dreaming Creek Stage. {Ho Cake > A Woman >War >Intro > Lochloosa > Fire Flies > The Sweetest Thing > Everything Good Is Bad > Slow, Hot & Sweaty > Higher You Climb > Orange Blossoms >Brighter Days > On Fire}. Seeing JJ Grey a few times this year and last year I can honestly say that he really needs to really mix it up a bit. He seems to play a lot of the same songs and tell the same stories show after show which to me gets kind of old.  He is a fine musician, has one hell of a band and I am a big fan but I am ready for him to tell us about new experiences and mix different tunes in his repertoire.   The two biggest names at the festival were next, Old Crow Medicine Show & Levon Helm.  Being the first time I had seen Old Crow Medicine Show I was really blown away by the levels of talent on stage my god! Ketch Secor standing left center shredded every iLevon Helmnstrument he picked up which included a fiddle, harmonica, and guitar. Their harmonies were spot on, a perfect way to end the day. Levon Helm took the headlining spot and this legend proved to be on his game.  The band surrounding Levon sounded so tight they didn't miss a beat.  It was enjoyable to hear some old classics from The Band. Levon pulled out his mandolin for a couple which was a nice treat in addition 2 female vocalists put the set into high gear.  He played a Deep Elm Blues that would make any deadhead yearn for more.  For the late night set the smooth Karl Denson's Tiny Universe graced us with their high energy funk. {Funky Stuff > Instrumental >Power of Soul > Chance With You >Grenadiers > Trampled Underfoot >Instrumental > Brother's Keeper > Flute Down >The Bridge >Shake It Out}. During "Chance With You" they teased some of the Wizard of Oz songs while other high points in the set were "Flute Down" and the encore "Shake It Out". Karl Denson owned the stage with his flute playing. As if it wasn't hot enough all day Karl brought the heat.


Sunday July 25th

    A day of relaxation and shade, this one was spent mostly in the beer garden where I heard some amazing "Under the Radar" bands such as the Tennessee Boltsmokers (who played a righteous Eddie Rabbit cover "Drivin' My Life Away"), Travis Elliot, and The Young Sinclair.  The day really went to the woman of rock & roll with Tift Merritt and Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. 

Tift Merritt

Tift Merritt really surprised me with her indie rock style and smooth demeanor. Her husband was on drums backing her up which seemed to add a lot of heart and soul to her music. I really look forward to hearing her new CD "See You on the Moon" when I get Grace Potterhome. I felt much closer to her music after her little performance on The Porch.  Grace Potter & The Nocturnals closed out the festival on the Hill Holler Stage. She had so much energy as she ran from the front of the stage to the organ then back again grabbing a guitar or a tambourine; she seemed to catapult the rest of the band to play on her level. {Joey > That Phone > Goodbye Kiss >Tiny Light > Apologies > Low Road > One Short Night > Stop The Bus > Only Love > Oasis > Big White Gate > Heart Of Glass > Nothing But The Water (Part 1) > Nothing But The Water (Part 2) > Band Intros/Jam > Medicine > Group Drums > Medicine Reprise E: Sweet Hands > White Rabbit > If I Was From Paris}.  Grace exhibited pure raw soulfulness with her hard core vocals which steamed full throttle sounding a bit like Bonnie Raitt or Joan Osborne on steroids.  The encores put the icing on the cake especially with Jefferson Airplanes "White Rabbit."  

Crowd-_3_

Looking around the festival I was overwhelmed by how clean the venue was kept. All weekend I noticed that volunteers manned every trashcan on the premises showing people which one to use for their trash, recycling or compost. When that much care and devotion goes into keeping a clean environment I am sure it was dearly noted by everyone who attended this ground breaking festival. My hat goes off to Across-the-Way Productions for organizing a festival that made everyone from toddlers to elders feel welcome and a part of a big Floydfest family.  I look forward to see what they have up their sleeve for the 10th year of this astonishing festival.

- Brad Winecoff

- Photos by Paula Benjamin