FloydFest made its triumphant return to the green rolling hills of southwest Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains for a 5-day odyssey through a vast universe of sounds spread across 9 stages. It's truly Disneyland for music lovers. An electric vibe connected the performers to the audience in the shared joy of reemergence from solitude, with a full moon and rainbow illuminating the magical mountains with a mystical sheen. FloydFest is set up for discovery, with stages laid out in a long line so fans can't help walking past new acts to discover, and with many bands playing multiple sets there are ample opportunities to find new favorites. Renowned for its creative community of artists, the large selection of vendors fill the fields with dazzling handmade items alongside oodles of outdoor activities like hiking, biking, climbing, disc golfing, birding, workshops and more.
The music launched on Wednesday afternoon with the slick bluegrass stylings of Into the Fog and Mason Via & Hot Trail Mix before Abby Bryant & the Echoes took over the Pink Floyd Garden Stage for an inspired set of Pink Floyd covers showcasing the versatility of the musicians and her exceptional vocal power. Thursday's highlights included the rootsy revelry of Old Crow Medicine Show and the fiery string band frenzy of Big Daddy Love. Billy Strings then appeared for his first FloydFest appearance, unleashing an uplifting performance instantly acclaimed as a classic in festival history. Playing a long set on acoustic guitar, originals like "Dust in a Baggie" and "Wargasm" sat beside a slew of covers about Virginia and a gorgeous rendition of The Grateful Dead's "China Doll," with his boundless spirit conjuring waves of energy that washed over the crowd.
Friday saw amazing afternoon sets from Rebekah Todd & the Odyssey and The Broadcast, along with Keller Williams doing a special show with his daughter Ella and then returning for a set of blazing bluegrass from Keller & the Keels. Nicole Atkins serenaded the sunset with her searing voice and lush pop noir sound and Leftover Salmon met the moonlight with a wild set that welcomed the amusing antics of Andy Frasco alongside Larry Keel and more. This was followed by another indisputable festival peak when Turkuaz took the stage for a set of Talking Heads tunes celebrating the 40th anniversary of the landmark Remain in Light album plus other Heads highlights. Along for the ride were original Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison and guitar legend Adrian Belew from King Crimson who toured and recorded with the Heads in that era. Together they plunged the depths of funky flow, fitting together like a 12-headed hydra as all were swept away in the relentless rhythm.
After Butcher Brown laid down some irresistibly thick funk grooves, Goose hit the Hill Holler stage for a 2-hour set comprised of 10 long pieces including "Madhuvan," the timeless swing of the Dead's "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo," and an "Arcadia" encore. True to their burgeoning reputation, the intensity was infectious as the grooves strengthened in stamina and skill before sweetly releasing in cathartic bursts of joyous energy and astounding musicianship. Up next was an act unlike any seen before - a comedy dance rock band known simply as Sexbruise? The question mark is part of the name as you'll surely be asking yourself how quickly you can jump online to barter the rest of your summer tickets for Sexbruise? shows. With huge video and light displays adding to the comic effect, they led the crowd through funky philosophical ruminations on everything from Dr. Fauci to awkward middle school dances while cooking pancakes on stage and hurling them into the audience.
Saturday saw Keller Williams play an early afternoon set as Acoustic Syndicate tore through some ferocious and melodic bluegrass on the Workshop Porch. Dr. Bacon came next with a demolition derby of a set, followed by Turkuaz returning with a batch of originals to light up the darkening skies. After a brief baptism, the rainbow reward colored the sky and set the scene for the rest of the weekend. The soulful rock avalanche of Travers Brothership laid waste to the early evening hours, welcoming both Abby Bryant and their dad Hurricane Bob Travers to join the fun before erupting into a breathtaking version of Frank Zappa's "City of Tiny Lites" that boomed across the hills like rolling thunder.
The passionate folk rock of The Avett Brothers draped over the Dreaming Creek Main Stage as they sang some of their most beloved numbers, such as "I Wish I Was", "Live and Die" and a set-ending "Ain't No Man." Consider the Source then emerged to mangle the midnight hour with an otherworldly potion of bubbling jazz, rock and Arabic mystery. Keller Williams took the helm of the hilarious all-star Buffalo Mountain Jam, with highlights including Ella Williams belting out a glorious version of Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and Andy Frasco jumping aboard for more hijinks and hilarity. Vince Herman even put a new spin on "Big Rock Candy Mountain" with lyrics about the festival itself and a bevy of related shenanigans. FloydFest never lacks for late night entertainment, and at 1am Andy Frasco & the U.N. hit the stage for a salty set of good time party rock to wrap up the evening.
By Sunday many festivalgoers resemble extras in a zombie movie, but their determination to persist is admirable, and FloydFest holds nothing back for the unrested. After greeting the day with yoga and meditation, fans saw virtuoso singer/songwriting guitarist Molly Tuttle warm up the sunshine with her acoustic alchemy, and Dr. Bacon, Abby Bryant, Acoustic Syndicate and Andy Frasco all returned for additional sets lasting until midnight. As Monday morning rose over another successful event, eyes wearily turned to 2022, bringing a smile at the thought of returning home once again to the stunning scenery and musical utopia of FloydFest.
- Paul Kerr
- Photos by Jerry Friend