Floyd Fest was born out of a small hippie town â€“ Floyd, Virginia â€“ where the largely artistic and environmentally-minded community backed the idea from the start, with passion. Eleven years, later, the festival has become one of the premier music festivals on the east coast.
Revered for an eclectic lineup based in roots music, Floyd Fest 11 presented acts like Alison Krauss, Bruce Hornsby, Ricky Skaggs and Jackson Browne, right alongside Galactic, Ozomatli, Gary Clark Jr. and Matisyahu. Combined with brass bands, marching bands, Gospel bands, magicians, jugglers and trapeze artists, the five day festival was a delicious buffet of talented performers.
Contained on a ridge top right on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this is not the easiest festival to get to. For the majority of fest-goers, parking was several miles off site and camping was quite a long distance from the check-in point. But there were shuttle buses with trailers for gear constantly running from the parking lot, and there was a constant stream of golf carts whisking people from check-in to their camp sites. These inconveniences should be worn as a badge of honor for the festival directors, because thousands upon thousands of music fans were willing to forge through, divulging that the festival is justÂ thatÂ good.
The setting is a true reflection of the surrounding community. Floyd is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the festival is held at a permanent site at the top of the mountains. The beauty is remarkable, and the residents take its stewardship seriously: Â trash disposal consisted of a series of cans marked either recyclable, compost or landfill; the food vendors â€“ many of whom are local â€“ provided a wide variety of organically grown fare; there were an endless line of local artisans ringing the festivalâ€™s main grounds, selling handmade crafts, many out of recycled products.
If you wanted to buy beer from one of the many craft beer breweries, you must purchase a $6 refillable metal cup. You could use that cup or any other at the free filtered water station or at a coffee vendor stand, cutting down enormously on wasted single use cups. The gorgeous permanent timber frame stages were built by a local timber frame company. All served as a backdrop for many amazing sets of music, giving fest fans an unforgettable experience.
Galactic headlined the Thursday night activities, ripping through a set of classic material and highlights from their Mardi Gras releaseÂ Carnival Electricos.Â Withfront man extraordinaire Corey Glover from Living Color, Galactic has reached a new milepost, one that left the Floyd Fest faithful drained and buzzing.
The band started strong with the instrumental “Karate,” and then brought Glover out for “I Don’t Know What It Is, But It Sure Is Funky,” the 1973 hit from the funk band Ripple. Glover also raged through the high energy â€œHey Na Na,â€ crooned the crowd with the sweet â€œGoing Down Slowlyâ€ and proved his meddle as a soul singer with â€œHeart of Steelâ€Â and â€œYou Donâ€™t Know.â€ The band finished strong with crowd pleasing versions of Living Colourâ€™s â€œCult of Personalityâ€ and the Rolling Stonesâ€™ classic, â€œSympathy for the Devil.â€
The highlight of the set came during â€œBo Money,â€ when Stanton Moore took his drum solo to the people by grabbing his snare drum off the stand and walking to the front of the stage. Never missing a beat, he set up shop with guest percussionist Mike Dillon on congas, and Robert Mercurio and Rich Vogel holding a tambourine and cowbell for Moore. The crowd was screaming wildly while Moore and Dillon let loose a barrage of hard grooving rhythmic smatterings.
The seven piece tour-de-force from Los Angeles, Ozomatli, brought their infectious brand of Latin/hip hop/funk/rock to the beautiful Hill Holler stage on Saturday night. Playing to a packed crowd of Ozo-Heads, the band drew from their deep catalogue; playing hits like â€œCity of Angels,â€ Canâ€™t Stopâ€ and â€œAfter Party,â€ as well as Ozo fan favorites â€œDos Cosas,â€ â€œGallina,â€ â€œChangoâ€ and the hip hop classic, â€œSaturday Night.â€
Ozomatliâ€™s shows are very inclusive, using a lot of MC-styled call and response and inciting the audience to jump and dance along with them. Ozoâ€™s energy was endless as they bounced around the stage, and the excited audience joined them, lost in the moment.
The bandâ€™s traditional show-ending song served as a highlight to Floyd Festâ€™s Saturday night. Bassist Wil-dog Abers thanked the crowd and their crew while guitarist Raul Pacheco and sit in guest Lebo (Dan Lebowitz, guitarist from ALO) kept a guitar line going. The rest of the band grabbed their horns or some percussion gear and started to climb into the sea of people that were before them. The chant of â€œOzomatli, ya se fueâ€ (Ozomatli is leaving) was ringing through the hills and hollows of the Blue Ridge Mountains again and again as the band wound a serpentine through the crowd, finally settling in one spot to jam and sing with their fans.
One of the great features of Floyd Fest is the VA Folklife Workshop Porch. This is where a full schedule of artists gives small, intimate performances of their music, while taking time in between to explain the origin of their songs and their influences. Fans of the Boulder, CO bluegrass jam band and founders of their brand of ploy-ethnic Cajun slamgrass, Leftover Salmon, were treated to one of these performances as a prelude to the bandâ€™s main stage set on Friday night.
The Workshop Porch area was overflowing as the band relished playing in the quiet, small stage, built to fashion an old appellation front porch. Running through songs like â€œAinâ€™t Gonna Workâ€ from 1997â€™sÂ Euphoria, the band played with the true joy of music, inciting the crowd to numerous standing ovations.
Salmonâ€™s main stage set featured songs like â€œDown in the Hollowâ€ and a great encore of â€œUp on the Hill Where We do the Boogie,â€ complete with a fish pillow affixed to guitarist, Vince Hermanâ€™s mic stand, courtesy of a playful fan.
The savvy booking of Floyd Fest let people catch canâ€™t miss acts that they might have not seen otherwise. There were several acts booked for more than one set on more than one day. When one of these bands crushed their first set, there would be a buzz shooting around the festival and people would flock to their next set. Three bands in particular that benefited from this were Anders Osborne, Pedrito Martinez and Portland Oregonâ€™s March Fourth Marching Band.
Anders Osborne took the main stage on Friday for an afternoon set that was shortened by an afternoon thunderstorm. Anders’ popularity has exploded in the last couple of years, but for the uninitiated, this set made believers and created plenty of buzz. The band ran through many songs from their new releaseÂ Black Eye Galaxy, like the ode to Osborne’s drug of choice prior to entering recovery, â€œBlack Tar,â€ and old favorites like â€œYa Yaâ€ from 1999â€™sÂ Living Room.
Anders is at home stalking around on a stage and his strong vocals, stellar songwriting and hard-jamming guitar style have really been bringing in an ever growing fan base. His long time band mates, bassist Carl Dufrene and drummer Eric Bolivar, provide backing vocals and an innate sense of where Anders wants to go next.
Highlighting the fun were sit-ins by Leftover Salmon’s Drew Emmitt on guitar and New York keyboard wizard, Marco Benevento. As the jamming was really taking off, a very dark swirling cloud started to dump some hard rain, causing the audience and the band to laugh and cheer it on until it became too much. Enough of the set was seen though, to insure a packed house for Anders’second set, a late-night spot at the intimate Pink Floyd Garden Stage on Saturday.
Pedroâ€™s first set was Friday night at the Blue Ridge and Beyond Dance Tent, a place that held some of the most exciting sets of the weekend. The group is made up of four extraordinarily talented players hailing from Cuba, Venezuela and Peru that who have jelled together since 2008, creating a most exceptionally tight brand of percussion driven, Afro-Cuban rumba… infused with funk and R&B. Quite a mouthful.
The sonic uniqueness constantly drew in passers-by, who had no intention of catching the set, until the tent was totally filled with a sweaty audience whose day to day musical palate is likely to be close to polar opposite. Pedro would go on to join in on the Toubab Krewe fun the next day, leading fans and bands alike to mark his set on their schedules that would hit later that day.
March Fourth Marching Band
A date, a command, a band. And so goes the motto for the Portland, OR adult marching band known simply as M4. Making four appearances at Floyd Fest, few fest fans were left that didnâ€™t hear the mighty roar or experience the frantic energy of the collective.
Right from their Thursday night jump-off set, the power of this band caused complete strangers to look at one another with stunned â€œI canâ€™t believe what Iâ€™m seeing and hearingâ€ looks on their faces. Although very few had heard of the band before hand, the mark of their righteousness was how loud the thunderous applause was at the end of each and every number.
A 20-piece group, M4 had with them an eight piece horn section, percussion players playing snare, tenor and bass drums, stilt walkers and acrobats, all led by electric bass player John Averill. Their uniforms were as individual as each member cared to make them up, as was the crazy facial hair, sun glasses and whatever other accoutrement each member wanted.
At a given moment, the music could go from New Orleans style to gypsy toned or even big band influenced.Â But the music was only a part of the show because this act also came complete with a visually stimulating freakishness that included a stilt walker holding a long pole for an acrobat to pole dance on, stilt walkers in a fake brawl and a hula hooper working three hoops while standing on her head.
John Averill would later comment (in regards to the travel and logistical challenges that inherently face to the band) that with â€œ23 people traveling cross country in a bus for weeks, there is little room for drama on the bus, so the off times are pretty quiet and contained. When it comes time to do a show, we just sort of explode.â€
Explode they did â€“ four times at Floyd Fest, including a parade around the main grounds that left a deafening cheer in its wake.
TheÂ Love Canon String BandÂ played some six sets at FloydFest 11. A bluegrass band that plays pop hits from the 80s, their sets were packed with a slew of people that knew the words to songs like â€œLegsâ€ by ZZ Top, â€œSweet Dreamsâ€ by the Eurythmics, â€œAngel is my Centerfoldâ€ by J. Geils Band and â€œBoys of Summerâ€ by Don Henley. The band had a great on-stage shtick to go with great playing and vocals.
A second special moment was delivered by magicianÂ James David, who does more than magic â€“ he is a brilliant comedian. David used audience participation magic tricks and a wry, mean-spirited sense of humor to leave the tent crying with laughter. Once folks sat down for Davidâ€™s act, they were o captured by the show, it was impossible to leave.
The creators and staff of FloydFest try to leave no stone unturned in their drive to entertain, while doing so in a place of natural beauty that is befitting of the presentation of art. This is done with as much attention as possible being paid to lowering the impact on the environment.Â They have spent a lot of time educating their guests on music, art, culture and being green at the same time. On these points and every other, the event that quietly became one that has been around for over a decade is a glowing success.
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Brad Kuntz and Bob Adamek…
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