Floyd Fest Rocks On Despite A Few Growing Pains

An impromptu drum session breaks out at Floyd Fest

Yes, there were grumblings from some about the lack of paid-for electricity at their campsites and the long queuing time required for the shuttle bus on Sunday (closing day) but for the most part about 12,000 people a day seemed to have a pretty good time at the four days of Floyd Fest 11.

Dubbed “Lovers Rock” this time around, Floyd Fest delivered under sunny skies and cooler nights for all four days, starting with a Thursday night lineup that culminated with headliner Jackson Browne.

Across the Way Productions did offer an apology on its Facebook page for the snafus and asked attendees to give them another chance next year. Chalk it up perhaps as growing pains for a festival reaching its capacity at the current location near the Floyd-Patrick County line, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Sunday, which in the past had been a quieter, wind-down sort of day at Floyd Fest, was a complete sellout this year, with Alison Kraus and Union Station capping off the musical extravaganza. Earlier that same day, Bruce Hornsby, Darrell Scott and Sam Bush also impressed, as did Big Daddy Love on a smaller stage. Scott, who has also written songs for others, said his appearance “almost didn’t work out,” but he flew in from a gig in Scotland to perform.

Michael Franti was a big hit Saturday night; he played one set inside the “Blue Ridge and Beyond” tent, alternating music with answering questions about his life and global issues, and another on the Dreaming Creek main stage. Earlier that day Franti wandered around the Floyd Fest site, looking for a yoga tent in the Healing Arts area (Franti always seeks out yoga on the road), posing for pictures with fans.

“People have been telling me about the festival for a long time – they told me you had to come here,” said Franti about his first-ever Floyd Fest gig.

“The way we make a mark is by coming together at festivals [like this],” said Brandi Carlile, who performed on the main stage Saturday afternoon. Carlile ended her country-tinged set with a rousing, rocking version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” much to the delight of a jammed packed audience at the Dreaming Creek stage.

“They’re celebrating their diversity, sharing space, sharing their love for different types of music, [people] of all different shapes and sizes,” said Carlile. “It’s important to see community in a group.” She also said she felt the Floyd Fest vibe “big time,” getting up early Saturday morning to walk around and soak in the atmosphere. “Listening to bands, eating popsicles, buying organic t-shirts. It’s amazing. I live for this kind of thing”

Heard often from performers this year were admissions from first timers that Floyd Fest had become a must-do. “I’ve wanted to do a festival like this for a long time,” said Ricky Skaggs, who played with his Kentucky Thunder group at the Hill Holler venue. Earlier Skaggs joined Bruce Hornsby on the Dream Creek stage (the two have recorded before.). Hornsby admitted, “I had never heard of [Floyd Fest],” until a few years ago. Now he looks forward to coming back.

Attendees could just wander from stage to stage, catching a song or two at each venue, or deciding to stay for a while and listen to a whole set.  Those who wanted a break could find all sorts of food, much of it organic or locally produced; they could try out hula hoops, attempt to swing on a trapeze or stumble upon a drum circle made up of anyone with a percussion instrument. There were also New Orleans-style impromptu parades and dancers wandering through the crowd, stopping occasionally to perform.

The musical diversity perhaps is the beauty of Floyd Fest – not only do you get multiple Grammy nominees like Kraus and Hornsby, you get the “Under the Radar,” series – like Roanoke’s “Another Roadside Attraction,” which played to their biggest audience ever at the Blue Ridge and Beyond dance tent – while groups like “Big Daddy Love” and “American Dumpster” found their own niche at smaller venues like the Pink Floyd Garden Stage (beer garden) and the Global Village.

Christian Breeden, the guitarist and front man for Charlottesville-based American Dumpster, said the reason his band keeps coming back (6 times in 7 years) is simple: “I love to play here. We’re well received. This is where we are most popular in the whole world. We have a different standing around here.”

In fact Breeden, a songwriter who also welds and assembles large metal sculptures (he had several on display at the Global Village) said Floyd Fest is really one of the things that has kept American Dumpster from completely disbanding. As for sculptures, Breeden called them “large scale and mythological,” a talent he learned from his father.

One of them at Floyd Fest was over 20 feet tall and shot fire from its nostrils on Saturday night, as American Dumpster played on the stage right next door.  Breeden likes the family friendly atmosphere and the youth outreach he sees at Floyd Fest, and how the festival embraces all of the arts.

Jordan Rivers, from Another Roadside Attraction, called the Floyd Fest atmosphere “a little bit much at first – it was like wow, we’ve arrived!” Then he and his band mates got into the spirit, walking around the sprawling venue, visiting some of the ten music stages, getting to know other artists backstage in the VIP area.

“They stomped, they clapped, they howled with me,” said Rivers of the hundreds who jammed the Blue Ridge tent or stood outside to listen to his group. “Having this many people converge on the top of this mountain to rock out, it’s something special,” said Rivers, “I just hope they want us back [next year].”

– By Gene Marrano