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Thursday, July 26, 2012:
I arrive at the Black Ridge Road Parking Lot on the outskirts of Floyd, Virginia at 9:30 AM. A steady stream of cars roll in with me. The line of people waiting for the shuttle bus is already winding around the trees and up the hill. Looks like it’s going to be a long wait. Anticipation creeps in but I focus on the fantastic days to come.
It is apparently clear to everyone in line that I am a lone newbie as I struggle up the hill with gear in tow. I meet the first of my newfound festival friends when Julie, Tim and Caleb from Manassas, Virginia come to my aid. They stick by me throughout Floydfest 11 offering to help carry my things and providing fellowship; guidance; directions; water; tanning lotion and more throughout the duration of the Festival. I am fortunate to have met them and grateful for the friendship we established.
Shuttle busses and trailers hauling gear come and go without us. One hour after arriving at the lot we board for the mile and one half long ride over to the gates of the Festival. Once we are on Floydfest grounds Julie graciously helps me locate Dancing Dave’s Campsites while Caleb and Tim go set up our chairs at Dreaming Creek Main Stage. Thanks to Dancing Dave for shuffling things around to accommodate me. Dave provides his own equipment and sets up your campsite/tent if you commission him to do so. Dave’s been doing this for 14 years and at multiple festivals throughout the country. Dave worked with me on the logistics and financial issues so that when I arrived, my little canvas abode was ready and waiting. Super job, Dave! You rock.
I walk around and check out the six stages and take photos of some of the cool things at Floydfest which include a big LOVE sign sporting The Virginia is For Lovers theme, a big wooden structure with various instruments painted on it in the form of a big X, giant wooden and covered chairs, a huge wrought iron guitar sculpture, a man swinging on a trapeze, the Childrens Universe, and the Teen Center, the Global Village, and the Blue Ridge Massage and Yoga Village.
It’s so surreal that for four days and night this festival becomes its own little world: an artsy musical utopia. I’m loving it.
On Thursday I am able to hear and enjoy the following bands on the Dreaming Creek Main Stage:
Big Daddy Love (from Sparta, NC) - 2010 Under the Radar Winners who play roots based Americana music. Crowds shuffle in to listen and it's no wonder. They’re a really good band and have a strong following.
Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek fame) - She’s got a very soothing voice. I like her style. She was invited to the Newport Folk Festival as were several of the day’s performing artists.
HA HA Tonka - In between Main Stage sets I dash to the Streamline Stage at Hill Holler to catch HA HA Tonka, and I am glad I did. I had never even heard of this band and now I have to wonder why. They are a sort of Americana meets Indie and Southern Rock. They put on a really good show. I slide later during the festival for 15 more minutes of this band at the Pink Floyd Garden Stage. They are worth the effort.
Jonathan Wilson ( Forest City, NC)- plays guitar extremely well and has a great voice. He has worked with Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne and Robbie Robertson. He too was later heading off to the Newport Folk Festival. This guy knows his music.
From the Pacific West Coast came the Laurel Canyon sounds of Dawes. Dawes is obviously well on their way to success. They have been invited to the Newport folk festival along with several bands who play Floydfest on Thursday. Brothers Griffin and Taylor Goldsmith and friends really made an impression on the crowd. If you like Jackson Browne, The Eagles , The Byrds , Crosby , Stills, Nash and Young and other folk rock bands (and I do) then you would have loved Dawes.
Jackson Browne – First of all, let me say that I am a big fan of Jackson Browne. I love him dearly but I think a smaller, more intimate setting is better suited for him. A lyrical genius, Browne had no set list and his guitar seemed out of tune and strings were breaking. His piano playing was reliably stellar though. When he brought back Dawes, Sara Watkins and Jonathan Wilson to the stage to play with him, things seemed to mesh. When the entourage covered Warren Zevon’s “Mohammed’s Radio” redemption was had. This was one of my favorite of many covers throughout the festival. “Lawyers, Guns and Money” cleverly closed out his set.
Galactic - After midnight I stroll back to the Hill Holler stage for a dazzling show by this New Orleans band. A carnival band with Corey Glover on horns, this was the perfect band for a late night mini Mardi-Gras. Talking about your high energy, Galactic brought it.
FRIDAY, July 27, 2012:
Under the Radar (UTR) contestants Bryan Elijah Smith and the Wild Hearts are our breakfast on the Main Stage. An Alternative- Americana band out of Harrisonburg, VA. I thought they were very talented. I can see why they were chosen for a UTR slot.
NOTE: Under the Radar is a Floydfest sponsored program that enables various genres of bands to showcase their talent and get exposure at the festival. The 16 band competition allows selected bands to perform in hopes of winning an invitation back to Floydfest and a chance to compete on the Main Stage the following year. To be invited into this grouping of bands and artists is a well sought after honor. At the end of Floydfest, one of these bands is chosen as winner by popular vote from fans in attendance.
2011 UTR winners L Shape Lot (LSL) were proud to claim their Main Stage spot. And they should be. This band is a blend of country rock/ bluegrass and folk music. Their creative writing skills and 4 part harmonies are impressive. As is the case with several performers at Floydfest 11, they are also North Carolina natives (Wilmington, NC). Way to go guys!
Spirit Family Reunion (SFR) follows LSL. SFR is a New York City band who clearly knows their foot stomping, hand clapping ole time music well. They reportedly began their musical journey playing the big City’s street corners. Lucky for Floydfestians ,they were invited down South.
On the Pink Floyd Garden Stage I enjoyed both the Justin Jones Band and Lizzie Ross Band. They too were UTR bands. Lizzie had a great voice that ran the gamut from Edie Brickell to Alannah Myles. She played a spirited guitar as well. The Lizzie Ross Band is from Chapel Hill, NC. Good Luck to them and all UTR competitors. The Justin Jones Band was a hard charging progressive country rock band from Virginia and they really jammed. At one point of their show they brought up two audience members who did some major dirty dancing. A little risqué for young kids and families, but everyone in between seemed to enjoy it!
Anders Osborne hit the Dreaming Creek stage at 2:00 PM. Osborne is a quintessential veteran of the festival circuit and a high energy rock and blues guitarist and singer. When the sunny skies turned stormy and the rains pelted down from above, Anders and bassist Gary Dufrene just played louder and harder. When sharp lightning bolts fired up the Virginia skyline and thunder rumbled in, their show became even more electric. At one point during their performance the wind was blowing stinging rain in their faces and the roadies were scrambling around them to pick up wires and accessories.You could certainly say we were “blown away” by the Anders Osborne and Friends performance.
Friday evening’s gala parade procession was quite an event. Imagination ran rampant with the costumes and the homemade floats. The Green Dragon and the Goose were my favorites, though all the fairy tale characters were awesome as well. Big colorful balloons were being released into the sky and oversized bubbles floated through the air. Everything was really magical.
Thanks goes out to WSLS TV for letting a crowd of us take refuge from both the heat (everyday) and the storms (Friday)in their tent. Also for the free t-shirts and cups they passed out to festival goers. WSLS rocks.
Additional thanks goes out to Blue Ridge Yurts for letting many of us wet souls escape the second onslaught of wind, rain and lightning on Friday. (Their model yurt provided a respite from the storm). If I had $10,000.00 I would purchase a yurt and plant it near Floyd! Seriously.
Gary Clark, Jr. - A highlight of the 4 day festival for me was experiencing this sensational singer/guitarist. A bluesy soulful rocker out of Austin, Texas, Gary Clark’s set was amazing. Combining what I consider supersonic soul with Delta blues, this man is absolutely brilliant on the guitar. His fingers move with the speed of hummingbird wings if an eagle was powering them. Take Chuck Berry, Brook Benton, Curtis Mayfield and Johnny Winter and sprinkle Hendrix on top. Throw the mix in a bag and shake it up and you have Gary Clark, Jr.
The Drive By Truckers take the stage about dusk. Having listened to several of their CDs and really liking their Southern Muscle Shoals sound I was excited to hear them live. I used to think DBT was strong for one reason: Patterson Hood. Well, turns out all of the boys bring the jams. Their “Too Much Sex, Not Enough Jesus” was priceless. The music is clearly in this band's blood. DBT was just the right band to keep the night rocking.
Leftover Salmon was a good choice to close out the night. Formed in Boulder, Colorado 25 years ago, this is an essential festival jam band whose rootsy, string-based music fits right in at Floydfest. Salmon’s cover of “Old Eliza” was absolutely wonderful. Vocalist/guitarist/mandolinist and fiddler Drew Emmitt is tremendously talented. He also did his own separate sets without Leftover Salmon, but sadly I couldn’t get to any.
By midnight of the second night, I was so tired from rambling across the festival from tent to tent and stage to stage for 2 days with little to no sleep, I decided it was time to hit the cot. As I lay only 30 feet from the Pink Floyd Garden Stage on Friday night I listened to an unknown band who was playing fiddle , banjo and various bluegrass instruments. It was so cool because they were playing the Clash, the Cure and the Cars. What an exciting twist on traditional bluegrass. I wish I knew who they were but they weren’t scheduled so I couldn’t find out for sure. Someone at the festival told me it was the Ivy League Hillbillies. If so, they are one helluva band. If not, get your name out there. You're awesome!
Days 3 and 4 will be covered in Part 2.
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