The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through the rolling Shenandoah Valley in Virginia past mountain hamlets and forests that stretch to the horizon. And then…like a mirage, a plateau suddenly emerges with a surprising spectacle: tents, flags, cars, trailers, stages, trapezes and, even from a distance, the sound of music. Floydfest: one of the premier musical destinations in the country, unique for its family atmosphere, environmental consciousness and seriously great music.
On ten strategically placed stages is a breathtaking variety of music. The best part is discovering bands you never knew while waiting for the headliners. When we attended, we found our new favorite band, Pimps of Joytime, while waiting for a set by Grace Potter. During a rollicking set by Cyro Baptista, I move up stage side to examine the unusual percussion instruments he had fashioned from reclaimed bathroom plumbing pipes. On the cozy Folklore Workshop Porch, I sat in the shade with a small audience and listened to mountain music and tales. Floydfest is the kind of place where your teen-ager will actually be glad to join you on vacation. One fan wrote, “Michael Franti drew my daughter and me there. She did her thing and I did mine. Great to see my 15 year old in awe of the possibility of exploring other genres of music. Best time ever for us. She is now the hula hoop queen.” In fact the headliner this year, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, is one of my granddaughter (and my) favorite bands. The festival is renowned for its eclectic programming with producer Kris Hodges saying he’s “super psyched” for the 12th year’s lineup which will “…continue to push our creativity further and further.” Among the featured bands this year will also be The Lumineers, Old Crow Medicine Show, John Butler Trio, Brandi Carlile, Gogol Bordello, Citizen Cope, Yonder Mountain String Band, Hot Tuna, and Donavon Frankenreiter and dozens of others. So even if you haven’t heard of these bands, you can depend on the festival’s reputation for booking great music.
Need an intermission? There is organized hiking, a fun run, kayaking, mountain biking, yoga, massage, geocaching, disc golf, panel discussions and (phew!) a hammock napping area. During the day a dj plays soothing music in the yoga area but it transforms once it’s dark into a supernaturally lit “Silent Disco” with music provided to dancers via wireless headphones. Almost as much fun to watch as it is to do.
At the large Children’s Universe kids’ activities are geared to various ages: a toddler playground, TaekwonDo, tetherball, costumed parades and open mic stages. A special “Teen Scene” is a safe area for teenagers to meet and create, drum and dream. Crafters and artisans represent the flourishing mountain talent.
Most folks camp at Floydfest but it requires planning and patience. The parking is offsite and requires shuttle busses and hauling gear. The organizers do their best to make it comfortable by offering some quiet camps and providing basic amenities but the set-up is crowded and mostly sunny. You can also pay top dollar for a VIP ticket which includes premier camping and a host of advantages like catering and on-stage seating. Our group stayed about 30 minutes up the Blue Ridge Parkway in a condominium. The disadvantage was the drive. The advantage was the opportunity to explore the area more widely. We enjoyed excursions to Mabry Mill and the town of Floyd particularly.
Many local vendors are among the dozens of food choices. No one stands in line too long even though the festival usually attracts 15,000 people. Beer is only sold in designated “Beer Gardens” which have their own music stages. Buying a refillable commemorative tin beer cup is required to cut down on the trash. This is just one significant way that the festival stresses environmental consciousness. The array of refuse cans marked “recyclable”, “compostable” and “landfill” shows their commitment.
Ardent music festival goers tout Floydfest as a way to rekindle the fire of attending a live music performance. Every time you glance around at the view of mountains that surround you, instead of a sea of 80,000 people (as in Bonnaroo), you feel it. Afterwards your brain is soggy from absorbing so much music, you’re eager to download your new favorites and share the Floydfest experience with your friends.
If You Go:
Floydfest is July 25 to 28, 2013 near Floyd, VA. www.floydfest.com Tickets range from $185 for 3 day pass to $1200 for two VIP tickets. Day passes are also available.
This article was originally published in the Island Eye News and the Island Connection where you'll find more photographs.