Tuesday, July 28, 2009

FloydFest 8 - Floyd, VA - July 23 - 26

FloydFest on the Blue Ridge Parkway

FloydFest is certainly the best music festival in the country, you don't have to take my word for it, just ask anyone who has been there. The setting, the great group of volunteers, superb musical lineup, everything comes together for a sublime experience that is the epitome of "Festival". It's impossible to see all of the musical performances that are packed into the 4 days, but this year I did a pretty good job of seeing the ones that I considered "must see".

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals headlined Friday night on the main stage and put on a great show. She is young singer/songwriter with a rocking band and I believe that their album to be released this fall (produced by T-Bone Burnett) could very well make her a household name. You read it here! She has taken influences from Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin and come up with a new original sound.

Two bands that I've written about in this space before, Donna the Buffalo and Railroad Earth are regular performers at the FloydFest and they both turned in great performances. Donna the Buffalo was late Saturday afternoon and I was fortunate enough to use a friend's VIP pass so I could watch the show from on the stage. Up close and personal, this turned out to be a double bonus as a summer storm came through during the show and we stayed dry throughout. I can't say the same for the band though, because of the high roof they took a good soaking. Tara had to give up on the fiddle ("no traction between bow and string, just too wet") but the rest of the band soldiered on through the rain, with a long jam on "Mystic Water". As their amplifiers and keyboards became too wet to function, in typical FloydFest fashion other bands volunteered up their equipment, the roadies swapped it in and the show went on. As the sky cleared, they started up "Blue Sky", a rainbow formed over the stage and the crowd threw off their ponchos and kept on dancing.

Rainbow over the Dreaming Creek Stage

Railroad Earth closed out the festival Sunday afternoon with a great performance. It's hard to believe that after 4 days of fun and music we were able to muster up the energy for more dancing, but RRE's lively performance had us jumping. They were joined by Peter Rowan for beautiful version of "The Cuckoo". Even though they finished at the appointed 6 pm, the crowd and the promoter (Kris Hodges) brought them back out for an extended encore, with "Gone to the Fields" and "Hard Livin'". Great extended back and forth solos between Tim Carbone (fiddle) and John Skehan (mandolin). This was also the first time that I had seen Tim play electric guitar.

In addition to the music, FloydFest makes a great effort to raise everyone's consciousness on the environment and what we all can do to make our world a better place for our children and grandchildren. There was a panel discussion Saturday afternoon with Jeb Puryear (of Donna the Buffalo), several members of Blues Traveler, and several other performers (I missed the introductions so I couldn't get their names). While the discussion was a little "pie in the sky" for me and not too grounded, at least they're making the effort to talk about it. Someone made the point about how Europeans rarely use ice in their drinks but in America we fill our cups and coolers with ice all the time (which does cost a great deal of energy to create). After the Donna show, my cousin/good friend John and I ran into Jeb and admitted that we had been filling our cups with ice that day. He laughed and said there are a lot of great solutions for saving energy and it doesn't mean we have to punish our selves to make the world cleaner. On Sunday before the RRE show, Tim Carbone also made an impassioned plea for everyone to do their part change the course we're on, or else we're going to leave a real mess for future generations. But this blog is about music so I'll end the discussion here. If you want to learn more check out Rock the Earth.

Jeb Puryear (of Donna the Buffalo) tells John it's OK to put ice in Bubba

One of my favorite things about FloydFest is I always see some great bands that I've never even heard of. This year it was The Sadies a band from Toronto that has two brothers on guitars, they must be 6'5" tall and they wail on country, rockabilly, surf style tunes. We were thoroughly enjoying their set and then they said when they were invited to FloydFest they thought it had something to do with Pink Floyd. So they had worked up a Pink Floyd song for the show and they played a killer rendition of "Astronomy Domine" from Floyd's first album. That just blew me away!

Another band that I had never seen, but came highly recommended from a friend, is the Mantras from Greensboro, NC. They play some great original jam/funk tunes and they put on a good show (despite the fact the PA system blew up during the first song).

Peter Rowan and his bluegrass band turned in a classy and classic set of pure bluegrass music. He played for years with the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, and there are not many people still walking the earth who can say that. We tried watching him earlier in the year at DelFest with his Mexican Airforce band, but I just could not get into that. But when he sings a bluegrass song, it feels to me that I'm as close to the source as I can get.

There are many other bands that we saw and enjoyed, I'll briefly mention Stop, Drop, and Roll, a great jam band. William Walter and Co., he was voted the favorite new artist at FloydFest 2008 which means he got to play 3 different sets this year. He reminds me somewhat of Keller Williams, he's a high energy entertainer whether it's solo acoustic or with his electric band. While his guitarist was playing a solo during one set, William jumped into the audience with a bag of his CD's and starting running around handing them out to everyone. Now that's promotion! The Duhks put on a fun show, and so did Toubab Krewe (who turned out to be more of a jam band than I imagined, I would definitely like to see them again). And on Sunday The Lee Boys played their famous "Sacred Steel" music while we cleaned up our on site base camp and said goodbye to our friends.

You may have noticed that I didn't say anything about the Saturday night headliner, Blues Traveler, this is because I was rather disappointed with this performance. The sound mix didn't seem right to me, we had seats with obstructed view, and maybe at the end of Saturday I was suffering some music fatique. Anyway, we'll give them another chance.

There were some bands that I didn't see that other folks said were quite good, particularly The Yard Dogs Road Show and The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker. Oh well, maybe next year.

One final comment, the FloydFest scene and "vibe" is so nice that I think the musicians pick up on it and raise the level of their performance for this venue. My kudo's to the promoters Kris Hodges and Erika Johnson for another spectacular event. Revival!

Most of our gang at FloydFest (my family was still sleeping!)

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