BLANK’s FloydFest 2017 Review

Rain does little to dampen spirit of FloydFest 2017 for this father/son duo

Family-friendly gathering solidifies unique place in festival landscape

by John Flannagan, featuring Colin Flannagan

Having heard excellent reviews of FloydFest in years past, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go this year when it was presented to us. Nestled in the idyllic Blue Ridge Mountains near Floyd, Virginia, FloydFest has served as an annual gathering for hippies, baby boomers, Gen Xers and everything in between since 2002. Specializing in world music, Floyd hosts an array of styles, among them bluegrass, jam rock, folk and reggae. Floyd features seven-plus stages, an entire area devoted to children and young adults, various food and craft vendors and lots of craft beer, all of which combine to offer something to virtually everyone.

Floyd is billed as a family-oriented festival, and it definitely delivered on that front with an array of activities to keep the kiddos happy throughout the weekend. Over the course of two-and-a-half days, we took in 22 shows, which included a children’s parade and a performance from the 1000 Faces Mask Theater, a regional play workshop collective.

Even with periodic rain showers falling throughout the duration of the festival and cooler-than-average temperatures (70 degrees in July!), weather played absolutely no factor in dampening spirits or diminishing the positive vibes that makes Floyd so unique. The gorgeous backdrop of the mountains only added to what overall was a beautiful weekend. What follows is a traditional recap of FloydFest highlights, as well as a special review from a first-time festival attendee, my son Colin.

Friday

Steel Pulse

Kicking off our festival experience with a little reggae at the Dreaming Creek Stage turned out to be the perfect way to settle in at FloydFest. The venerable rockers, led by David Hinds on vocals and Selwyn Brown on keys, smoked through classics like “Prodigal Son” and “Reggae Fever.” They proved to be an ideal main-stage opener for headliners Michael Franti & Spearhead.

Sol Searchers

Bringing that old-time rock ‘n’ roll flavor and causing the Speakeasy to erupt in a dancing frenzy throughout their hour long set were the Sol Searchers, a roots band from up the road in Roanoke. A no-frills classic rock set was a refreshing early find, and their toe-tapping material laid positive groundwork for the evening.

TAUK

TAUK is a jam band that has been gaining momentum for the past several years. After witnessing their late-evening set at the Streamline Stage, I now know why. While this style of music is not particularly my favorite, TAUK excelled at blending elements of rock, jazz fusion and improvisational meandering – much to the delight of this indie head. As we sat on Holler Hill watching in amazement, I found myself gaining a new appreciation for the art form.

Michael Franti & Spearhead

Headlining the main stage on Friday night, much to the delight of the crowd, were these veteran performers hailing from the Bay Area. Always brimming with positivity, Franti delivered this gem of a message early on in his set: “There’s a lot of negative, crazy things going on in the world today, but you and I have the power to change that with love.” As such, he exhibited and drew smiles throughout his two-hour set. Singing tunes such as “Enjoy Every Second,”  “Life is Better With You”  and “Yes I Will,”  Franti’s infectious grin and effusiveness had multiple generations of fans dancing and swaying in the cool night air. It’s refreshing to see an artist enjoy every second of a performance, and for him to be relatable to such a wide age range of folks is an impressive feat. This was one of the favorite sets for both my son and me during the entire festival.

Saturday

Keller Williams

We started our day with an early-afternoon solo set from Williams at Dreaming Creek, The prodigious performer was in classic form, the one-man band churning out such tracks as “Tweaker by the Speaker” whilst playing an array of instruments and looping sounds throughout.

1000 Faces Workshop

Next up was a trip to the Children’s Universe to watch “Forever Young,” a politically charged play about Mother Earth by the troupe based in Rappahannock County. There we learned about the Dakota Access Pipeline and how to care for our planet. Elaborate costumes and cool music accompaniment made for an excellent and fun learning experience/performance.

Xavier Rudd

After meeting some new friends, we enjoyed a late lunch of crepes to the sounds of the Australian multi-instrumentalist on the main stage. It was a treat to see him play unique contraptions like the yidaki and the didgeridoo. A fine set, indeed.

Baskery

Rounding out the afternoon, we ventured to the Pink Floyd Garden Stage, stopping along the way to snag a famed Torch Pilsner from Foothills Brewing Company. There, we took in one of the best shows we saw. The all-female trio, fresh off their debut at the Newport Folk Festival, swung down to Floyd for the second of three performances they would execute that weekend. These Swedes take turns playing double bass, drums and guitar. Their style is best described as killbilly or banjo punk. Baskery is a name to remember, as they proved to be a fun, unique act that any festival would be lucky to nab for its roster.

Railroad Earth

After making our way back to our campsite to take a break and regroup for what would be a late night, we headed back to the festival grounds for the big shows. The first of which was the venerable Railroad Earth, who never disappoint. Always mixing their bluegrass stylings with jazz and Americana, they absolutely tore up Dreaming Creek for two full hours, yet another set that had everyone in the audience of all ages dancing and smiling throughout. Especially notable were “Mourning Flies” and “Goat,” both of which the band roared through as the rain poured down upon the gathered crowd.

Buffalo Mountain Jam featuring: Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams, Railroad Earth, Larry Keel, Xavier Rudd, Shook Twins and more

The hotly anticipated evening headliners combined for this all-star jam, which turned out to be a two-hour tribute to the recently departed Gregg Allman. Williams tried to organize the same tribute at last year’s fest after Allman had to pull out of his slot at the last minute due to ailing health. Having an entire year to prepare for this installment, however, proved to be a tremendous boon, as it resulted in a jaw-dropping set that featured all of the Allman staples including “Whipping Post,” “Melissa” and the poignant opener “Midnight Rider.” The jam truly was something special, and hopefully it will become the FloydFest version of the Bonnaroo Superjam for many years to come.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones

As if Buffalo Mountain weren’t enough, St. Paul and his cohorts decided to play the set of their lives, complete with a fireworks show. The performance was fantastic, and it had festivalgoers buzzing about it into the wee hours of the morning.

Turkuaz

We finished the evening and our festival experience with this Brooklyn funk act, who played a rousing rendition of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem,” complete with a wailing horn section. Turkuaz is another improvisational jam band that flawlessly blends rock and jazz, and it is another name worth remembering. The final three acts of Floyd on Saturday rivaled anything that I’ve seen at any other major festival in all my years of covering these things. It was a fitting conclusion to a wonderful trip that I gladly was able to share with my 7-year-old son. We already have decided that we will return, and we have to thank Floyd for the awesome vibes and for an excellent experience that we will remember for many years to come.

And without further ado, here is the festival recap from my partner in crime. I hope that you, dear reader, will enjoy his unique point of view.

Colin and Dad’s FloydFest Adventure by Colin Flannagan

Day 1: Dad picked me up, and we went to Virginia for my first camping music festival. When we got there, I helped my dad set up the tent, then we went to listen to music. I liked Michael Franti the best and the song “Enjoy Every Second.” I liked his songs and danced and liked the rapper. Then we got a yummy cheeseburger and watched some more music. We got on the school bus and went back to camp to brush our teeth and go to sleep in the tent.

Day 2: We woke up and explored our campsite (Delta Lot). We found our friend (JD Daniels), and I got new friends. They had an electric car and they let me see it. They even let me ride their bikes. We decided to have lunch with them and I had crepes! The rain started so we went to see a girl band (Baskery). We went to the butterfly dome, and a butterfly landed on some sugar paper I was holding. We watched a play about Mother Earth and played in Children’s Universe with my new friends Jack and Quinn all afternoon! A guy let me use his hula hoop, too. We went to rest later at camp and eat some food. Later that night we got to see Railroad Earth in the photo pit; it was really cool in the front row! I danced again, then we left the rain to see a VIP band backstage (Rebekah Todd & The Odyssey) when the rain started again. We saw the Buffalo Jam in the front again, and I really liked it and dancing. Me and Dad walked around and saw some more music and it was midnight! We got on the school bus again and ended our night.

Overall I had a fun time at my first camping music festival with my dad. My favorite song was “Enjoy Every Second” and Michael Franti. I also liked Buffalo Jam. All the people were really nice, and I loved camping with Daddy. I had a good time. The end.

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