I spent last weekend camped in a tent-neighborhood that popped up in the woods of southwestern Virginia’s most popular music & community festival: Floyd Fest. My friends and I found a perfect spot to camp in the forest surrounding the festival grounds, only a short walk from the main stage. I could hear sounds of didgeridoos, soulful crooning, and cheers of an enthusiastic crowd as I woke up in the morning. It was awesome.
Floyd Fest is located in picturesque Floyd, Virginia, a small town with unique charm. Home to a large counter-culture movement that began in the 1960s and 70s, the hippie culture of Floyd originated with the explosion of music and art. The tiny town is filled with local potters, wineries, artists, and music venues. Floyd is also home to the Friday Night Jamboree where bluegrass and folk artists fill the streets in addition to the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail that showcases the folk influences in Appalachian culture.
Floyd Fest is truly the story of the little festival that could. It started out as a tiny annual celebration that embodies the town’s peaceful ideals, featuring arts, music, crafts, and community fun. However, now in its 12th year, it’s routinely sold out each summer. Operated by non-profit Across the Way Productions, the festival began as a small event to feature local musicians from the Appalachians, as well as international musicians from South America, Africa, and Australia. The first several lineups also featured a surprising number of big bands combined with incredible international acts, like Afrobeat, Canadian, Irish punk bands, and Japanese artists.
This has been my second Floyd Fest experience. One of my best friends from college, Amara, grew up in Floyd and her family has been deeply involved in the festival every year. She has been working for the event since it started and still goes back every year to work, as do many others. I find the fact that so many people, locals and long distance lovers of Floyd, migrate back each year to be quite a testament to the strong community the town has built. This spirit comes through in many forms.
The community is well known to be a happy one. Vendors, festival goers, and event staff are always smiling and laughing, joking with one another, and taking regular dance breaks while running a good show. This provides a great way to meet friendly people from all over. Travelers from everywhere want to discuss the music, share tips on the best food, and enjoy good company.
One vendor from New Hampshire that I met while ordering a soy, mocha, banana, coffee shake (which was delicious, by the way), told me that Floyd Fest was her favorite festival to work at. This was a bold statement, considering she also mentioned that her traveling vegan food tent, Solar Cafe, visit many spots across the festival circuit. When I asked her why, she simply said, “Everyone here is just having a good time. The festival staff really treat the vendors well and make us feel welcome.” Another life lesson: treat people well, and they’ll want to work your festival. Take notes, guys.
The food vendors are top-notch. The south-west Virginia region is lush with local fresh produce, straight from the farm. There are loads of options for those looking for vegan, vegetarian, and organic food. The top three best meals I had were tempeh baja tacos from Green Light Cafe, a rice bowl form a N’Awlins style eatery (that I unfortunately forgot the name of, but they had gator balls — so trust me, it was legit), and a solid breakfast biscuit from Joe’s (worth waiting in the lengthy line). Snacks are abound as well, such as freshly made moose tracks ice cream and fresh fruit from the Poor Farmer’s Market. There were so many things to try, so little time!
Now, the best part of Floyd Fest? Let’s be real. Music — all day, everywhere. The festival grounds are located on part of the Appalachian trail. Stages are set up on different locations throughout the festival. The weekend is rich with opportunities to check out both major acts and lesser known bands. I came away with so many new bands to check out and obsess over. For a city kid unfamiliar with the folk scene, I suddenly had my eyes opened to the many bands that were previously unbeknownst to me. How did I not know this? How much good old, homegrown soul music have I been missing out on? It’s my duty now to inform any other naive city kid.
Here are some of my favorite musicians I learned about:
Michael KiwanukaMichael Kiwanuka was one of my favorite acts. Listening to his music online does this soul singer from England no justice. When I arrived to the main stage to listen to him and his band belt out soulful numbers with the undertones of Jimmy Hendrix and beats as smooth as old Otis Redding songs, I knew that hearing him live was incomparable. He drew a huge crowd despite the rain that day and he had everyone’s attention. Nothing like a soulful Englishman to put you in a trance, eh? Dangerously good, I say!
The Whiskey Gentry
This was the *biggest* find for my friends and I. The Whiskey Gentry was playing on the smaller stage in the beer garden as part of a contest where people had to vote for their favorite acts. We all danced like idiots in the mud to their music because that’s just what you do to indie bluegrass songs about love and whiskey. I don’t consider myself a country fan, but I might be if this counts. They’ve got a sweet way of making songs that are folksy, highly danceable tunes with a badass edge. Don’t believe me? Take a real music journalist’s word for it. Paste Magazine put it so incredibly well: a “toe-tapping, steamrolling kind of band, its fingers picking deep into fields of bluegrass, feet stomping in line with a punk-inspired kick drum.”
Lake Street DiveLake Street Dive is a charmingly versatile strings band that blends jazz, soul, and rock, conjuring a down to earth sound with an old school vibe. Their lead singer, Rachael Price, provides strong female vocals to the backdrop of bossa-nova influenced beats and crooning trumpets. Definitely downloaded all their tracks for long drives and upbeat weekend-hangs tunes.
Be sure to check out a playlist with more of the best of Floyd Fest acts and some photos below.
The drive through the rolling green hills of Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains is enough to make me in awe of the beauty of nature. The long stretch of road, rolling green hills, crisp mountain air, the allure of the open road are reflected in the sounds of bluegrass music born in the area. Coming from the busy, traffic-congested rush hours of Washington D.C., I forgot how good it is to be out in nature. Cell phone service is sparse out there, but the unexpected nuances of a conversation with a friendly stranger will surprise you with how welcoming it’ll feel. It’s good to get back to basics and learn to appreciate life in all of its impermanent, good, fun, messy beauty. Last weekend’s journey to Floyd Fest was a good reminder to do just that.
On the way home, I rolled the windows down and listened to the new music that had been the soundtrack to a simultaneously peaceful, relaxing, and fun-filled-danced-my-ass-off weekend. With the summer wind providing just the right rush of air on a sticky July Sunday and the mountains as the achingly gorgeous view, the drive was soothingly blissful.
Some larger festivals boast a similar peace, love and music philosophy, but Floyd actually lives it, not just for one weekend, but throughout the entire year. ~Glide Magazine
Floyd Fest Faves Playlist
- Michael Kiwanuka
- The Whiskey Gentry
- The Relics
- The Paper Bird
- Citizen Cope
- Xavier Rudd
- John Butler Trio
- The Lumineers
- Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
- Yonder Mountain String Band
- Boston Boys
- Jon Stickley Trio
- Brandy Carlile
- Lake Street Dive
- Bourbon Barrel Congress
- Cheick Hamala
- Spirit Family Reunion
- Trampled by Turtles
- Blitzen Trapper
- Bright Lights Social Hour