Floydfest is an extraordinarily special event, and each guest has the opportunity to personalize his/her visit. One could come to the festival with the intent of taking in all of the healing arts offerings, and gain experience with Chinese Dietary Therapy, Reflexology, and Ayurvedic Health Principles to name a few. That guest could take yoga in the morning, eat a vegetarian curry for lunch, get massages of varying types in the evening and top it off with some fine world music sounds, retiring early in order to rise for the next class in the a.m. yoga series. Or, a guest could stake claim at the Pink Floyd Garden stage, sampling wines from the finest local wineries and beers from some outstanding micro-brewers, all the while enjoying the enchanted garden and some fine, fine sounds, venturing out a few times here and there to catch the major shows. Or one could set out to explore the sounds of the world from stage to stage, stopping to snack on some sushi or climb the rock wall, or choose to set up station at one of the stages and enjoy the full programming schedule it has to offer. One could set out to participate in the massive list of workshops, from fiddle on the VA Folklife Porch to Capoesirta in the Global Village. Dance enthusiasts could call the Blue Ridge to Bayou Dance Tent home for the weekend, moving to high energy dance bands. One could pick their favorite band and follow them through their multiple sets on various stages throughout the weekend and even catch them signing autographs for fans. Folks with little ones could hover around the main-stage area and the adjoining Children's Universe where kids can take workshops of their own in dance and TaekwonDo, and experience interactive music performances, storytelling and a special PEACE parade. One could certainly set out to get to know all the amazing artisan vendors surrounding the perimeter of Dreaming Creek, listening to their fascinating stories about their work and bringing home the most unique gifts. To each his own! There is so much to take in!
I opted to highlight my schedule for must-sees, and do my best to stick to it without rushing... The dilemma is that everything is a must see!!! The Floydfest lineup of performers is of such high quality, that every act you stumble upon has that "Wow!" factor. I discover my musical favorites time and time again here. So I dive into the weekend knowing that any schedule I make is subject to unexpected and extremely satisfying detours.
We made it to the awe-inspiring timber frame Dreaming Creek stage in time for Toubab Krewe, one of my must-sees. Their blend of West African music with Malian and "Dirty South" sounds is forward thinking and oh-so-groovin'. Justin Perkins became drawn to the kora, the 21 string African harp, during his travels to West Africa. The band immersed themselves in the culture of Guinea and the Ivory Coast, and there identified the ways their musical styles from years past would meld with these rhythms. The result is a heavily grooving, highly danceable sound delivers the spirit of the cultures they studied along with their own personal flavor. Justin rocks that kora with a fever. As soon as the first lick on the guitar rang out and the drums kicked in, the hips began to groove. They brought the sun! The sky turned a beautiful blue, highlighting the green of the grass and trees, and the timber of DC stage against it, so fine... Colored flags and my favorite giant man-made flowers waved in the breeze. Solar Smoothies served their delicious treats made by all solar powered equipment and Herd Charities collected names for their raffle to aid local charities, like always. These elements embody the essence of Floydfest to me. It's about that forward thinking, "let's make a better world" mentality. There were so many people dancing at the stage! There were plenty of kids with their parents dancing, which is awesome to see. The African rhythms were bouncing all across the field, from hip to hip. When Toubab brought out a guest drummer with whom they had stayed during their travels in Africa, the hip swaying bumped up in velocity.
I headed to the food vendors for some fried calamari that makes my mouth water right now as I am writing this. I ate it as I enjoyed the Alliens world funk fusion music on the Global Village stage. This was extremely pleasant. The next time I walked down the moist mulch path towards Dreaming Creek stage I was met by the most triumphant, inspired sound. It was Devotchka, an epic mixture of Eastern European, Southwestern, South American and American roots music, both punk and folk. These highly skilled musicians use a sousaphone, accordion, piano, violin, and a bouzouki to make one flavorful and intense sound. On one particularly rocking song, my neighbor said it sounded like Keith Richards on a bouzouki. This performance was on fire!
The next show I caught was the Kusun Ensemble, a mainstay and cornerstone of the Floydfest family, delivering their unique brand of Ghanaian music. These performances are always electrifying; the dancers lit up the brand new and magnificent Hill Holler stage. Kusun delivers the African rhythms and makes them accessible thru their crowd-connected performances . At a few points the dancers would do a sequence on stage and then join the crowd down front for a bit of fun. Kusun brings Africa to us, and it feels like coming home.
The next time I walked down that beautiful path towards DC stage I was greeted by "Love the Life You Live," the smooth and inspiring reggae sound of Midnite. "Look what Jah Jah gave you," they sang, speaking truth and lifting us up. I got chill bumps and realized that this feeling was one I would feel again and again until the culmination of this magical weekend.
I woke to the sweet sounds of Paul Curreri on the Garden stage. After taking in the beautiful nature of our surroundings in the Blue Ridge mountains we began our journey to the stage area. Walking through the Floydfest site is a highly pleasurable experience. Each corner holds its own charm; there is so much to take it and be enchanted by. We walked from our campsite through the enchanted forest down High St. and Happy Lane and came upon the VA Folklife workshop porch where the musicians of Toubab Krewe were giving a Kora workshop. It was like stepping inside NPR in the middle of the woods. The crowd of folks gathered were so attentive, thoughtful and curious. We arrived just as Justin (the kora player) was telling a story about the origin of a piece he had just performed. He said the son of Mohammed got kidnapped by the devil, and in order to get him back, he had to play a song beautiful enough to make the devil cry... This setting is so personal; it really gives guests an extra opportunity to get to know these artists.
We walked past the porch onto the beautiful mulch path, past the nonprofit organizations and some fine, fine artisans. Then we passed the delicious wine garden, so charming...
Next it was on to the main stage for our second round. "From the pasture to the future," the Waybacks took us on a rock n roll adventure that transcends genre from newgrass to swing and jazz with masterful finger picking and improvisation. Mr. Hank Sinatra, as the guitar player called him, wowed me with his ultra-smooth tenor voice and star-quality presence.
The Hackensaw Boys lit up Hill Holler stage; there was tons of dust flying down front. Their energy is contagious. My partner said they were like the heavy metal of bluegrass.
Everyone was flocking at this point to Dreaming Creek for Donna the Buffalo, and they did not disappoint. Loyal fans lapped it up. The sun was shining, and they were dancing; you could tell it was so special to these folks, something they look forward to all year. The festival was packed at this point, with one of the largest crowds I've seen here. It was such a great crowd of people, too, it always is: diverse, thoughtful, friendly.
We'd heard tons of buzz about American Dumpster so we scurried over to the BR to Bayou dance tent to check them out. This was one rocking show. It was theatrical and carnivalesque, other-worldly even. Led by wild songwriter Christian Breeden whose life in the junkyard inspires a musical and lyrical landscape that is all his own, American Dumpster had us jumping. At one point they brought out belly dancers; Christian said he liked all this Eastern-Western fusion, all this Appalachian belly dance... :)
William Walter & Company were busy entertaining with some fantastic acoustic music on the Garden stage; word on the street was that a boy no older than 10 yrs. was smoking hot on the mandolin...
We made it back to Dreaming Creek for another shockingly good performance by the Cat Empire of Australia. This turned out to be one of my favorite shows of the weekend, full of soul and free as the wind. The funk filled fusion was constantly shifting form; the guys switched from drums to vocals to trumpet and even some funky dance. Their message was extremely positive. They sang, "Our weapons are our instruments..." These guys were very high octane performers with some serious spirit.
Now we knew we had to be back to Dreaming Creek for Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective; we just didn't know why or what to expect. We walked upon a One Love sound so profound, it was like a revival. Andy Palacio found a deep calling to preserve the Garifuna culture, a unique blend of West African and Indigenous Carib and Arawak Indian language and heritage, when he saw it was disappearing in Nicaragua. The culture originated when two large ships with a delivery of West African slaves sunk off the coast of St. Vincent in the Caribbean in 1635. Some of the slaves survived and intermingled with the indigenous people creating a hybrid culture. His deep calling to protect the culture of his people is evident; this show was one of the most moving and soulful performances of the festival, especially when 75 yr. old Garifuna legend Paul Nabor joined him on stage.
Now this is it! This man's calling to carry the music of his people forward, becomes the survival of their spirit. Aligning ourselves at the spirit through music is what is going to save us.
Floydfest In the Mix is about dissolving boundaries, meshing, intermingling... Finding common ground to dance on. From Africa to Appalachia, the commonalities we share are profoundly symbolized in the fusion of our traditional rhythms... When Justin of Toubab Krewe was giving his Kora workshop he noted that, in his exploration of Appalachian and African fusion, the meshing of the rhythms was uncanny, like a perfect fit.
Saturday night at our campsite we could hear the sounds of Toubab Krewe in the distance, rhythms that have been traveling through the wind for thousands of years...
It poured early Sunday, I mean really pounded. I felt for the organizers and admired their diligence from year to year; the event has been plagued by storm. But it always makes that sunshine so welcome, and so spiritual. Once the rain let up, we began our last day's trek to the stage area, Hill Holler to be exact.
Now we'd heard plenty of tale about the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group of young African American string-band musicians, and we knew we could not pass our last and best chance to catch them. Hill Holler was pretty packed, and loyal fans who had followed them from set to set all weekend got shouts out. Three men and one woman were a hit with the crowd performing with washboards, banjos, rhythm sticks, fiddles and witty banter. My favorite tune was "Cornbread and butter beans." They sang, (I'll be) "eatin' beans and making love as long as I am able..." They closed with "Salty Dog," with two of them dancing ragtime; everyone was bouncing, flatfoot jumping. One of the boys did a handstand! They encored with a hip hop beat, with one of the boys beat-boxing. mmmmhhhhhmmmm.
Before the Railroad Earth finale, we decided to check out Kundalinii Express in the Global Village. We'd walked past their tent in the Healing Arts village several times over the weekend and were very interested in their mission. The performance was a very young group of devotees who had come from far & wide to travel and share the Kundalinii message. While the performers were very young in experience, they delivered the spirit of the mantras to us with grace. I swayed and prayed under the beautiful Global Village sky.
We headed back past one of Kill Basa Bill's Roadshow's always rousing sets in the Garden, and tarried on to our final show at Dreaming Creek. Railroad Earth gave the perfect finale to the festival. It was triumphant and sentimental, and sent guests away with that extra special soul shine. "Peace will shine in the morning" had folks dancing and hugging with that glimmer of hope shimmering in their gut.
Floydfest In the Mix celebrated the spirit of humanity. Rather than being afraid of our differences, we've got to lift each other up, and appreciate our kaleidoscope of spirit. Thank you to the organizers for providing this enlightening and highly entertaining journey through the music of our increasingly connected world. It's folks like you who light the way.
~ Review by: Lori McKinney
~ Photography by: Robert Blankenship