Floydfest is an experience my whole family looks forward to every year; an annual pilgrimage into the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, layered with magical moments and musical & creative exploration. We make discoveries and find pieces of ourselves we didn't know existed. It's become a part of our identity, a milestone of our years and a marker of friendships. Each year it is a treat to introduce friends to the experience, and our conversations about the trip start around January. It really is a big part of our lives, and it is even more special to know that we are a part of it. Arriving at the site this year the first thing I noticed was the volunteer T-shirts that said "A Tribe Called Floydfest." Yes! These are our people, and this is our family. What a wonderful sentiment. That thought stayed with us through the whole journey; we are a part of the Floydfest tribe.
It is so nice to have the option to arrive on Wednesday when the entire site is calm. All the volunteers were very accommodating and happy to help. We had a golf cart shuttle of our belongings and felt very taken care of. This is the time of the adventure when everything feels perfectly relaxed; arriving that early feels like you are in on a secret. Watching the production crew put finishing touches on the new installations and stages feels like a behind the scenes glimpse. Each year, Floydfest erects some sort of meaningful centerpiece in the main stage field; one year it was the Phoenix that burnt away the past and this year, it was a massive dream catcher. Everyone wrote their dreams on little pieces of fabric and attached them to this giant sculpture, and together, they wove and hovered over the site where the magic was to take place. It's a beautiful sentiment, really, and the organizers of Floydfest truly have weaved a dream here.
I'd always wanted to catch the opening circle, and this year I made it! I made my way to the healing arts village and tapped into the "wellspring of universal light" with other beautiful spirits. The circle leader reminded us to go out and give love and our ball of light over the festival. It's so nice to tap into that feeling- in Floyd I imagine it's common to encounter and be surrounded by people who feel that way, but back home, I can tend to feel like a rare breed. I love stepping into this weekend experience with my tribe. The healing arts village has a new look and feel; a large dome with projection mapping creates a space that is like a transformational festival within the festival proper. You can find yoga serenaded with live music like sitars and tablas from Hanuman, ecstatic dance sessions, soul searching and all kinds of goodness within that space. The infinitely amazing Spiral, the undisputed queen of hoop dancing who defies all laws of physics with her magical movement, performed on the stage this year. There's a slack line and a community counseling booth where anyone can step in and give or receive guidance. This was a great evolution for this part of the festival site. I enjoyed strolling through this space and the rest of the beautiful site before everything truly amped into full swing.
The first show I caught was Love Cannon on the majestic Dreaming Creek stage, and what a fun way to kick off. They cover all kinds of 80's tunes in a sweet soulful bluegrass style. I got down to Land Down Under and My Angel Lives in Centerfold. I'm reminded that well selected cover tunes can be the stuff of magic, especially with bluegrass. Next I enjoyed Bombino, the music of Omara "Bombino" Moctardesert from Tidene, Niger. This beautiful man is a freedom fighter, a wild rebellious creative spirit that shines his music in the face of oppression in the midst of strict, hostile rule. I was swaying next to HGMN's Lee Crumpton who leaned over and stated, "He's the African Santana!" Some lively call and response really brought that communal experience in and we were a part of the music. I love this aspect of Floydfest; the cultural exchange. It reminds us of the world tribe we are all a part of. What a nice way to build bridges, especially in times like these; on a beautiful mountaintop, separate from the bounds of space & time, sharing rhythm and dancing and the joy of celebration.
I caught The Banditos a few times throughout the weekend- this gritty southern feeling acid rock with a bop to it is unique and sultry. The female singer caught my attention; there was definitely some Janis Joplin channeling happening here. In the garden at 1:30am that night, they finished with an absolutely electrifying version of "I put a Spell on you." wowsa.
We got our first bit of rain that afternoon, but it was a walk in the park compared to the past weather at this fest. I was excited to hear Railroad Earth, a mainstay institution of Floyd, but the wet stuff delayed their start. Once they came on though, they certainly did not disappoint. With the trees flowing the wind and Tim Carbone's hair flowing as it always does, their music demonstrates a poignant interaction with nature, here so close to Earth. The design of Dreaming Creek Stage is just spectacular; with its open backdrop and colored lights highlighting the fluttering leaves in the trees. Hill Holler Stage is also beautiful and majestic, a bit more intimate and nestled into the hillside. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats killed it with soulful, southern badassery on that stage to finish the night for me.
Friday morning I did yoga at 9am to a beautiful serenade by the Hanuman on sitar and tablas. What a nice exchange of energy, so much better than a yoga cd. I walked past Animal Qi Gong and grabbed my favorite- Thai Cocunut Curry from Bearly Edible and headed to the Speakeasy dance tent to enjoy Caravan of Thieves over lunch; what a fun gypsy swing outfit. The Speakeasy was made for stuff like this. I loved all their wildly awesome percussion breakdowns with water bottles, trash cans, buckets and more. They ended with a disco melody of I Will Survive and Stayin' Alive complete with a massive percussion fit.
I was excited to hear the world fusion/reggae of Salasee and the FaFa Family and it was exactly what I was looking for. I loved their uplifting, peaceful messages; I danced in the field and soaked it up; moments like this remind me who I am. I took the energy with me over to the healing arts village for ecstatic dance. I was told to catch The Hip Abduction in the wine garden and I'm so glad I did. Here's another brand of awesome, uplifting world instrument fusion. Again, I love music with a message that gives you hope for the world. Be kind to your neighbor, remember love! This is so necessary, especially now. I danced with the light shining through the trees, twinkling in the early evening light. On the way out, I walked past the cigar booth and Liz with the Mad Hatter hat greeted me with a Cheshire smile. I love this place.
I had caught tons of buzz about Shakey Graves and anticipated his set on Dreaming Creek. What a dynamic, expressive storyteller! He's hilarious, real and deep, too. It was so fun watching all the people flat foot. They LOVE him! Makes sense; he is just an intensely lovable and charming human. Around this time we got some light rain, but nothing catastrophic, thank goodness. I know any veteran Floydfester braces themselves at the site of dark clouds. As an event organizer, my heart is always with Kris and Erika. I feel for them and all they went through that fateful year of the deluge. I imagine they twitch at the feeling of a raindrop. It was damp, but the spirits certainly weren't; the light rain was actually a nice reprieve from the heat.
One of the highlights of all the music for me was the delicious, soulful Americana of The Wood Brothers- ah, yes. The lyrics rang in my heart; "Looking for my paradise"... "Everything I need is blowing in the breeze..." And, it was, right there on the hillside of Hill Holler Stage.
I had been anticipating Nahko and Medicine For the People's set very much, like most people on site. I feel so poignantly alive, living a moment in our collective history as he speaks the cries of our generation, touching deep veins of pain and struggle. And oh, that boy's soul. Mmmmm. They gave a powerful show full of beauty and heart. The music and messages that flow through this man are from beyond, and clearly he is a vessel for messages that we need on this planet. Floydfest is a hub and a vessel for this type of energy; you can count on plugging into it for a charge, no matter how dim your year has been.
Later, Leftover Salmon cooked on Hill Holler and led into a climactic set at The Speakeasy by Pimps of Joytime. This was a heavy Afrobeat set full of complex grooves. I enjoyed watching a fun juggling guy next to me as I tried to catch the groove which was a bit over my head. At this point I found myself really missing the Global Village. All of my friends have been pretty depressed by that casualty; the glamping option is a nice amenity, but it sure sacrificed an era of awesomeness marked by late night revelry that defined the Floydfest experience for many. That night many of us wandered around aimlessly like lost puppies. There were private sessions happening randomly but nothing like before. After walking off my energy, I slept beautifully in the Virginia woods.
I awoke to Floydfest is full throttle Saturday: music coming from every direction, talks about Qi Gong and changing the world, presidential puppet shows, people slack-lining and the most delicious smells and sights assaulting my senses. I caught Keller Williams and his smooth self, and was so thankful to be presented with so many dimensions of him this weekend. From his soulful solo self to Keller and the Keels playing bluegrass to Keller and More Than a Little getting funky, we got to experience him from every direction. I thoroughly enjoyed Monophonics on Dreaming Creak; again, I like the call and response/audience participation. It was sunny and we were all dancing; I enjoyed a purple haired girl with a hula hoop next to me; she was really feeling it. They finished with You Keep Me Hanging On. It was awesomely psychedelic and soulful; I felt like I was in the 60's for a minute.
I made a point to catch Femi Kuti and Positive Force; again, the cultural exchange is so valuable and to me, it's one of the most important parts of this festival. It's such an experience to try and catch and embody those foreign rhythms; let your body go and shake, and watching everyone trying on the rhythms, inspired by the amazing female spirits dancing on stage. Femi was telling us of the corruption and exasperation of things never changing. You could hear the deepest pain in his voice. What en experience to witness someone from that region telling their story and perspective through music; eye opening, mind-expanding and humbling.
In the "wander up and discover" category, Little Tybee was a nice treasure. It was a nice journey full of complex polyrhythms, and a smooth, far out ride. All of this was leading into a very climactic, BIG Saturday night.
I was just blown away by Warren Haynes; wow. Hearing him live for the first time felt like a Christening. With those beautiful Dreaming Creek trees and lights as backdrop and Warren's hair flowing perfectly in the wind, standing in front of A Tribe Called FloydFest banner, I thought about the dreams they have woven here; from the humble beginnings of this event to now- these monumental shows with these world renowned artists- what a dream. As Warren's hair flowed in the breeze, the collective dreams of Floydfest family danced in the wind in the field in that giant dream catcher. Kris and Erika's dreams and all our ours are woven into this festival and what it yields - all of the art and music festivals, music, relationships and babies they don't even know they inspired.- that's what it's all about: spreading this dream and this good energy as far and wide as possible. It's not just about what happens on this site, but what we all take out into the world- the dreams we weave together "out there." We are influencing the next generation of dreamers.
So by this time Saturday night, we had caught wind that Greg Allman was ill and was unable to make it; it was a sad moment. We googled it, and there we found an article about.... a secret stage!! Whaaaah?! What was this??!! We wondered if it was real and if others knew about it... how incredibly cool! This was unlike anything we'd heard before! We also found out that there was to be an impromptu super jam and that we would be led to the secret show by fairies on stilts. Now, this is unique, we thought. What a trip!
The super jam was a unique evening of music to remember. The tapers were in hog heaven, there were stars in the sky and laser lights in the hazy fog...so spectacular. It was full of surprises and cameos. Led by Leftover Salmon & Keller Williams and full of every star in the sky (on site): Larry Keel, Elephant Revival, The T-Sisters, The Monoponics, Erin & The Wildfire, Jay Sterling and more. Highlights for me included Keller Williams singing Born To Be Wild, Kim Dawson singing Nobody's Fault but Mine and T-Sisters singing Piece of My Heart. What a crazy night, and how nice to be privy to all those artists coming together to hold space in Greg's absence.
So, there were no official words telling us about the late night stage and what a fun trip it was to wonder who knows? How secret is this stage? And then... it was time! There were no fairies to lead us, just some shining beacons- search lights that told us IT WAS ON. There was a calm exodus behind the Hilltop Stage, a calm migration walking to the promised land like those people on Cocoon. We walked down the dirt road and into the woods, and then... there it was; the surprise was like Christmas! We emerged into this awesome secret stage in the woods- a dome against a woodsy backdrop with projection mapping on the tent and an amazing art installation, cool couches, a fire pit- the most badass, hippest late night scene.
And just like that, Floydfest late night was back. Welcome home. In a lot of ways it was like the Global Village- but on a whole new level, and apparently this is only the beginning. Pimps of Joytime rocked so hard and the energy there was just so nice-- like weaving a deeper dream. We were dreaming deeply- and what an exhilarating feeling to be a part of something so new, like you were privy to this secret. Sacred geometry flashed and flowed in the background and yes- this is a new level. I can't wait to see this all grow.
I fell to blissful sleep that night, reveling in the notion that this is just the beginning of the next chapter for Floydfest.
Sunday is always so sweet at this festival; I love the sounds of strings coming from every direction, and everyone wandering around in a blissful daze soaking in the last bits of goodness.
I started my day with Dave Eggar and a little bit of Soul Shine while eating biscuits and gravy in the Speakeasy. The T-Sisters were a hit this weekend and I enjoyed their sweet harmonies filling the Hill Holler stage. After that, I thoroughly enjoyed Keller and The Keels while kicking back in the full function of the Billow Bag, which I have yet to mention. I highly recommend this chair for your festival adventure; it's everything I've ever wanted in a field watching music. This was a sweet, perfect Sunday; not much hint of rain even though the forecast said it would rain all day. Greensky Bluegrass was everything to my last day; they feel so organic and in the flow, I laid back and let their jams dance all over me. The final dimension of Keller this weekend was with "More Than a Little," and let me tell you, it was funking badassary. It was one of the highlights of the entire musical weekend.
We all shared one more Hallelujah with a seasoned set by Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers, with hands raised in the hot summer sun, we reflected on another beautiful Floydfest weekend with "A Tribe Called Floydfest." Let me say that calling us that and coining that phrase solidifies your feelings of connection to the people that come to this festival. And, with each year that passes that you come, you feel more and more connected- like you are part of something. Even if you don't feel connected to anyone else on the rest of the planet, you at least know that you have that one tribe of people that you have something in common with, and it's something beautiful and special that you have in common with them. And that is just a really good gift to give to people. Thank you Floydfest for this beautiful gift you give to us, year after year.
by Lori McKinney
photos by Robert Blankenship