After a 2-year pandemic forced hiatus - Rooster Walk resumed with its 12th edition. This happened to be my first RW however. Had missed all prior, working or vending at other events on the busy Memorial Day Weekends. It was much hyped by all of my music loving friends and I'm happy to report that the event lived up to that hype.
RW falls into what I consider "the sweet spot". It has ample space and amenities, springtime weather, friendly staff and only a few thousand attendees. Just big enough that they can book some major national acts and lots of the top regional artists. But it is not so big that crowd size causes any issues (rarely any lines to wait in and easy to ride the rail if that's your jam!). I also made note of the free shuttles available to all patrons that made getting around the site much easier. Many festivals have "taxis" you can pay to get around, but few have free shuttles - so kudos to the shuttle sponsors for helping these old legs save some steps! Taking a shuttle was also a great way to take in the entire venue. I did this early on Thursday and quickly discovered how expansive the property is. It's a beautiful site in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with a small lake just behind the main stages (the lake got some extra attention from the lighting designers at night).
The music kicked off on Thursday with our buddies Big Daddy Love. Unfortunately lead guitarist/singer Joey Recchio was out sick with a mild case of COVID - but they recruited Slate Lacy and Isaac Hadden to fill in and the set was still a lot of fun.
Later that evening I caught an impressive set from Fruition. This Portland, Oregon group has a unique sound rooted in Americana but that can also rock. They have great harmonies that sweeten their catalog of well written songs. It had been a few years since I last saw them - but it was apparent that the decade plus of heavy touring has really got them firing on all cylinders, delivering a tight, fun set this evening to this music-hungry crowd.
On Friday the first act I caught was the Isaac Hadden Organ Trio. Hadden is a local guitar prodigy who is currently a young college student with musical chops you wouldn't expect from someone of any age. He had the always amazing Bill Stevens on the organ (and low end). This trio delivered a set that is right in the wheelhouse of what I dig most: jazz/funk/jam/rock.
Caitlin Krisko & the Broadcast performed on the Lake Stage. She has an amazing voice and The Broadcast always has some of the best players on the scene. They have several albums worth of great originals and they also hit on some great covers in their live shows. On this day I heard some Aretha Franklin and Rolling Stones.
Rooster Walk also features "Artists At Large". Hand-picked, top caliber musicians who's duty is to sit in an compliment all of the artists playing that weekend. RW took extra steps of not only giving these cats their own set each day, but also setting a theme for each set. Friday's theme was classic rock. This ensemble and friends rocked some great classics from Steve Miller, Allman Brothers, JJ Cale, Clapton, Marshall Tucker Band, Grateful Dead and more. The Saturday theme was "JamGrass" and Sunday "The Blues".
Speaking of themes... Big Daddy Love and friends returned on Friday as The Tree of Forgiveness Band - playing a tribute set to John Prine who had passed away in 2020. Prine's catalog of songs is always welcome to my ears.
Tab Benoit delivered a scorching set of heavy blues rock seasoned with Louisiana spice. The Nude Party brought a fun set of clangy frat rock that manages to sound both vintage and fresh at the same time. One of the guys in our camp proclaimed "mind blown" and this group to be his best discovery of the weekend.
Little Feat performed their classic Waiting For Columbus double live album in its entirety. In my opinion, one of the best live rock albums ever. So this show was especially entertaining - containing so many familiar hits like "Fat Man in the Bathtub," "Spanish Moon", "Rock N Roll Doctor," "Willin," Dixie Chicken," & "Skin It Back." Festival organizer, Jessica Wilson, called it "A dream come true". Indeed! The group just announced they will be releasing a "Super Deluxe" 8 CD version of this album that will include more live recordings captured from that same tour in 1977. Pre-order it from us here!
After Little Feat, Moon Taxi brought their genre bending set to the Lake Stage. Many attendees ran for cover due to heavy rains, but those who toughed it out were treated to a fantastic, high energy set.
The finale of the evening came in the form of FUNK! Lettuce is perhaps the best touring funk band in the world right now (if there's a better one - please tell me about it). Their set had nice doses of psychedelia all throughout, perfect for this late night setting. The group also played "RVA Dance" presumably named after nearby Richmond, Virginia. The song appears on their awesome new album "Unity" which would be released exactly one week later. Get it on CD or Vinyl from us here.
Caught Daniel Donato and his band performing what he calls "21st Century Cosmic Country". Some friends had seen him in Raleigh a few months prior and were raving about it. He's quite an excellent guitar player who learned how to master his telecaster in the honky tonks of Nashville. At just 25, he has a bright future ahead. During his sets he'll sometimes cover Grateful Dead and Phish, much to the delight of the audiences. Sample one of his cosmic jams from Rooster Walk here.
Ryan Montbleau Band performed on the main stage. Montbleau is a gifted songwriter who has been writing great songs and performing for over two decades. Based in New England, he has met most of the region's most talented musicians along the way - his band always features some of the best.
Brandon "Taz" Niederauer is only 19 years old - but he's already performed on multiple national TV shows, movies, Broadway and with a list of who's who musicians that would make anybody say "WOW!" He's a guitar ace of the highest order and he always brings a high energy performance. In addition to this Saturday set, he returned on Sunday with a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Taz also did guest sit-ins with Daniel Donato, Artists At Large and BIG Something.
You can't have a good festival in the hills without some bluegrass. Town Mountain delivered the goods.
The War & Treaty was a nice change of pace with their blend of soul, gospel and rock-n-roll. They had everybody feeling the love.
Rooster Walk regulars, Yarn played the sunset set at the Pine Grove. These guys have a great catalog of songs are always a lot of fun with their Americana Jam Rock. I spotted more Yarn hats and shirts on festival goers than any other band this weekend. This set was reportedly the best attended set at the Pine Grove stage in the history of the festival. Catch them if you get a chance.
Grace Potter has always been an incredible performer and this set rocked harder than any I think I've seen from her. She's currently backed by a trio of drums, bass, guitar with Grace switching off between guitar and organs. All in attendance were simply spellbound. This Grammy-nominee has earned her stripes and this set proved that she deserves the headliner status.
I ran out of juice after Grace Potter. But I heard that Andy Frasco & the U.N. was highly entertaining with their shenanigans and outrageousness. Dead Reckoning entertained the Deadheads and Into the Fog played a fireside bluegrass/Americana set that went well into the morning. Into the Fog also hit the Pine Grove stage a few hours later as one of the first Sunday sets.
Fireside Collective was next on the Pine Grove stage. This all acoustic group plays funky modern high-energy bluegrass with some nice vocal harmonies. One of the highlights was a brand new song called "Blue is My Condition" - which was a nice compliment to the "Blues" theme on this day.
It had been several years since I'd last seen Sol Driven Train. A band that has a long relationship with us here at Home Grown Music Network. They are a versatile 5 piece featuring rotating vocalists and multi-instrumental talent spread across horns, strings, keyboards and percussion. It's hard to pin them to genres since they hit on so many - we'll just call it good music! I'd also spotted these guys earlier in the weekend leading a colorful New Orleans style parade that had originated at the Kids' Stage.
Speaking of the Kids' Stage - RW has a great kid's area with their own stage and activities. One group of kids that was sharing a shuttle ride were very excited about the slip-n-slide. They had some great bands perform kid-friendly sets here and even hosted open mics for kids to show off their talents.
Kendall Street Company from nearby Charlottesville, VA played the early evening set on the main stage. The group blended folk, jazz, funk and psychedelic rock with a bits of humor as well.
Simon & Yarnfunkel was a Simon and Garfunkel tribute set hosted by Yarn and Sol Driven Train. The crowd joined in singing along to all those great hits from our youth.
BIG Something was the finale of the weekend and they brought a top notch show of arena jam rock. The set included a good mix of originals including a few newer gems like Algorithm, Chemistry and Evil Josh. Plus some rocking covers of Sturgill Simpson and My Morning Jacket. Taz Niederauer joined them for "The Flood" which had Jimi Hendrix's "Who Knows" sandwiched in the middle. Ron Holloway also joined in for a great version of "Heavy" where he and Casey Cranford got to trade some tasty sax solos. You can stream the set here. We look forward to returning to Pop's Farm in August for BIG Something's own festival - The BIG What? And we'll also make plans to attend future Rooster Walks!
- by Lee Crumpton
- photos by Jerry Friend