Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival 2024

A heartwarming celebration of music, community and nature

The 14th annual Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival once again transformed the 150-acre Pop's Farm in southern Virginia into a vibrant haven for music lovers over Memorial Day weekend. The festival was born in 2009 to honor two high school friends and raise money for charity, and has grown into a beloved homecoming for a close-knit tribe that congregates for four days of music, celebration and renewal among rolling green fields, a tranquil lake and shaded pine groves. With its casual atmosphere, small crowd size and family-friendly environment, Rooster Walk cultivates a heartwarming and cheerful experience for all.

With six stages, a myriad of activities including healing arts, yoga, and nearby outdoor adventures, alongside a plethora of psychedelic visual art and groovy vendors, Rooster Walk offers a rich tapestry of experiences. The festival's commitment to local charities, including college scholarships and a musical instrument donation program, adds a layer of purpose and fosters a spirit of community that permeates every aspect of the event.

The festivities began on Thursday with the dynamic duo 'Sticks N Thorns, pairing long-time friends Jon Stickley, renowned for his innovative flatpicking guitar style, and Andy Thorn, the celebrated banjoist of Leftover Salmon. They launched the weekend with an exuberant set featuring classic bluegrass melodies intertwined with covers from acts like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dead Milkmen. Newcomers to the scene Mountain Grass Unit from Birmingham showcased their remarkable bluegrass chops and tight harmonies with a set that included soulful Grateful Dead covers like "Eyes of the World." Despite their youth, these talented musicians displayed a maturity in their craft and a fresh perspective that promises a bright future.

The utterly spellbinding Isaac Hadden Organ Trio, led by the incendiary and virtuosic young guitarist, captivated the audience with a genre-defying performance featuring intricate improvisations and infectious grooves. His ensemble transcends conventional labels, seamlessly transitioning from tight arrangements to extended jams that effortlessly segue into eclectic realms of soul funk, rock and roll and psychedelic jazz. Their set included a cover of Pink Floyd's "Young Lust," an instrumental rendition of Ronnie Laws' "Always There," and a transformative instrumental take on The Beatles' "Come Together." Hadden's electrifying presence throughout the weekend added a special touch to many performances.

Broke Mountain Bluegrass was formed in 2003 by a group of close friends and then-unknown musicians, and the members have since become integral parts of esteemed contemporary bluegrass acts like Leftover Salmon, Greensky Bluegrass, The Infamous Stringdusters, and Jon Stickley Trio. Their Rooster Walk concert was their first show east of the Mississippi River in 20 years and featured an authentic and earnest set including "Broke Mountain Breakdown" and "Cabin in the Hills."

The Rooster Walk House Band, featuring legendary jamband drummer Jeff Sipe and singer Florencia Rusinol, paid tribute to Jerry Garcia with an epic set that included a rousing version of "Shakedown Street" complete with an unforgettable drum solo. The mind-bending psychedelic grooves of Dogs in a Pile closed the night with a massive sound, delivering covers of The Who's "Pinball Wizard" and Joe Cocker's "Space Captain" that sent the audience out singing and smiling.

Friday kicked off with the charming and uplifting reggae rhythms of Mighty Joshua, followed by Colby T. Helms & the Virginia Creepers from nearby Boone's Mill, who delighted the crowd with humorous and heartfelt country songs reflecting the lives of the people of the region. Isaac Hadden Organ Trio returned for another set that included guest appearances from Rusinol and timeless tenor saxophone virtuoso Ron Holloway, who delivered a slow, passionate cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Kaira Ba, a spirited African rock band led by the intensely engaging singer and kora player Diali Cissokho, brought an energetic and unique vibe to the stage, creating a dynamic fusion celebrating cultural diversity and unity. Progressive bluegrass band Arkensauce followed with a stirring performance that set the stage ablaze with their exhilarating sound and tight harmonies. Couch brought their upbeat dance tunes down from Boston with a set infused with sunny vibes and irresistible pop energy that included covers of Billy Joel's "Vienna" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain."

Blazing singer/guitarist Daniel Donato's Cosmic Country enchanted the audience at dusk with their genre-defying blend of country and psychedelic rock, offering a mesmerizing set of expansive musical landscapes that included fan favorites "Hi-Country," "Dance in the Desert," and a surprising cover of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies." His two blistering sets at Rooster Walk were among the most talked about of the weekend. The Rooster Walk House Band returned for The Jimmy Jam, featuring songs from a variety of legendary Jims, Jimis, and Jameses, before funk-rock guitarist Cory Wong's ultra-precise ensemble blazed through an electrifying set of intense and enthusiastic grooves.

The highlight of Friday night was Tauk Moore, a riveting collaboration between progressive rockers Tauk and spellbinding singer Kanika Moore from Doom Flamingo. Their wild and hypnotic covers of The Allman Brothers Band's "Whipping Post" and Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused" created a scorching and thrilling performance. Florencia & the Feeling wrapped up the night with an intimate dance party that lasted past 3am, featuring fun mashups of Stevie Wonder and The Beatles alongside a cover of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong's impossibly catchy "Horizon" with a middle section of Amy Winehouse's "Valerie."

Bluegrass pioneers The Seldom Scene kicked off Saturday paying homage to the rich musical traditions of Appalachia. Yarn followed with a stellar set with outstanding keyboardist Josh Shilling sitting in and adding a special touch to the music. Revered singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale & the Game Changers played a memorable set, while the high octane rock band Caitlin Krisko & The Broadcast captivated the audience with her thunderous singing and sultry stage presence that perfectly matched the humid spring evening.

The main headliner of the weekend was legendary singer/songwriter icon Emmylou Harris, a timeless figure in Country music whose career spans over five decades. She offered immaculate renditions of her poignant chart-toppers and enduring classics. The audience was transported by her everlasting voice and melodies which carried through her uplifting and easygoing set. The slick and bluesy gritty groove of North Mississippi Allstars whipped the crowd into a frenzy and set the stage for the fiery psychedelic mastery of Daniel Donato's Cosmic Jamboree which featured sit-ins from Luther Dickinson, Jim Lauderdale, Ron Holloway and Jeff Sipe. The night concluded with an exciting late-night performance from fire spinners accompanied by music from The Shoaldiggers, creating a magical atmosphere under the stars.

The final day of the festival opened with the haunting harmonies and ethereal melodies of folksters Holler Choir from Asheville, whose intimate and soul-stirring set revealed a remarkable synergy of harmonies and musical prowess. The Collection followed with an inspiring set filled with catchy hooks and heartfelt vocals offering optimism and encouragement for those grappling with mental health challenges. The Denver-based Clay Street Unit flew through a repertoire of contemporary bluegrass tunes and welcomed Isaac Hadden on guitar for "Call Me the Breeze," while Charleston's funky and playful Sol Driven Train's set included a cover of The Allman Brothers Band's "Jessica." Kind Hearted Strangers brought hard rock with a heavy groove, with their joyous music making the crowd pump their fists in the air.

Despite a rain delay, Big Something delivered a shortened but explosive set, playing an improvised "Shelter In Place Jam" before flowing seamlessly from "Algorithm" into "Sundown Nomad." Yarn then wrapped up the festivities with the latest edition of their long-time Rooster Walk tradition that sees them performing loving tribute sets to other beloved artists. This year's entry was called Dire Yarn, featuring horns and keyboards for a joyful and endearing tribute to Dire Straits. Despite the rain delay, a huge number of enthusiastic fans stuck around to the very end, creating a special kind of fellowship. The set ended with a rousing rendition of "Walk of Life," capping off the festival on a high note.

Other bands that graced the stages included Travis Book & Friends, Myron Elkins, Lua Flora, TC Carter Band, J & the Causeways, and the Jared Stout Band. One of the most fun aspects of Rooster Walk is the large number of artists-at-large who sit in with various bands throughout the weekend to create many special and unique moments. This year's artists at large included Jeff Sipe, Ron Holloway, Florencia Rusinol, Josh Shilling, Jake Dempsey and Wallace Mullinax.

Rooster Walk continues to be a heartwarming celebration of music, community and nature. As the smiling faces and new friendships attest, returning to Rooster Walk feels like coming home. The founders' vision of honoring their old friends through this festival lives on, and the love felt here is something that fans can carry back into the real world. Until next year, the spirit of Rooster Walk will remain in the hearts of all who were fortunate enough to experience it.

- Paul Kerr
- Photos by Jerry Friend