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The Festy Experience, Nelson County VA – 10/7-9

In Roseland, Virginia “there’s a fork in the road” that leads to the Devil’s Backbone, and from October 7th to 9th that is where many of us did “find our ticket to the promised land.” In its second year, The Festy Experience hosted 25 diverse acts for the listening pleasure of thousands. The majority of these fans came to celebrate the continuing evolution of The Infamous Stringdusters and their flourishing festival.

The Infamous Stringdusters and The Artist Farm were comprehensive in their desired attraction of a conscious festival community that reveres nature and music. They offered trail races for runners and bikers, quiet-zone camping for families, local sustainable vendors (including a farmers market atmosphere on Sunday) for conscious eaters, recycling and on-site composting for environmentalists, a ski-lodge type restaurant / brewery for barflies, mystical wooded coves for heady campers, yoga classes for balancers, enlightening workshops for knowledge seekers, and a multifarious collection of jams for all. Their design consummated in a kind, laid-back collection of pickers and grinners from many ages and cultures all embraced by the ring of surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Stringdusters respect for their cultivated community was met with enthusiastic reciprocity, and by the opening of their Saturday night set, there was vibrant flow of energy amongst all involved. Possibly the greatest surge of concurrent excitement was the debut of The Stringdusters’ new mandolin player, Dominick Leslie. The young virtuoso seemed to know every one of the group’s tunes intimately and when his time to shine came, he stepped up to the light and eagerly shredded every solo opportunity with unfettered confidence. It is clear that The Stringdusters found the right man to fill the big shoes of Jesse Cobb.

The weekend also feature a variety of ambitious collaborations. Early in the evening on Friday night Toubab Krewe and The Infamous Stringdusters joined forces to broaden horizons and shake some bones. Later that night, a fervent Railroad Earth set brought forth members of Toubab Krewe to reinvent “Mission Man” and encored with The Stringdusters in a cozy, harmonious cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” Saturday night brought about one of the most intriguing synergies when the horns section from Rubblebucket stepped on stage to join The Dusters.

However, the weekend’s high point may not have come with the expansion of bluegrass, but rather with the perfection of it. On Sunday night David Grisman and The Stringdusters alternately fused with each other to create a flurry of sparks that set the crowd afire.

All weekend the smaller stage, The Southern, was stoked by auspicious moments like the enchanting performance by The Good Lovelies. And at the end of each night there were raging late night sets from bands like The New Familiars and The David Wax Museum.

Still most focused their attention and energy on the main stage. The Rubblebucket set on Saturday night was particularly notable. Their thick beats, dirty bass licks, rowdy vocals, booming horns blast, and unified dances brought a sultry shakedown like no other band the entire weekend. A Saturday night of Stringbucket is certainly a combination that will resonant inside of you for weeks after the show is over.

After the soundsystems had been shutdown, some of the most raucous musical cauldrons brewed by the informal flickering of campfires in the accessible artist camping area. Many different musicians openly invited the general public to jam with them in the wooded camps. There was even a public announcement by the Dusters encouraging everyone to bring their instruments next year in order to create the world’s biggest jam session.

The sure sign of a great festival is if you really don’t want to leave, and as we all packed our cars, this was the collective feeling. Two things had become clear; the bending of bluegrass is not the devil’s work, and that backbone does curve into the promised land.

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