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FloydFest, Floyd, VA – 7/26-29

Photo by Jeffrey Dupuis

Hidden deep within the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia’s FloydFest is one of the best kept secrets of the summer festival season. Amidst a stunning backdrop of white pine trees and rolling hills, the 11th annual event drew such artist as Allison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas, Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, Jackson Brown, Anders Osborne, and a charming mix of other rock, Americana, funk, reggae, and bluegrass acts.

FloydFest hosted around 15,000 attendees this year. The venue itself is situated on a plateau off Blue Ridge Parkway, a picturesque stretch of National Park near the small, artsy town of Floyd, Virginia. Most festival goers camp onsite for 3-4 days in a beautiful area shaded by tall trees and cooled by a sweet-smelling breeze. There are two main stages, four smaller stages, various tents for workshops and performance art, a fantastic children’s area (FloydFest has been called one of the most family friendly festivals in the country), even an area for trapeze artists to entertain the crowd. The venue has compost and recycling areas throughout the site, and organizers take great pains to run an environmentally conscious event.

The festival has grown in popularity over the past decade, but, perhaps because of its remote location, its numbers are still kept small enough so that the experience is an intimate one for both fans and artists. Though many associate the festival with bluegrass and Americana, the lineup becomes more musically diverse each year. Some of the standout performances this year included Latin, funk, big brass bands, and gritty blues.

Though he’s already had an incredibly busy year supporting his latest release, “Black Eye Galaxy” (Alligator Records), singer/songwriter/blues guitarist and New Orleans hero Anders Osborne made the trek out to the mountains of Virginia with his band and gained hundreds of new followers with two powerhouse sets. He spoke to Relix about playing at smaller festivals such as FloydFest, noting that at this particular event, “You get really professional listeners, which can sometimes be nicer than just a horde of people.”

However, Osborne admits that his connection to the audience doesn’t change with the size of the venue – “I feel just as connected to 50,000 as I do to 50.”

FloydFest fans may come out to see certain artists, but they are also treated to a number of spontaneous sit-ins as artists invite friends onstage to jam out with them, creating some of the most memorable moments of the weekend. When asked about the significance of this type of live collaboration for himself and also for less experienced artists, Osborne feels that, “For me personally, it’s crucial. I don’t mind playing solo from time to time, but when you play with somebody else, now you’re having a conversation, so now what I play reflects through the other player and it means I start to reflect over what they just played. Then it changes, and evolves, so I think there’s more progress and faster progress when you play with a lot of people.” In his first set of the fest, this “conversation” resonated through the hills as Osborne played with Drew Emmitt and Marco Benevento. And it seemed fitting that the rain began to pour down in torrents on the crowd as he sang about “Louisiana Rain”.

The themes of community and collaboration continued throughout the weekend. Thursday offered up a fun and impressive set from Garage-A-Trois as Benevento, Skerik, Mike Dillon, and Stanton Moore got the party started with their rambunctious blend of jazz, rock, and punk. Drew Emmitt whet the appetites of those who couldn’t wait for Leftover Salmon.

When summer festivals need just the right dose of funk these days they call on go-to New Orleans collective Galactic, and the band didn’t disappoint, playing with energetic front man Corey Glover. Closing out the first full day was the seemingly ageless Jackson Browne, whose crystal clear vocals and touching lyrics thrilled many who hadn’t been able to see him perform in years.

On Friday, blues dominated the afternoon with Anders Osborne’s soulful sound and Gary Clark Jr. wailing on the guitar in a short but sweet set. Rising stars Toubab Krewe brought out a huge crowd who couldn’t seem to get enough of their unique blend of world beats, bouncy funk, and infectious percussion. For those wanting a taste of something new, Oregon’s MarchFourth Marching Band was a theatrical show not to be missed, which included dancers on stilts, outrageous costumes, and a mixture of electric bass and guitar, blazing horns, drums, drums, and more drums. Marco Benevento played an impeccable, melodic set and The Dead Kenny G’s, another Mike Dillon project, whipped the crowd into a frenzy later that night.

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