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FloydFest, Floyd, VA – 7/26-29

Photo by Jeffery Dupuis

Saturday’s crowd experienced a truly diverse day – Yarn played infectious bluegrass in the early afternoon, Toubab Krewe played another set and invited Pedrito Martinez onstage for another memorable collaboration, bringing a Cuban flavor to the set that the crowd loved. Martinez and his own band played salsa music to a big crowd that was not ashamed to bust out the most sensual moves on the dance floor. ALO also had their fans dancing barefoot in the grass as they played happy, fun, hippie-pop. As day turned into night, things got even funkier with Ozomatli giving one of the most talked-about sets of the festival, driving their fans crazy with their driving percussion, Latin funk, and sweetening the deal by jamming with members of ALO and Toubab Krewe. Their set ended with band members marching in a line through the crowd. Anders Osborne played a smaller stage to a whole new audience and the sound was so incredible that lots of “Who is this guy?”, “Have you ever seen him before?”, and other more colorfully worded exclamations rippled through the crowd. A late night show was played by Orgone, continuing the nighttime theme of funky into the wee hours.

On the last day of the festival, Sam Bush and his band got things started off right with a hard-rocking, blues-y show. A huge crowd gathered for Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers and couldn’t stop smiling as Bruce played arguably one of the best sets of his summer tour thus far – a gorgeous tribute to Levon Helm with “The Night they Drove Ol’ Dixie Down”, “The Way it Is”, “Jacob’s Ladder” and smiles turned to ecstatic shouts as he invited Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder to play with him. Bruce was a multi-tasker for this one, playing piano, dulcimer, and accordion as his adoring fans shouted, “Bruuuuuce!!”

Such a glorious weekend could only be concluded with the queen of bluegrass herself. Alison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas were the final headliners for Sunday, and had even non-bluegrass lovers under their spell. The largest crowd of the festival fell eerily and completely silent as Krauss sang her first angelic notes. Young and old were enthralled by stories spun by the tight musicianship of the band and the achingly beautiful harmonies – stories of struggling sharecroppers in “Dustbowl’s Children”, love and loss in the heartbreaking “Paper Airplane”, traditional tales from the Appalachian country and pieces of America’s past that the youngest in the crowd may have never been exposed to.

Though Krauss’ vocals are well known to bring grown men to tears, it was fellow Union Station member Dan Tyminski that surprised many who were previously unfamiliar with his unique voice with its deep, powerful intonation that was made for this type of lyrical storytelling. The inspiring and poignant set sent festival goers away in a wistful, dreamy daze.

The jaw-dropping natural beauty of FloydFest’s idyllic location is only one of its draws. With a myriad of musically diverse talent to choose from, attendees can enjoy not only their beloved favorites, but are exposed to styles they might not have even thought of before. Bluegrass fans dance to salsa music, kids who come out for Conspirator or Michael Franti are awed by blues guitarists, and late night crowds dance to 80’s tunes covered by Love Canon String Band’s mandolin and banjo. Smaller acts like The Lizzy Ross Band and The Boatmen get some well deserved exposure. FloydFest even sponsors an annual competition in which fans vote for their favorite new act, ensuring that band will play several slots on each long day of next year’s event (this year’s winner was Grass Monkey).

It is the camaraderie of music lovers, the spirit of community, and the rich celebration of the arts that makes FloydFest a unique treasure in the hills.

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