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Published: 2018/06/01
by Ron Wray

Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival

Dan Lotti, with Lizzie Ross and Rod Hohl, sing “Drove Old Dixie Down” in “The Last Yaltz.”

Once upon a time, in a kingdom by the waters of the Blue Ridge Mountains, royalty is spread among women, girls, men, and boys, not enthroned. Mixed couples, inter-racial families, young, old, and those with disabilities fill the sandwich. While all around is water, music’s life source flows bloodlike, cosmic receptacles given definition. Rooster Walk’s sound, rhythm, thought, idea, ambition, narrative, experience, and love manifest the experience.

The musicians all bring profundity and openness, intellect, and passion. One of the most proclaimed artists, still in his twenties, Marcus King brought his brilliant playing and soulful singing, made cooler still by horns not stopped if the sky dropped. King spoke of influences that varied from his rock band father to his country band grandfather. Others range from Billie Holiday to Johnny Cash to Miles Davis, he said, though, perhaps, most of all, James Brown in performance. He said Duane Allman is an influence in the sense of kindred spirit: “You don’t answer the door,” King said, “you knock it down!”

“I’m always writing songs,” Marcus shared, “One thing I’m thinking a lot about (in the songs) these days is to have self-respect,” the famed artist, surprisingly, said, “to respect others. One’s not possible without the other.” He also marveled at the lake beside him and the old log barn on the opposite side, things he missed before. “See how beautiful it is!” he beamed to his girlfriend.

An artist on the rise is Juliana MacDowell, who has overcome rough patches to catapult a solo career after years in the band Joey and the Waitress. She brings a big sound, clever lyrics with an edge, and humor, which takes aim at life experiences. She was discovered by kingdom keepers – the owner of the property, Pop’s Farm, with a major benefactor – while camping at the Lockn’ festival.

On his comfortable tour bus, resting on the come-down end of a night entertaining, JJ Grey, of JJ Grey and Mofro, a iconic music maker, shared his love of reggae, including obscure but profound artists like Yellowman, and musicians Grey considers “family,” like the Rev. Peyton also at Rooster Walk. Both Peyton and King credit Grey with being an instrumental aide in establishing their careers. The Rev. had said to tell JJ that he is “one of the coolest people alive.” JJ’s influences are many and diverse. “I’ve listened to everything from Sam Smith to Stevie Wonder, Lynyrd Skynyrd, James Brown, Donny Hathaway, Jerry Reed, The Dead Kennedys, Toots and the Maytals. Toots and I met,” he went on, “and we did music together.”

Rev. Peyton and His Big Damn Band, another group on the rise, including Rev’s wife, Washboard Breezy Peyton, and railin’ young drummer, Max Senteney, have one of the most energetic, muscular, and musical shows around. The Rev. says the key is a good show is for the audience to “feel something and have fun.” Most shows include setting fire to Breezy’s washboard.

One of the hottest commodities in country/roots/Americana is Western Canadian Colter Wall, showing emotion like a heart breaking in his face. Or, there’s a dry, quiet twinkle in his eye. His voice is at a depth vocally and lyrically beyond his age, another 20-something. Influences for the country singer are surprising, like Arlo Guthrie’s counter-culture classic, Alice’s Restaurant. Rooted in country, Wild Ponies took their stage by storm. The duo is a couple as well, sharing thoughts, ideas, and music 24-7. They pack as much excitement into two bodies as possible.

Artists-at-Large sat in with many bands and played as a group as well. One of these was Ron Holloway, master sax player, with gorgeous antique instruments wearing a handsome gold and brown dashiki, who has played with everyone from Dizzie Gillespie and Sonny Rollins to Susan Tedeschi . Overheard in the artists’ compound, Holloway told a story of avoiding contact before a gig recently with a current president by pretending to be absorbed in practice as the president and family walked by.

Other artists include writers and photographers chronicling the realm as well as moveable (truck) chefs and artisans. Sean Chagnon left campsite early with his cameras, returning in the wee hours, trying to shoot every concert. Hunter Rhodes did magic on stage and at-large. Also, rolling through the congested VIP tent and concert crowds, is Bo, an Asheville music club owner, on a one-wheel skate board, wearing striped pants and an “It’s Bo Time!” shirt, while carrying a lighted umbrella.

Musical nights had campsite players picking and campers nestled under pine trees. Between the pines near stages were often strings of colorful lights. Facilitators, like Carrie, made campers’ with disabilities’ lives easier. With her colorful dreads and dramatic tattoos, she was for campers not only helper but friend. “People movers” shuttled. Matty, named for his “matted” dreadlocks, hauled artists’ equipment around and was a drummer at night. One diminutive but strong stage hand said she could only afford to have an art gallery on her body with tattoos gracing her legs and arms.

The opening of Pop’s Farm, in Axton, near Martinsville, Virginia, and creation of Rooster Walk is dedicated to two young men who died of different causes just as they were launching into adulthood. All proceeds go to nearby charitable causes that help area students involved music.

Yarn, closed the festival with The Last Yaltz, a tribute to the farewell concert of The Band, The Last Waltz, made immortal in the Martin Scorsese film. Yarn showed energy and emotion in sharing music now part of our national culture. Blake Christiana was in perpetual motion, passionately wife-ward at times. Guests joined in, including a hot horn section and Dangermuffin’s Dan Lotti with a powerful “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Lizzi Ross and Kat Wright added harmonizing voices to the weave.

This proved a metaphor for kingdom. It was perfect ending on shooting blasts and soothing balms of melody, works in yarn of mutual human concern and care, unstitching self-centeredness and slouching hate. Artists said often that a key to success is, ultimately, love, and it’s a reason they do what they do. Yaltz was the idea of festival director, Johnny Buck. Jesse Langlais, of the high-energy, lyrically-exciting band, Town Mountain, said the festival began as a good-spirited yet small gathering, but since Buck, the festival greatly enlarged.

We are blessed with places like Rooster Walk where waters comprising our bodies are joined by music to knit lives in balance, not with apology but raucous crowing of roosters.

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