“Breaking Ground” was the theme of last weekend’s incomparable celebration of human creativity that is FloydFest. Here’s how founder/dreamer Kris Hodges set things up: “It’s a joy to see the seed of FloydFest, planted in the deep rich soil of these Blue Ridge Mountains, tending to it along each stage, through sweat, toil, wind, rain and sunshine, and witnessing the fruit that it bears here today. Is it delicious? Is it healthy? Does it have good color? To be honest, sometimes I can’t say. It’s different planting seeds of abstraction, as opposed to those of material substance.” I would say without hesitation that this ninth harvest of the fruits of untold labors of love was bumper crop. Hundreds of musical artists of countless extraction, gifted craftsmen, imaginative vendors of all things delicious, dedicated production crew and staff plus an army of volunteers, all pooled their energy in the midst of record-breaking heat to present an event that’s logically impossible, much like Manhattan is impossible in its complexity and cultural richness. There were aesthetic enhancements in the form of rustic floral plantings, magnificent new pegged-beam stage structures, and the best special effect of all, a full moon on Saturday night. There were hauntingly beautiful young girls in dreadlocks, astonishingly acrobatic stilt walkers and fire dancers suspended from illuminated helium balloons.
And then there were the intrepid campers, seen above at the daily “Church of Clean” services, waiting patiently to rinse away dust and sweat in the Rinnai-heated outdoor showers. A full Floydian experience can only be had by making the commitment to live there, whether it’s in a small pup tent or an often-maligned RV with noisy generator. It was togetherness to the nines and I’ll commend all who braved the hot proximity, including my bride of 31 years who was a trouper in our truckbed tent. Late night breezes and moonlight through the tent flap made for surprisingly sweet dreams.
But FloydFest is powered by the music, and the carefully chosen lineup was as solid as ever, with names like Levon Helm, Old Crow Medicine Show, Grace Potter, Galactic, Railroad Earth, Tift Merritt, Soulive and Mountain Heart. But for us, it was the joy of discovering new voices and this year it happened at the Virginia Folklife porch stage hosted by the genial, steeped-in-tradition Jon Lohman. In a replay of FloydFest 8’s Friday night, there was a site-wide power failure that forced the porch to become an intimate, acoustic, lantern-lit stage for Charlottesville’s stunningly accomplished violinist/fiddler Morwenna Lasko and her guitarist/partner Jay Pun. The magic was enhanced by the fact that we weren’t familiar with these two Berklee grads who mesmerized the reverent crowd straining to hear every nuanced note without the aid of amplification. The bonus is that the duo will play Ashland Coffee and Tea tonight (Wednesday) night at 7. I hope to see you there. Sorry…no pictures….it was too dark! But for us, the fest was off and running. Following are some other illustrated highlights.
FloydFest founder Kris Hodges drumming for Butch Robins’ Imagicnation
Richmond’s own Hot Seats (formerly Special Ed and the Short Bus) hold forth in the Blue Ridge and Beyond Dance tent.
Well-belted blues from Saretta Wesley guesting with Brooklyn’s The Mumbles in the VIP Tent.
Same venue…all the way from Stockholm, Sweden…the Rockridge Brothers. Old time music crosses oceans…
A steamy Dreaming Creek main stage set on Friday from Konono #1 featuring likembe (thumb piano) master Mingiedi. Check the cool vintage horn speaker…low-fidelity at its finest.
The distaff side of Alaska’s (now Nashville’s) Bearfoot, Angela Oudean and Odessa Jorgensen.
We’d gotten a heads-up on this inventive band from Jon Baliles…we weren’t disappointed. The Low Anthem plays The Porch. Haunting harmonies and arrangements. And watch their deeply moving claymation video “Charlie Darwin.” Do it!
Next up on The Porch, a genre-bending jam led by resonant baritone Alexis P. Suter and her rock-solid band and backup singers, with guests Bassekou Koyate on ngoni, a small West African lute that was precursor to the banjo, along with local legends Danny Knicely on mando and fiddle rebel Nate Leath. Jon Lohman also bent a few choice notes on his harp. Two back-to-back sets that confirmed the notion that “Porch Is Good.”
FloydFest afforded an all-too-rare chance to catch Brooklyn’s WIYOS with former Richmonder Parrish Ellis on guitar and vocals. Even rarer now that the band’s disbanding with Parrish going back to school in Asheville. But these guys mined a very rich vein of rhythmic retro music.
The Hoorah Cloggers backed by stringband Farm Use Only high-stepped it in the Dance Tent during Levon Helm’s Saturday night main stage set and put an exclamation point on our FF 9 experience…an early exit was necessitated by Sunday’s Music for Massey benefit back home…more on that to follow. This would be our fourth FloydFest and one can only imagine what Kris and Erika might have in store for the tenth anniversary year in 2011. Lord willing, we’ll be there to find out. Maybe you too? Power props to all who put in so much of their hearts and souls to stage such an ambitious and thoroughly engaging event. Especially production guru John McBroom, who not only played in two bands, Blue Mule and Imagicnation, he was first-responder to the numerous and inevitable “fires” to be expected during high-intensity situations like this. Cool as a cuke…job well done. And thanks to Graves Mountain pal Bart Tuthill for sharing his mountain top perch with us, Jack Cowardin, Barry Lawson, Keagy Parrish and Laura Wortman. Couldn’t imagine a sweeter way to spend our last night in the hills…on a log cabin porch under a full July moon. Or maybe it was all just a dream.
The long ride home Sunday was justified by the 6th annual Music for Massey/Connor’s Heroes benefit concert at Innsbrook, despite another day of searing heat and humidity that kept attendance down well below expectations. But the intrepid, well-hydrated thousand were treated to one of the most entertaining shows the West End venue has ever seen. Alt-country singer/bandleader/actor (and Simon Cowell’s replacement on Idol?) brought his sequined pink suit, his seasoned band of 25 years and road cases full of wit and charm for his two-hour turn on stage. He was simply electric, obliging with his smash “Wicked Game” and more recent “Bad Bad Thing” along with a scream-laced stroll through the audience to render “Love Me Tender.” What a kick to see a real pro at work. And speaking of road cases, check out this one in Mr. Isaak’s collection once belonging to Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) from the classic rock mockumentary Spinal Tap. Shouldn’t it be in the rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland? I’m just sayin’…
Full credit also goes to our six-year MFM veterans from the West Coast…James, Warren, Chuck and Joe, the Waybacks who gave it all up despite the bulging thermometer. And Louisiana roots rocker Marc Broussard, more acclimated than most to the muggy conditions. It was a seriously good day of music with the only downside being that way too many of you missed it. Thanks to all who came and to Jim Napier and company for pulling it off. Concert promotion’s not for sissies.
So meet me in Ashland tonight for Morwenna Lasko and Friday for the great Jimmy LaFave. Or will it be Cadillac Sky at the Southern in Charlottesville? Jury’s still out…TT