And yet, I stopped going. In recent years, I began to get turned off by how enormous these events were becoming, where it was more about cramming in as many people and bands as possible into a single weekend. Corporate sponsorship, massive amounts of hard drug use, a lineup of groups more about gimmicks and light shows than about musicianship and lyrical sincerity, all of which put a bad taste in my mouth. It was a cattle march, one that made me feel small and just a number, rather than connected and immersed in the beauty of humanity — the essence of live performance.
But, this past weekend, something caught me eye. FloydFest. Tucked away on the Blue Ridge Parkway in southeastern Virginia, the poster pulled me in. All great Americana, bluegrass, rock and folk acts, with none of the diluted jam or electronica sets. Held on a large property of rolling hills, open meadows and thick Southern Appalachian woods, I was sold. Maybe I could give festivals another chance. Maybe this one would be different from all the cookie-cutter money hungry productions.
Cruising down the Parkway with Crosby, Stills & Nash blasting from the speakers, I began to soak into the majestic landscape of farmland and mountain peaks surrounding me. Drifting into the festival grounds, I was in awe of the venue’s beauty before I even got out of the truck. The entrance brings you over a bald ridge, where you wonder what’s in store, if it was a justified decision to come, only to crest the top and see a weekend of curiosity and unknown adventure laid out below you.
There is a comforting sense of “this is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now” that never wavers from your spirit throughout the weekend. You find yourself floating along the dirt paths and through the forest, smiling at any and all who saunter by, only to have that sentiment reciprocated through their grins from ear-to-ear.
And the music — good lord the music. It was the cover of “War Pigs” by Swedish folk sisters First Aid Kit (who were joined onstage by renowned singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile). It was the freewheelin’ swagger of Americana powerhouses Shovels & Rope and Lord Huron. It was the 2 a.m. bluegrass madness of Leftover Salmon. It was San Francisco super group Trigger Hippy (featuring members of The Black Crowes and Joan Osbourne). It was the round robin pickin’ and grinnin’ of Trampled By Turtles and Greensky Bluegrass. It was razor-sharp rock juggernauts the Drive-By Truckers and Chris Robinson Brotherhood. It was the sheer wave of energy and glamour of Grace Potter (whose rendition of “Burning Down The House” into “Fire On The Mountain” melodically painted the feeling in the air) and Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers.
And as I stood there, watching some of the finest artists of my generation, my heart began to fill with love, passion and something I hadn’t felt in awhile — myself. Music is fuel for my soul, and though I rolled into FloydFest on fumes, I felt replenished and centered. I felt alive, more so now than ever before. The energy and atmosphere of the festival is solely unique in its intent and purpose, all of which executed in the utmost precision.
Beyond those onstage, it was also playing the disc golf course a stone’s throw from my campsite, countless farm-to-table food vendors, going for an afternoon run on the mountain bike trail that loops around the property, innumerable booths promoting green initiatives and hardworking nonprofits, and, most of all, it was the people. For the longest time, I felt like an outsider in terms of what I missed from the festival experience. Turns out, I wasn’t alone, everyone was just at FloydFest. Those that make up the staff and attendees are a wide spectrum of joyous folks — lovers of all things beautiful, eager to help their fellow man, ready to take on the challenges of a modern world in limbo.
I awoke Sunday morning to another day of bluebird skies and unlimited possibility. I strolled down to the Ozark Mountain Biscuit Co. tent in search of a farm-to-table breakfast sandwich. The lady behind the counter welcomed me, and everyone else in line, with a hearty smile and “hello.” As she handed me my order, I said, “Y’all make some great food” (I had eaten there three times in three days).
“We just really love what we do,” she replied.
Her words were my sentiments exactly — the epitome of this glorious weekend. From musicians to production, concertgoers to vendors, the name of the game here is pure passion amid a keen sense of community.
Heading back to Waynesville, my hand drifted along out the open truck window. Pedal down, eyes aimed for the horizon, I felt a sense of self that emerges when your soul plugs directly into the cosmos, into the depths of your potential, where tomorrow doesn’t seem so scary — another chance to do something amazing.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 BearWaters Brewing Company (Waynesville) will have The Darren Nicholson Band (Americana/bluegrass) at 7 p.m. July 30.
2 The Mountain High BBQ Festival and Car Show will be held Aug. 7-8 at the Wayne Proffitt Agricultural Center in Franklin.
3 The comedy-drama “Marriage is Murder” will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. July 31 and Aug. 1-3 at the Smoky Mountain Community Theatre in Bryson City.
4 The Pickin’ on the Square (Franklin) summer concert series will have Michael Reno Harrell (singer-songwriter) Aug. 1.
5 The Sarge’s Animal Rescue Foundation “Dog Walk” will be held at 10 a.m. Aug. 1 at the Haywood County Courthouse in Waynesville.