What began as a gathering of family and friends to honor two young lives lost with fellowship and music, has evolved into one of Martinsville’s signature events.
Now in its eighth year, Rooster Walk brings together more than 4,000 people of all ages for a four-day festival of music and arts. In fact, this annual Memorial Day weekend event has become such a hit that it outgrew its original location at the Blue Mountain Festival Grounds and in 2015 moved locations to Pop’s Farm, 151 acres that sit near the Smith River.
Rooster Walk site, “Pop’s Farm”
“It has grown into something much bigger than we ever imagined,” says Johnny Buck, executive director for Rooster Walk and one of the festival’s co-founders. “But through that growth we have held true to our mission to celebrate life and to come together to appreciate the present moment. It has also become an event the community can rally around and that highlights the beauty and awesome outdoor amenities Martinsville offers.”
Martinsville is a portrait of much of the current rural south, filled with empty warehouses and downtown buildings, and grappling with high unemployment rates, after facing a steep economic downturn that began in the early nineties when most of its staple, textile manufacturers, took jobs overseas.
“Our choices were to either roll over and die or reinvent ourselves,” Buck commented during a recent interview. “We won’t ever be what we were in the past. We had to embrace our outdoor amenities, our arts, culture, and local music to help drive tourism and economic growth. The local economy is getting better slowly and the music scene has really blossomed in the process.”
The combination of music, arts, and the outdoors is at the heart of the festival. Rooster Walk has gained a reputation for some of the highest quality acts you’ve never heard of. It’s a win-win for both. The crowd discovers new artists, and the artists get to experience the beauty of the region and the special vibe that Rooster Walk has cultivated.
While the festival is 80 percent rock & roll and bluegrass music, it caters to music lovers of other genres too, as noted with this year’s headliner Lettuce, a funk band out of Boston. Sam Bush, Perpetual Groove, The Revivalists, and Tab Benoit are just a sampling of the other acts Rooster Walk 8 will bring. Additionally, Saturday night will feature the festival’s first ever super jam, where a dozen or more musical guests will join host band Town Mountain on the main stage.
As if nearly 50 bands on various stages throughout four days was not enough, festival goers can also partake in a variety of outdoor and holistic health activities that range from a 5k race, to yoga classes, and rafting trips down the Smith River which runs through the heart of Martinsville. Plus, there are a host of kid-friendly activities to entertain the 12 and under crowd. Couple that with arts and craft vendors, food trucks, and a fine selection of craft brews, and it’s no wonder why this festival has become such a big hit for the region.
Ultimately, Rooster Walk is a nonprofit event which since its inception has raised more than $80,000 for local and regional charities. More than half of those dollars go to the festival’s namesake, the “Penn-Shank Memorial Scholarship Fund” which awards an annual educational scholarship of $4000 to one high school senior for undergraduate study. This year, Rooster Walk organizers are adding a band instrument and repair donation program in which old band instruments can be donated. Rooster Walk will repair, then give the instruments to Martinsville-Henry county public schools to help pass on the love of music to younger generations.
This year the promoters have also worked with venues throughout the Blue Ridge region of Virginia and into North Carolina to host six pre-events to spread the good word of the festival. One of those shows features festival favorite Major & the Monbacks at the Rives Theater, another Martinsville nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering music, arts, and education in the community. Both organizations rely heavily on volunteers from the community to help staff the events, and receive support from local businesses.
If you’re looking for Memorial Day weekend plans that combine fun, family, music, and culture, all for a good cause, then look no further than Rooster Walk. You can learn more about the origins of Rooster Walk and get full festival details on their website, Roosterwalk.com