"The Power of Love..."
By Roland Lazenby
After years of flirtation, of eyeballing each other from a distance, FloydFest and Roanoke finally did the obvious Wednesday night and got married in a beautiful little ceremony that featured a big fat moon rising over the city’s Elmwood Park amphitheater stage, hugged tightly and happily by a crowd of better than 3,500.
It actually seemed like about 30,000 with the atmosphere and buzz that the event produced in the midst of downtown on a weeknight.
The immediate object of their affection was that meltdown pop star act of the 1980s, Huey Lewis and The News, who had made some memorable appearances in the local civic centers back in their heyday.
“Did you miss us?” Lewis asked the delighted crowd during a pause. “It’s only been 30 years. We come here every 30 years. Like clockwork.”
Fans, who paid 35 bucks a piece for the experience, remember well those visits back in the day. Tilly Gokbudak of Salem was only 14 when he heard brother Huey and company live in the 1980s, but he easily recalled the moment. Stevie Ray Vaughn opened for Lewis that night.
“They put on a really good show,” Gokbudak recalled, a review seconded by Tom Moore, who wanted to see Wednesday’s show so badly that he pressured his good friend Andrew Knapp to miss a work shift to go with him.
Moore, sporting a worn Doobie Brothers ball cap, recalled that in perhaps the first area show back in 1982, Lewis and his band opened for Lover Boy.
Whatever the concoction, Lewis made the right impression in those 1980s shows at both the Roanoke and Salem civic centers, and Virginia’s Blue Ridge was ready for the return.
Across-The-Way Productions—the company that stages FloydFest—had figured as much after conducting surveys and choosing carefully who to select for their first big stage act in nearby Roanoke.
“There’s a natural bridge between FloydFest and Roanoke,” said Sam Calhoun, marketing director for the production company, as he watched a long line of concert goers file into the venue with relative ease. “We’re just lovin’ life and makin’ it happen. We spent a lot of time looking at what band would work well in the Roanoke market.”
“We’re so excited to be here tonight with you guys,” FloydFest co-founder Kris Hodges told the crowd in introducing the show. “And we’re hoping to do a lot more.”
Indeed, FloydFest will bring another ‘80s act, Blondie, to the stage later this season followed by the legendary genius behind the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, to consummate the relationship between the festival producer and the city.
This first concert with Lewis appears to be a watershed moment. The FloydFest crew has spent more than a decade honing the process and challenge of building that event in the nearby mountain community of Floyd—about an hour’s climb into the Blue Ridge outside Roanoke—into a top-notch and nationally respected festival. Marrying that FloydFest expertise with the large and eager market in nearby Roanoke provides for a next level of growth that both the company and the region are ready to embrace.
After all, economic development is no joke, and Roanoke is quickly finding itself a charming target for corporations, due to its natural beauty, its relaxed lifestyle, and an increasingly abundant arts scene, highlighted by its emerging music scene. The Roanoke area features an array of touring bands mixed with strong local talent, two properties that FloydFest has begun to focus on with its “On The Rise” competitions.
“There’s some irony here,” Gokbudah said in pointing out that the small community of Floyd is showing the larger community of Roanoke how to stage music events smartly.
Of course, Hodges — an expert drummer in his own right — has spent part of his formative years in Roanoke as has musician/educator John McBroom, another quiet pillar in the success of FloydFest. But the point is well-taken. The FloydFest crew has developed the big-time chops and success over the years, and Roanoke now offers a tremendous opportunity for growth of the company’s frequently magical presentations of music product.
Wednesday night brought a splendid display of just how much both the city and festival company can draw from the mutual benefit. That was evident from the first notes played by the opening act, kick ass new grass band Love Cannon—which will feature guitar god Warren Haynes on its new album. From there Lewis and his guys took the stage with a pulsing red light intro that morphed into a string of familiar hits and a taste of new songs too. For a time, it appeared that the mass of aging Baby Boomers might actually form a mosh pit of sorts, or at least a mass of worshipers hugging the stage and hanging on the band’s every note.
“This is a Wednesday night,” said Roger Davis with a hint of disbelief as he stood on the hill overlooking the grand scene.
Oh, yes. With more to come.
Not to be satisfied with just the show in the park, Across-The-Way Productions extended the event with an official after party at Martin’s Downtown Bar and Grill, where jam band Mad Iguanas rolled through another four hours of fun.
The only complaints about the evening? Next time, there will need to be more food trucks and vendors, to keep lines shorter, offered several fans. And Davis suggested that he’d love to see some more diversity in the upcoming events.
Both points were well-taken and easily remedied, considering the FloydFest crew’s knack for identifying weaknesses and making them strengths.
The main point of the evening was the wedding. FloydFest and Roanoke. You may now kiss the bride.