By Jenna Lazenby
The Rooster Walk Music and Arts Festival is officially a wrap. Four days of significant amounts of sunshine, music, and camaraderie, came to an end on Sunday night with festival-favorite, Americana rock band Yarn closing down the party.
This year’s festival drew in a record-breaking crowd of nearly 5,000 music lovers from far and wide, and the purpose behind the festival was evident to many as several hundred volunteers donated their time to making the event a success. Rooster Walk began as a one-day gathering of family and friends to celebrate the lives of Edwin “the Rooster” Penn and Walker Shank, two Martinsville friends who died nearly a year apart while only in their early twenties. Over the past eight years, the festival has evolved into a signature community event and fundraiser for the Martinsville-Henry county school system.
“You won’t go far without finding a family or community connection,” said Beth Baptist, mother of William Baptist, one of the festival founders. “Everything at Rooster Walk has meaning and purpose behind it. I tear up just talking about it. This festival has really helped the families and the community with the grieving process, and has come to mean a lot for our region.”
Due to the festival’s growth and success, the event was moved last year to Pop’s Farm, a wooded 151-acre property in Axton, Virginia. Since its inception, Rooster Walk has raised more than $80,000 for local and regional charities. More than half of those dollars go to the “Penn-Shank Memorial Scholarship Fund” which awards an annual educational scholarship of $4000 to one high school senior for undergraduate study.
“I come every year because of the connection to community,” comment Ford Childress. “I live in Charlottesville now, but I grew up with both of the boys’ parents. The community is here to rally around them and those who put this event on give their heart and soul. It’s wonderful how people come from all over. Plus, I just love all the bluegrass.”
There was indeed a lot of bluegrass, and this year’s event featured the first ever Bluegrass super jam which at one point placed eight banjo players onstage together at one time. But with 50 bands spanning the four days, there was a little something for every musical taste.
“I came for Sam Bush, The Revivalists, and Yarn, but I discovered so many other great bands that I never heard of, said Richmond native Jessie Crawford. “The Motet played Friday night and they were unbelievable. Cabinet, Roosevelt Dimes, and the Jeff Austin Band had me dancing, dancing, dancing. I want to come back every year.”
While music was certainly the centerpiece of the action, the festival also showcased 35 food, arts and craft vendors, laser tag, a disc golf tournament and a kids activities area. Those festival goers who didn’t get enough movement from moving their feet to the ridiculous amounts of good jams, could participate in a 5k, river float trips, bike rides, yoga and more.
If you weren’t one of the lucky ones to be counted among the 5,000 in attendance, we’ll continue to share photos, videos, and festival stories over the next week on the Blue Ridge Rocks site. In the future, if you want to spend Memorial Day in a beautiful setting, surrounded by kindred spirits all loving the music and the present moment, you’ll know that Pop’s Farm is the place to be.