By Tim McCoy & Jenna Lazenby
A dense fog draped over the mountain countryside at the FloydFest site on Saturday morning. With the Floyd Fandango Showdown Throwdown on tap, a few worried that rain would play a role in the day’s events. But shortly after lunch the fog burned off and the day blossomed with cumulus clouds and sunshine, while children and adults of all stripes gathered for a micro FloydFest experience.
It was a beautiful day of music and community that was accentuated with craft beer and local wine, plus activities that showcased the region’s outdoor amenities, including a Mountain X Cross bike race, a 5K trail race, and a disc golf tournament. In true FloydFest style, the atmosphere was ripe with that magical vibe that organizers have perfected throughout the years.
On the musical front, Fandango featured nine bands of various genres, seven of which are part of the FloydFest On-The-Rise series that highlights up and coming artists. Blue Mule, a FloydFest staple band, opened the festival, and also provided bluegrass tunes during the Farm-to-Table dinner add-on experience. Rebekah Todd, a folk/blues artists out of Benson, NC, kicked off the first of the seven On-The-Rise bands who each played 45-minute sets on the Hill Holler stage at the FloydFest site.
Americana roots rock band Forlorn Strangers followed with a diverse series that included thoughtful songs like “Cleveland,” about lost love and exes who move on. This hard working quintet out of Nashville is certainly living up to the On-The-Rise ethos of the festival. Last year, the band played 181 shows across 32 states. This year they are keeping a similar pace and, in addition to FloydFest, are playing the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, plus releasing a new full-length album due out in early August.
The Strangers were followed by Skribe, a one-man singer-songwriter named Aaron Yealdhall, who easily filled the stage with his guitar, kick drum, and a strong voice. Yealdhall prefers DIY constructed instruments to things you can “readily find at a guitar center.” During his set he introduced the crowd to an instrument called a canjo, made out of an old gas can, and strung similar to a mandolin, that has a tinny sound that complements Skribe’s soulful tenor. Yealdhall will be backed by a full band for his July FloydFest performances.
FeelFree provided a wholly different sound with its funky beats and horns that blend reggae, jazz, funk and rock. This four-piece band whose members reside and play in the Northern Virginia / DC area performed a series of heartening tunes including the newest single, “Right By Her” which was released just two weeks ago.
Raleigh, NC, Americana band Urban Soil mixed soul and rock into an infectious groove that had the crowd up dancing and cheering for more. “The vibe here is just awesome,” said Eric Chesson, who sings and plays lead guitar for the group. “Everybody is smiling and the musicians are all happy.” The band arrived in the area the night before and enjoyed jamming with some of the other musicians. Urban Soil is touring in support of its latest album, “Sounds from the Underground,” that released this past March.
Doby, a funk band out of Greensboro, NC, shook the beams of the Hill Holler stage. Robin Easter, the lead vocalist, made it clear that she wanted the crowd up and moving. “We want to see a smile on your face, joy in your heart, and your feet on this dance floor.” Then she made it easy to comply with a soulful rendition of “Proud Mary”.
The final On-The-Rise band was OctoPus, a rock / jam band out of Norfolk, VA. They kicked off the set with a rolling blues song, which was made all the more interesting by the addition of the funky vintage Hammond organ and staccato bass. The band brought the crowd dancing immediately to the stage edge and kept them there throughout the set.
The evening closed with “Uncle John’s Band Jam,” a fitting title for a mesh of musicians that covered a myriad of Grateful Dead tunes led by bass player and FloydFest Production Director John McBroom. McBroom and his Blue Mule cohorts played the first few songs and showed their versatility with a cover of Mile Davis’ “So What”. From there, the lineup grew and changed as musicians swapped in and out playing a number of classic Jerry favorites including “Shakedown Street,” “Franklin’s Tower,” and “Good Lovin’.”
Floyd Fandango delivered a unique one-day sample of the very best of what our region has to offer: food, drink, and joyful people dancing and laughing, all with the music taking center stage. It was a nice little pregame to the main event. FloydFest 16 Dreamweavin’ kicks off exactly one month from today. Stay tuned to Blue Ridge Rocks for plenty of FloydFest coverage, including an interview with co-founder Kris Hodges.