Article and photos by Jenna Lazenby
Two days after my return from FloydFest, I find myself on a still summer evening, listening to the cicadas and contemplating everything I anticipated the FloydFest experience would be and what came to pass.
As a fifth-year alum of the festival, the biggest lesson I’ve learned, other than to always have a sturdy pair of boots to support your feet, and a light around your neck for navigating the grounds and porta-potties after dark, is some of the greatest joy comes from the discovery of new bands you’ve never heard of. Prior to this year’s festival, I heard my share of grumblings about this year’s lineup. “There are too many bands we’ve never heard of,” coupled with questions of, “Where are the big names? Where are the new headliners?”
A week ago, I didn’t have proper answers for the nay-sayers who posed these questions. All I knew was that FloydFest had never let me down in terms of music selection and I was fairly certain it wasn’t about to start in its 16th year as a festival.
My reflection of the 2017 festival began sitting in the sunshine above the Hill Holler stage on Sunday afternoon watching scads of people laugh, dance and sing, to the fun-loving tunes of Keller Williams’ KWahtro. FloydFest had once again managed to provide some of the most singularly-rewarding music experiences, coupled with the backdrop of a vibe many have come to know and love.
As I sat there reflecting on the number of musicians I watched pour their souls into their music and their performances, I couldn’t help but consider the theme of this year’s FloydFest: “Freedom.”
The Freedom theme was ubiquitous throughout the five-day event. Not only on the twelve-foot mural asking “What does freedom mean to you?” along with the hundreds of written responses, but also evident in everything that makes this festival so special. From the eclectic dress and attitudes of its patrons, to the numerous options for extracurricular activities, to the richness of musical styles and genres.
“Freedom is knowing yourself and trusting yourself to make the truth a reality,” Erika Johnson, festival co-founder, shared during a performance of spoken word at one of the “Hoot and Holler” events.
I find that Erika’s sentiment often evades us. We’re a country surrounded by freedoms that others could only dream of, yet we seek our solace and comfort in the familiar. We often settle for routine, too afraid to explore what’s yet to be discovered. Each year, FloydFest provides the option to break away from the predictable and discover a taste of freedom.
During my four days at the festival, I rediscovered the bands I already treasured. There was lots of funk, soul, reggae and powerhouse rock. The headlining band, Thievery Corporation, brought it all the stage on Thursday night and I was reminded of those early twenty-something experiences hearing them in the Eighteenth Street Lounge in Washington, DC, where I worked at the time. I listened to their messages about the dangers of government corruption and control with fresh ears, considering our current era.
On Friday night, I found inspiration and danced to the performance of Michael Franti and witnessed a crowd who responded and hung on to the hope and love his music provided.
“With all the division we see in our country and planet, we need those of us who care about our planet to be speaking out from our hearts, louder than we ever have before,” Franti proclaimed from the stage.
Those same feelings manifested during the Saturday performances of Xavier Rudd, followed by Railroad Earth, and the reoccurrence of the Leftover Salmon led Buffalo Mountain Jam. This all was perpetuated by the vibe that the FloydFest creators have come to perfect.
The air is decidedly filled with music, but it’s also filled with the laughter and squeals of children and the chatter of friends and strangers. There are numerous extra curricular activities, including kayaking, and bike trails, yoga classes, dance classes, meditation, lectures, and massage. Then there are nine music stages spread around the festival grounds, set amid clusters of trees that help provide welcoming shade during the heat of the day, or cover during a midsummer rain storm, of which we had plenty this go around.
Several of the stages are permanent timber installations that were built to blend in with the trees and mountains, not to scar the beauty of the countryside. There are also the added touches. The fireworks that fill the sky each evening after dark, the large musical note that greets you at the entrance, the glamorous stilt walkers, the art installations, and the classic wooden “love” sign that reigns high on the hillside above the Hill Holler stage. It’s all part of a well-staged retreat with music at its epicenter.
Then there is the unknown. With more than a hundred artists performing, there is plenty of that to discover. With nine stages, no one could possibly see or cover it all. I wish I could have heard more, but the small portion I did see only confirmed what I already knew. The creators of FloydFest have an uncanny ability to find those artists who truly bring passion to the stage.
One of my favorite moments occurred earlier in the day Sunday, before my reflections from Hill Holler. I sat at the Ferrum Workshop Porch waiting to see California-based, Whiskerman. A band I knew virtually nothing about, I planned to listen to a few songs then migrate quickly over to the Pink Floyd Beer Garden to catch the Jon Stickley Trio From the first notes of their performance, I didn’t leave my seat, entranced by the newness and energy their rock ballads brought to the small wooden stage.
Other similar experiences occurred during the discovery of L.A. band, “HONEYHONEY” and one-man show Jack Broadbent, who traveled all the way across the pond from England. The musical array of genius was also evident in numerous other acts that covered the spectrum from alternative and acid jazz to world beat pop.
As I sit with the cicadas, I’m left with the reminder that we live in a world where we can always manifest the love and community that we what to create. FloydFest embodies that and so can we.
So, I leave you with the same question that FloydFest 17 posed to me: “What does freedom mean to you?” Do you trust yourself enough to redefine it?
To view as a slideshow, click on any photo.