FloydFest 2019: (My Voyage Home)
Some festivals come and go while others stick with you for a lifetime. The memories may fade into obscurity but the essential conviction and power of these events stays with you, within your soul. As I traversed the Blue Ridge Parkway, all my cares and burdens seemed to be released. My senses were greeted with the flood of evocation, the smell of the Appalachia, small towns with bustling markets, the convection breeze of the mountain air. The weather was absolutely perfect and would remain so for the entirety of the weekend. Arriving on site, FloydFest is bustling with energy both musically and socially. The mountaintop looks quite like a small village or even a traveling circus. Tents spiral upwards; the stages are constructed of wood seemingly permanent, reassuring festival patrons that FloydFest will remain, as long as these wooden planks survive. The journey back to FloydFest always feels like going back home. This is my voyage home.
In my eyes, FloydFest is the ultimate, all-around, bang for your buck, beginners festival. Not only is this a well-organized festival, it is also in my home state of Virginia and it gives me great pride that we host such a noteworthy event. Virginia is for music lovers. FloydFest is also very diverse musically, allowing people who come to see more mainstream artists like, Tyler Childers, a chance to see new and provocative musical acts. I have to say early on here that I am not a fan of the Modern Country genre but I can however see the appeal. Some of these shows allowed me to take a break and rest before catching more Jam oriented acts. I will not comment on any of the acts that I found lacking but if pressed, will give my honest opinion, of course. Now that that is out of the way, I will be including some of the best acts of FloydFest here in this review. I wish I could delve deeper into all the music I was able to see but I want to begin with the highlights, in no particular order.
The War and Treaty was perhaps one of the best shows I have seen all year. I don’t say that lightly. While the vocal skills from Michael and Tonya Trotter were great, I was even more impressed with the band behind them. I couldn’t find much information about them but they all could really play. The band is the definition of “tight.” The New Orleans Jazz influence is undeniable and The Trotters add their patented R&B, Soul and Gospel to the vocal arrangements. War and Treaty would play high-energy covers of Gospel songs like, “Amazing Grace”, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and “When The Saints Go Marching In.” The War and Treaty is a class act. I was front and center for this outstanding performance and will be seeing this band every chance I get. Thanks FloydFest for turning me onto another great band.
OK, I have to say it, God damn! Electric Hot Tuna was great. Jorma and Jack Cassidy’s hard-driving blues knocked the crowds socks off. These two psychedelic legends would converge inwards as the music pushed into crescendo. Jorma and Jack have seen it all from Woodstock to the psychedelic revolution in San Francisco and they still display amazing musical prowess. Jorma’s guitar tone can be heard in countless songs from the 1960s by artist who emulate his solos from classic Jefferson Airplane songs. These two are as cool as cucumbers and even during their solo acoustic set still brought original and stylistic approaches to their songs like, “Bowlegged Women.” Hot Tuna is just plain badass.
The Travers Brothership takes the MVP award for this entire festival. When these guys weren’t shredding faces off like cheddar cheese on a grater, they could be seen in the audience consuming music with the rest of us. It was a pleasure to talk shop with Eric Travers and watch his brother, Kyle perform with Keller Williams and Leftover Salmon during Buffalo Mountain Jam. The Brothership blasted off, playing numerous rocking sets at FloydFest. They have come a long way sonically and as a group but there seems only room for more growth. Integrating classic Funk songs with their own version of Southern Rock, The Travers Brothership are set to launch, all over this scene.
One of the most interesting yet perplexing performances I saw this year was The Fantastic Negrito. I seemed to cycle through all of the human emotions during this set from: anger, sadness and even humor. Commenting on today’s politics, social normalities, psychology and honesty The Fantastic Negrito was full of energy that was reflected in the strange music. The Fantastic Negrito is unique and creative, evocative and mysterious. Even today, reflecting back on the show makes me confused yet, interested. The music itself is hard and bluesy with a twist of operatic arrangement and even Zappa-like influences. I am more intrigued than ever with Fantastic Negrito who seems to be a true artist, poet, and soul. I will very likely be reviewing this band again. Fantastic Negrito would end the show with, “I love some of you.” What a true statement.
The New Orleans Suspects would bring their raw, NOLA Funk sound straight to the mountains of Virginia. Having just played one of my all-time favorite venues in New Orleans, Tipitina’s the night before, the suspects hightailed it all the way to FloydFest for their daytime set. I don’t think I stopped dancing at all during this set and freaked out as they played Professor Longhairs, “Tipitina’s” for us all. Anyone who has read my recent reviews knows my love for New Orleans and this set was an extra special treat for me.
Lukas Nelson and The Promise Of The Real was the most anticipated performance for many at Floyd Fest this year. I have been watching Lukas for many years now; watching him grow and mature as an artist and a human being. This was the first time seeing him perform that it all seemed to come together. Lukas has finally found his own voice, his own foot path into the world in which his father has built a highway on. Lukas is still blazing his own trail. A troubadour in his own right. The only man on earth who can sound like Willy and get away with it. While you can hear the patronage within his raspy voice and those melodic, Texas Swing guitar tones, Lukas has his own style, his own persona and the women find him insatiable. Rounding through fast songs and slow songs alike, it was the time when Lukas would step to the microphone in earnest, singing, “Outside Of Austin” or, “Forget About Georgia” was when the crowd leaned in, ears and hearts open to his words. Lukas has raw talent in spades. Cultivating this into something different that stands out in today’s cookie-cutter, country conglomeration. Lukas is the real deal and can focus at improving exponentially by staying humble and grinding out his own legacy.
The headlining performance from The String Cheese Incident was just what the doctor ordered. I haven’t danced that hard in quite some time. I couldn’t help but move when they played songs like “Colliding” or, “River Trance” and anyone who could stand still during these moments weren't in the same dimension as me. I can’t comment on the show too much because I was getting down so hard but SCI was a great headlining choice because their music spans many genres. The first set was much more Bluegrass/Rockabilly but the second set was more Jam oriented. I truly hope that those who had never seen them before, took the time to see this band do what it does best. Keller would make his likely appearance with String Cheese for “Breathe” while some of the members of SCI would return the favor and jam with Keller and an All-Star cast of players onstage for the Buffalo Mountain Jam which has become one of the highlights of FloydFest.
I want to include some of the other artists whom I cant review here. There were many impressive acts but let's start with Erin And The Wildfire who’s version of Chaka Khan's “Ain't Nobody” was absolutely spot on. Erin and her band play in Virginia locally all the time and I recommended seeing their live show. The Broadcast as another noteworthy band to include here. Caitlyn Krisko and guitarist, Aaron Austin really Deliver a solid performance. Chupacabras were a fun and funky local talent. While the Jon Stickley Trios rendition of “Sinister Minister” was flawless. Leftover Salmon always performs danceable soundtracks to my festival life. As Vince Herman yells, “FESTIVAL!!!!!”
Another year another voyage to FloydFest. A voyage of the heart, body, mind and soul. A voyage of music, friendship and nature. FloydFest continues to deliver a solid, stable festival every year. The hardwork and planning does not go unnoticed and that is why I continue to return to this beautiful festival every year. With every year I gain treasured musical memories and I hope to share more with you. I hope to see you all at FloydFest next year.
Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.