Jam Band Purist: FloydFest 2021 (A Return Home) Full Review
The Virginia backroads twist and turn into the future, traveling into a long-awaited musical journey. A return home. The past year-and-a-half have been some fevered nightmare where my bare essentials have been stripped from me, mainly live music, my lifeblood, which seems like a very unorganized religion for me. My Sunday Sabbaths are weekly or monthly musical journeys into the reaches of Improv and Rock and Roll but, this was all taken from me. With the return of FloydFest, I knew that I would be able to return to my sanctuary and rekindle the musical fire that dwells in us all. This spark was aflame as soon as I entered the venue.
It’s always quite the heartwarming experience when you walk into a festival for the first time in two years and see Keller Williams on stage, a smile on his face, barefoot, and singing some nonsensical dialogue. It reminds me of simplistic times when I was 18 and carefree, the world ahead of me. That youthful spirit invigorates me as I sally forth into the weekend headlong with music and dance. There is no rest for the weary here. All your bones must dance until tomorrow. Become one with yourself, the mountaintop, the drops of dew, the sun, and the music.
FloydFest is as a dream is. The mountaintop atmosphere lends itself to the blissful nature of the music. The music and natural surroundings seem in harmony with one another. The long-fingered ridge becomes a small town, a circus with all the fixings. There is something here for everyone, young and young at heart. Families pass by odd strangers who shimmy to the rhythm of the hypnotic tunes as though they have been doing this their whole lives, their outrageous attire eclectic and revealing. Sometimes I wonder what it's like in those kids' heads as they witness the spectacle. One day I hope they understand the absolute freedom they witnessed as youths. There is nothing like a music festival, and there is nothing like FloydFest.
Leftover Salmon is a joyous, exuberant, bluegrass experience with the Oden of the jam world, Vince Herman at the helm. I watched both their sets at the Hill Holler stage and the main stage. Each set brought its own form of progressive bluegrass greatness. The banjo shredding the parts where the guitar should be, Andy Thorn cutting through the mix and right into your feet. There is no possible way to watch Leftover Salmon and not kick a foot or pound it on the ground. Vince's long holler raises the crowd's excitement level as they kick into high-notch before slowing it down for another ballad like “Southern Belle.” Saturday's performance would see a massive rainbow streak across the sky. The colors of music reacting from the heavens.
Turkuaz might be the funkiest band on the planet. They create their own world of sound and lyrical landscapes. Turkuaz is the perfect band to join Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew for a complete recreation of the Talking Heads seminal album 'Remain In The Light.' Both Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew being prodigious parts of this record, there was an obvious excitement from the crowd. An electric halo seemed to surround us all as the recreating began. And no, this wasn’t a cover this was something else. Something even David Byrne couldn’t replicate onstage. The palpable energy source seemed to hover over the band as they lay into "Psycho Killer", "Born Under Punches,", "Life During Wartime", "The Great Curve", and "Take Me To The River." Jerry Harrison looks from underneath his shoulder-length hair, surveying us until he seems too shy to look anymore and retreats into himself. He is the leader of this group and his Byrne-like presence is less frantic and nonvolatile; more zen funk than some post-punk messiah. Adrian Belew is always waiting for his solo to gleam his Cheshire smile and whammy his guitar into some other dimension. Adrian Belew is one of the most unorthodox guitar players I have ever seen live and he has inspired me to learn the dynamics and complete creative prowess of his guitar virtuosity. I would love to interview Adrian and pick his mind about this show and his past. Now that’s a dream interview!
Travers Brothership may have the best single cover from the entire weekend with "City Of Tiny Lights" by the illustrious Frank Zappa which once featured Adrian Belew, synergy there. This cover was outstanding and high-energy. I have never heard it done in such a unique but almost perfect fashion. Travers Brothership has certainly come a long way from the first time I saw them at Floydfest 2 years ago and their strong North Carolina fan base has grown. Kyle Travers guitar antics are on show here but kept respectable for this difficult arrangement. Eric Travers drumming has come a long way and the polyrhythms of this song lend well to his hard, heavy playing. The bassist, scared the shit out of me when flipping his guitar into a barrel roll in the air. I guess sometimes the Brothership truly takes liftoff.
Dr. Bacon was my favorite up-and-coming act at FloydFest, their wild antics kept me hooked from the horn blast to the first shred. The characters are some motley crew of bearded ruffians who play the part of psychedelic pirate Shamans to the T. The growly roughness of the Tom Waits-like shanty shivered me timber’s but there was something beyond their outward appearance that intrigued me. In a sea of bands that sound kinda like Phish or kinda like (Pick your poison), Dr. Bacon is already coming out with a somewhat raw, but interesting, and compelling musical experience. I look forward to reviewing them further and delving into the crispy part of that bacon.
I have, for many years, Considered The Source, not only of the band itself but of each musical segment they bring within their music. Seemingly taking from various cultures or world music and straight-up smashing that fucker into Prog-Fusion. There is no other band like CTS and there won’t be a band brave enough to try any time soon. But something is being explored in their music that is ancient shamanistic and they are just touching the surface of the possibilities juxtaposing modern music with the ancient. I got to talk with Jeff Mann, madman drummer, and fellow Zappaphile for a few minutes during Turkauz and he told me of his experience in college playing Zappa’s music. It’s always great to share musical tastes with bands that you admire and appreciate.
Andy Frasco is fucking Batman; he is the hero we deserve, not the hero we want. I honestly wasn’t ready for the rage fest that would be the 1 am set in the Beer Garden. Having seen Frasco cause complete chaos in many situations, I had little, to no energy to get down as properly as I should have or as was needed to keep up with the band! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Andy Frasco's performance can only be compared to WWE professional wrestling or fucking GG Allen with a fro and less poop. There was no way I could create a more real raw band even if my wildest dreams. Andy Frasco and the UN tap into a primal musical narrative that flows through the veins of us all. To party and get down until we can’t anymore. This innate instinct is raptured and ushered into a new existence when Frasco and his band roar cacophonous at the dying night.
Should I even write about Goose? Do you want to hear what my thoughts were? Oh yes, I stayed for the entire set, but I got my opinions! Anyway, they have more potential than any young band that I have seen yet. I think that says a lot. They have some great grooves and are vocally solid but their transitions are super sloppy and some of their songs are cheesy and derivative; that being said, they are young and have so much room to grow. I would suggest for them to dial in back and define what they want to do and do that really well! No need to explore Country and Western until you're ready. I’m just not ready for a Goose hoedown especially with so many great bluegrass bands at Floydfest. Keep it Jammin'! Keep it deep, dark, and try new things, even if it sounds like shit or you have some know-it-all journalist telling you what to do! I look forward to seeing Goose again in about 5 years. I’m not yet ready to fly south for the winter just yet.
FloydFest caters to those who want to acquire new musical acts and new artists. The spotlight competition drives FloydFest each year and its family of bands further. Each year new bands get the opportunity to play for the community and many are embraced, returning the next year. Some of the newest bands I had the pleasure of checking out were: Abby Bryant And The Echoes, which brought out a slew of other performers from various bands like the Travers brothership and Andy Frasco, and The UN. (video in the vlog) Mary Heath and Her Heathens (whom I only heard for a moment but enjoyed what I did hear from their rendition of "Cortez The Killer") the Josephines and Butcher Brown are both on my vlog. I spent an entire show with Dharma Bombs in the VIP on Sunday, just relaxing and enjoying their apocalyptic bluegrass folk. (Video in the Vlog) Some of the members are from my hometown. Chupacabras again, horny, heavy, and fun! I like to get weird right along with them. They also added a great element to the Buffalo Mountain Jam and I was impressed with their horn playing abilities in keeping up with Turkauz. Hogslop String Band with a great rendition of Loudon Wainwright's "Swimming Song"(in the vlog). Very manly bluegrass but calm down a little bit with the cursing. Molly Tuttle did a beautiful rendition of "Standing On The Moon" (in Vlog) which reminded me of Jerry like it always does. I like that a new generation of singer-songwriters have latched onto hunter Garcia’s music, there is something eternally poetic about those verses.
It has been 3 years attending FloydFest. Missing out on last year was hard but I gained a new respect for how difficult it can be to create an event of such magnitude. All for the love of music, which is a pure and just cause. There is nothing purer than trying to bring live music into a community. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to cover FloydFest and I have truly been welcomed with open arms into the family. I hope to return to this amazing festival again next year but I’ll make sure do to make it on Wednesday for the VIP camping.
I hope that you all will give my VLOG (Out Of My Mind) Episodes #1-3, a view and let me know what you think! While I know it’s self-indulgent and somewhat narcissistic, I just want to share, not only my writing but my entire experience with you all. Thank you all for making my dreams come true and a special "thank you" to Sam Calhoun, Brian Swenk, and the Across-The-Way Team for always making me feel at home. See you all next year!
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.