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Floyd Fest 12: Music, Magic … And Mud

The sites, the sounds and the mud at Floyd Fest 12
The sights, the sounds and the mud at Floyd Fest 12

They held the latest edition of Floyd Fest from July 25-28 this year – and it became southwestern Virginia’s own version of Woodstock, the infamous 1969 music happening that was bedeviled by rain.

An inch or more of rain that fell on the third day of the sold-out Festival turning the dirt paths traveled by more than 14,000 people into a quagmire.  We’re talking foot-deep mud in some places by Sunday morning.

Most took it in stride although some campers left early, having seen the groups they wanted to hear. “This [stinks],” said one woman as she waited with a pile of luggage for a ride to the shuttle bus stand.

Most however just took off their flip flops (which didn’t work very well in the mud) and let the ooze run through their toes for the last day-plus, with the music emanating from a dozen venues – including a parking lot – reminding them what they had come for.

Call it Planet Floyd Fest – patrons enter the patch of land on the Floyd-Patrick counties border and are engulfed by a wall of music, heavy on the Americana-Roots-Bluegrass genres. They wander from stage to stage, pausing to catch as many tunes as they want to before trekking to another venue to hear a band or solo performer they may know little about. Soon they become fans and head to the Merchandise tent, looking for a CD or t-shirt.

One of the bands many may have known little about were The Boston Boys, who, ironically, hail from New York City. Lead singer and guitarist Eric Robertson, now 23, grew up in Greensboro and recalls coming to Floyd Fest when he was 13 years old.“I just got a mandolin [back then] and came. David Grisman was playing with Chris Thile. I came up with my mandolin and had them sign it.”  Now more than a decade later Robertson and The Boston Boys were a late morning headliner on the Dreaming Creek main stage.

The main stage a few hours before the rains came.
The Hill Holler stage a few hours before the rains came.

“Don’t let the rain bring you down. Stay partying,” advised Robertson to those dancing in the deepening mud near the stage. He called those watching “one of the best audiences we’ve ever had.” 

It was the third appearance by The Boston Boys at Floyd Fest and their second on the main stage. Robertson called his group’s original music future roots. “We’ve played a lot of festivals and they’re not all like this – beautifully run. [This] was the best Floyd Fest experience we’ve had.”

As for the weather and the subsequent mud, “it comes with the trade,” at outdoor summertime festivals said Robertson. “But we didn’t expect so many people to be out there this morning. That was really amazing to come out and see everybody with their ponchos on, ready to dance, not letting it bring them down.”

Roanoke Symphony Orchestra executive director Beth Pline was attending her fifth Floyd Fest and was avoiding some of the rain inside the tent where her daughter was selling customized hula-hoops. “This has just been incredible. Actually in the rain today everybody that’s here seems to be pretty happy. Its part of being outside.” Colleen Roscher, Pline’s daughter, was selling her hula-hoops for the third year. A friend told her that, “there’s no bad weather – only bad clothing. We love it here [even] with the rain.’

There were still some glitches in getting campers over from the parking lots via shuttle buses – some said they had waited up to five hours to make it to the festival site. After it started raining and the dirt lots turned to mud it then became precarious to leave in some cases. Cars had to be towed out of the mud and in at least one instance a driver slid his vehicle into another, causing some damage.

But when people made it to the Floyd Fest venue many of those issues, and the mud, seemed to melt away, thanks to the music. Festivalgoers were advised on the last day to stay as long as they could, so that the sun could dry out the mud. Floyd Fest officials even let anyone who wanted to camp out for another night, into Monday, so that the parking lot conditions could improve even more. “My friends are never going to believe this,” said one woman as she surveyed the rain-rutted lot her car was parked in.

Many came from out of town and weren’t going to let a little rain or mud bother them. One couple from Missouri came to see Trampled By Turtles – a group they had seen 26 times around the country.

Christopher Paul Stelling was one of the emerging artists performing in the On the Rise competition. The winner of that contest – chosen by Floyd Fest patrons via ballot box voting – would be invited back next year for a Dreaming Creek stage set. The Brooklyn, New York resident performed this year in the Speakeasy Vaudeville Revue tent, on stage solo with his guitar except for several tunes where his girlfriend provided backing vocals.

Stelling called some bigger festivals he had appeared at “a mess,” due to their unwieldy size. He liked the multiple venues at Floyd Fest, comparing it to South By Southwest in Austin, TX.

After being on the road for three months he wished it was dry but other than that said, “I would do it again.” Stelling missed his first set at Floyd Fest when his car got stuck behind a shuttle bus on the muddy roads. “But I would do it again. They treat all the artists really well.”

Robertson said everything at Floyd Fest “is done with care and respect for people. Some festivals get out of hand – it becomes more about money than about people actually being comfortable. Really intense security, you get $7 bottles of water. Floyd Fest has a canteen station where you can fill up water bottles for free. Local food, local crafts…it really does reflect what all businesses should be like. That’s what a good festival does.”

So people came to a concert and a mosh pit broke out, with people dancing barefoot in the ooze. It was just one more memory that patrons of Floyd Fest 12 will recall down the road, along with memories of hearing groups like The Lumineers, Brandi Carlile, John Butler and dozens of other perhaps lesser-known groups or solo performers. It was all part of being on Planet Floyd in 2013.

By Gene Marrano

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