Wednesday, August 6, 2008

FloydFest Day 2: Saturday

Since I retired prematurely the previous evening, I arrived early Saturday after a quick stop at Blacksnake Meadery. The owners, Steve and Joanne Villers, were also attending FloydFest, but they graciously arranged an early morning appointment for me to taste their mead. After an hour visit - it was off to FloydFest and as soon as I entered the festival I heard a booming voice coming from the VA Folklife Workshop Porch. It was Eli Cook – displaying his powerful voice that could have been mistaken for Howling Wolf and not the actual artist. I watched an exceptional performance, just Eli, his guitar and his powerful vocals mesmerizing the crowd. It was difficult pulling away, but I wanted to hear Blue Mule on my way to the Revival Tent to watch the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers. While walking past the Streamline Hill Holler stage, Blue Mule opened with a cover of “Where Would You Be Now”. It was an interesting choice – but I liked their version. At the Blue Ridge & Beyond Dance Tent, the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers were just being introduced. I had started following the ensemble after seeing them scheduled multiple times at the Purple Fiddle. The band consists of Beth Walker on vocals, Joel Serdenis (mandolin) Tom Fassas (guitar) Travis Young (banjo) and Sam Kruer (Bass). What I liked the most about the band is that each member contributes vocals not just Ms. Walker. In fact there is a lot of orchestrated vocals and harmonies. And despite drawing a terrible time slot, the band performed at a high level during the entire set. “You should have seen us yesterday” they kept saying, trying to justify an "illusionary" poor performance. They played really good. They started with a Doc Watson song, “Sweet Heaven When I Die” and their signature song, "Field Cred" which explains why these city-raised folks play country-bluegrass music. They then focused on songs from their new CD, Appalachian Trail. They played the title track, then, “Slash and Burn”, “Moonshine Bill”, “Party Down Below” and “Lost Soul” among others. My favorite was the tribute to a gentleman who passed away at one of their shows in Lexington. “Park Bench” is a very moving song. They closed with a great cover, Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner”. Immediately I purchased a copy of Appalachian Trail and an “In Jug We Trust” and headed back to the shuttle. I had an afternoon meeting scheduled with Oneside at Château Morrisette. The interview is available here and the review of the winery at

After our visit to Château Morrisette, the band and I returned to FloydFest in time to see the last part of Crooked Still at the front porch (more about this band later). Then it was off for food, ice cream – can’t help myself – and the David Grisman Quintet at the main stage. Travis Young of the Blind Corn Liquor Pickers said that's who he wanted to see the most this weekend, so why not? For over 30 years David Grisman has entertained fans with acoustic string music and today the Quintet did not disappoint. They may have had the largest afternoon crowd of any performer. After 45 minutes I headed back to the Beer Garden in order to listen to Oneside’s next set. The venue was packed as festival goers either escaped the heat or searched for alcohol. I grabbed a Wheat Ale from Williamsburg AleWerks and headed to the stage. (There were two particular brands that I really enjoyed this weekend: the Georgia Brown from Sweetwater Brewery and the Porter and Wheat Ale from Williamsburg AleWerks.) Oneside grabbed the audience’s attention with “The Letter” and “Gotta Go”, as people dancing and clapped along immediately. However, they lost their way during the next two slow songs, “Lisa” and “Josephine”. Apparently the crowd wanted to dance – not be serenaded – although there was nothing wrong in how the band performed these songs. It took a few more arrangements to get the audience back to their earlier groove and by “Last Radio” the band had their full attention – which lasted through Prine’s “Paradise” and the remainder of the set. It was a good set, but the band realized they could do better. As Jake Brooks later remarked, “in order to make it, we can not lose the audience for any song.”

I hurried from the Beer Garden to the “Revivial” Tent to watch Crooked Still’s second show of the day. The band had changed their lineup since I last saw them, with fiddler Brittany Haas and cellist Tristan Clarridge joining the group after the departure of cellist Rushad Eggleston. The other founding members are Corey DiMario on the bass cello, Dr. Gregory Liszt on banjo, and Aoife O'Donovan, with her sultry – bluesy vocals, playing anything necessary. For the past two years this has been my favorite folk-bluegrass act and I was excited to see the new lineup. And so were several others. The tent was packed – nowhere to sneak closer. And as Crooked Still emerged the crowd erupted in a massive cheer and pressed the stage. I learned later from Ms. O'Donovan, that prior to the set, the band was sitting exhausted in the green room, unsure of this show. But when they took stage, the audience’s enthusiasm was infectious and their fatigue dissipated rapidly. What ensued was a lovefest - between artist and audience – both feeding off each other. Even when playing songs from their latest CD, Still Crooked, the crowd dancing and clapped as if they were oldies. When they finally transitioned to songs from Still Crooked and Hop High, well, what do you think? They new lineup was fluid, Brittany Haas and her fiddle adds a new dimension - more folksy. The remaining members were solid, particularly Dr. Liszt on banjo with his great picking and zany comments and Ms. O'Donovan. She was both jovial and sexy especially when she sings, “Come On In My Kitchen”. There were several young kids in the front row and the band won many permanent fans by inviting them on stage for the encore. The lovefest had to end and with the band and audience exhausted the final was signaled with a bow from the band and the new cohorts. The Revival Tent hosted its second signature set, the first from The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band and now Crooked Still. Wow.
Afterwards I trekked around the area, consuming more ice cream and watching a few songs from Amos Lee. Ned deBray, Oneside’s front man, had mentioned that Lee was an artist he wanted to see, so I listened to a few songs – and he was pretty good. I checked his schedule later that week and couldn’t believe the number of shows scheduled in August – he’s practically in a different city each day. (We'd appreciate any Amos Lee fans to add these shows to his page at But soon, I was drying out and entered the Beer Garden once again. Immediately, Jake Brooks noticed me and invited me to join the rest of Oneside as they listened to Bucktown Kickback. The two bands had played at Martin's Downtown Bar & Grill in Roanoke last night and Oneside had been very impressed with the band. So was I. They describe themselves accurately as “Americana + Jamgrass + Classic Country = Bucktown Kickback”. They band was formed in 2002 by songwriter Adam Brooks Dudding and interchanges personnel at times during tours. Thus I’m not sure who joined Dudding on this trip. During the set, Ned commented on various aspects of the performance – that as a layman – I had no clue. Regardless of one’s musical knowledge, over the course of an hour, Bucktown Kickback entertained everyone. I can’t wait to get my hands on their current CD, Lost in Your Own Hometown.
After the set, Oneside went to set camp and I proceeded to the Streamline Hill Holler stage to listen to Bluegrass Undergrass and rest. This was another good set – and very relaxing as I lay on the hill. Families played catch with frisbees or footballs and I gained a great appreciation for parents who brought their kids to the event. Next time, I may even make the effort. I dozed slightly during the show, then woke and walked to check out the Revival Tent and found another new favorite in The Speckers. This father-daughter trio performed the type of unique music that I was hoping to find at the festival. How? Each plays the fiddle, with John Specker in the middle and his daughters Lila and Ida Mae on each side. While fiddling Mr. Specker also stomps his feet creating a percussion compliment to the strings. He also contributes most of the vocals, and the sight is rather impressive – considering he has to coordinate fiddling, stomping, and singing simultaneously. It must be a relief when Ida Mae takes over. They describe their sound as Traditional American music and can be considered to be historians for forgotten music. During their set there was a large contingent of young listeners – mostly girls – mesmerized with the performance. I talked to several parents afterwards who were very grateful to find artists that their girls could relate to, particularly if their children played the violin.

A little later I found myself back at the Streamline Hill Holler stage in anticipation for
New Monsoon. Luckily I had watched the band some yesterday and only had time for a few songs before setting camp in the Revival Tent. This band has a huge following, and playing at 8:00 PM, the crowd had their groove on.
By 8:10 I was parked in front of the stage in the Revival Tent, already packed as word had spread about The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band. Promptly at 8:15, the band altered the normal entrance and entered the tent and marched through the crowd in a fife and drum routine – only this was harp and drum. The crowd hit the roof. During the set they played the same songs as the preceding two sets from their CDs: Big Damn Nation, The Gospel Album and The Whole Fam Damnily. See Friday’s show here. By this time, most of us were well versed in the songs as well as the band’s antics which made it just as enjoyable as the initial act. The only difference – a hundred more listeners - plus several other artists watching from behind the tent. After an hour of dancing, laughing, singing, and screaming - they were still my favorite act. I suspect, I was not the only one.
There was still a night full of excellent music scheduled; Rusted Root was playing on the main stage and Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk was setting up on the Streamline Hill Holler stage. Once again I was wiped and wimpily called it an early night. Too much fun.

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