Fool's Night Out
Fools Night Out comes from a song by Phil Wiggins | Moon photo courtesy Michael's Photo Gallery.

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Mixing it up at FloydFest
© Scott Mitchell (07-07-31)

Floyd, Virginia was a little southern town with a single stoplight. But it has a musical history and has evolved into a little hippie community. As a kid, I knew of Floyd, but it really didn't enter my consciousness. I am far from a neo-Hippie, but Floyd is part of my conscious now.

FloydFest has been going for the past six years. It celebrates the local music, bluegrass and old time, but also imports good stuff from around the world. The festival is on a picturesque chunk of wooded terrain just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. They also have a nice advantage of volunteers/sponsorship from a company that builds timber frame homes. A couple years ago they built a very nice timber frame main stage. This year we gained a new one for the Hill Hollar stage.

Camping is fairly important at Floyd Fest. Floyd doesn't have an abundance of hotel rooms. Which puts you about an hour away in Blacksburg or Roanoke. or you camp. The camping is a bit more scattered than, say, Ninigret. The early and the lucky can find a spot in the woods, beware of that poison ivy though.


I was setting up camp in a little wooded spot. And the Barrel House Mamas were playing. It was quite a pleasant environment to assemble my tent. They are a group of young charismatic women with great old timey harmonies.

Later the Infamous Stringdusters hit the stage. Add one more bunch to the pile of impressive Newgrass bands.

The headliner was Sam Bush he put on his usual phenomenal set. The man is a very talented mandolin & fiddle player. He is also very gregarious and a strong bandleader. And he was pretty much there at the start of the Newgrass revolution. But it's a diverse thing, in addition to his originals and traditional stuff; he covered music from John Hartford, Bob Marley, & Led Zepplin.


Carolina Chocolate Drops were The Hit of the festival. They are tremendously engaging quartet (they also play as a trio) of musicians playing old time fiddle tunes. The unique bit is that they are all African Americans playing in the old black style. They are getting a lot of respect in these traditionally white genres. This year they became the first black band to win at the Mt. Airy Fiddle competition (on only their second try). There is a video and interview on Newsweek where they play "Hit 'Em Up Style" their excellent old timey rendition of an R&B tune.

A rainstorm cut their first set short at the main stage. Later, there was another set at the Workshop Porch. But it is a small stage and the buzz had already started. The crowd went deep. If that show was fantastic, which it was, the Saturday show at the Dance Tent was incredible. The energy pulsing out of that tent was a thing to behold. The band was up and dancing; the crowd spilled out of the tent several deep.

Toubab Krewe is a bizarre band. They start with Malian Kora music and add a healthy dose of Rock and Jam Band ethic. They can be utterly amazing. But they can push it too far. They put on a great set on the Main stage. Saturday Justin Perkins was at the Workshop Porch describing his Kora and its relationship with the evolution of the Banjo. It was very interesting, aided by the moderator Jon Lohman who is a musicologist and director of the Virginia Folklife Program. One interesting aside, the guys from Toubab are working with Uncle Earl's Rayna Gellert on a project called Afrolachian.

I realized that Kevin Wimmer was at Floyd for the same three FloydFests that I was. But he was with three different bands, Keith Frank, Balfa Toujors, and now the Red Stick Ramblers. I like these guys a lot; they combine Cajun music with Western Swing and Hot Club Jazz. It is very fun and propulsive music, all very danceable; however finding partners was a bit of a chore in Floyd. There were certainly a lot of neo-hippies bopping around. But couple dancers were few and far between; the follows were particularly scarce. But I managed to find a few, several from my hometown of Blacksburg.

I was hearing a lot from the older ex-hippie types about the Waybacks. I really didn't know anything about them. They put on a great show. A Dead cover floored the hippie that was sitting next to me. But not being a Deadhead, it was lost on me. But don't let that sound like some sideways snipe. It was good. The crowd brought them back for three encores.

Lil Brian had the late night set both Saturday and Sunday. He was as full of energy as I have ever seen him. Lil' Brian was applauding the audience nearly as much as they were him. I doubt the Zydeco Dance crowd would have appreciated it; he went straight into his Z-Funk stuff. The Floyd Fest crowd enjoyed it though. I enjoyed it too, but I'd given up on the thought of dancing much.


Saturday was gorgeous; the rain stayed away and it wasn't brutally hot. The Duhks were the banjo part of the Kora/Banjo workshop with Toubab Krewe. They were running a bit late, but joined in with alacrity. They had a big main stage show later. The crowd really ate them up; it was mutual. The band was pushing for more. It made me wonder how they handled the sedate Birchmere crowd; but I didn't run across a Duhk to ask.

Donna the Buffalo has been to Floyd for almost all of the festivals. I think this is a home away from GrassRoots for them. They put on a solid show, and the herd was in force and loving it.

Back to the Workshop Porch for the Fiddle Workshop, This was supposed to be with Kevin Wimmer & Lindsay Young (Red Stick) and local old-timer Spencer Thorton (Whitetop Mountain Band). Spencer brought along his granddaughter/student, Martha. But along the way they'd pulled in another local fiddler, Mac Traynham, and Justin Robinson from the Chocolate Drops. Rhiannon Giddens (also from CCD) came along to watch, but before long couldn't help but join in. They rotated through playing songs as they went. A couple moments stand out. The guys from Red Stick played a fiddlesticks tune. To which Rhiannon announced that they were gonna steal that one. To finish things off, they all played a couple songs, at which point Rhiannon and Martha, at either end of the porch, got up and started clogging.

The last show on the main stage was Belize's Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective. The Garifuna are a Central American culture that is all but extinct. This band is an embodiment of that culture, trying to keep it alive. It was all the more special because they were touring with one of the old masters, who was over 80 years old. Musically they are much more African than Central American. It was a good show.

I haven't seen the North Mississippi Allstars in many years. I saw a State Theatre show many years ago; it was a cool show, but wore thin really quickly. They've done a lot since then. This incarnation of the band added a 4th member, a keyboardist. And they announced from the start they were going to do something different. It was more of a straight ahead bluesy guitar-hero show than the jam band thing I saw before.

It was good, but I wandered off to the midnight dance stage show with Lil' Brian. The show was nearly identical to the Friday night one. Before long I wandered off down the hill to the bonfire. Toubab was just starting their 1 to 3am Jam Band set. The fire was going strong, and they were starting to feed in the big logs. I stayed for a half hour or so. The Pickin' Porch had a nice low-key acoustic jam going. And I situated my self there until nearly 3.


Sunday at Floyd is always fairly quiet. I managed to get packed up and ferried my stuff off to my car by noon. On the bus ride back, a heavy fog had descended on the site. By the time I made it back in rain descended. I took refuge in the Dance Tent, which had taken on more of a church feel. There was some great Appalachian Gospel from the Mullins Family & Ron Short. Ron was explaining why Appalachian Gospel music was different from other Gospel music; "We are the only ones that get ripping drunk in the parking lot, and then go sing."

The rain eased up and trailed off, but it took an hour or so. Red Stick & Chocolate Drops had some good shows, but everything was much quieter. I caught bits and pieces of sets from Blue Highway, William Walter, and 3 Fox Drive -- all very cool.

The other band from Louisiana at the Festival was Feufollet. I think they are sounding even better. They are starting to pick up many of Steve Riley's live tricks. Heaven help us when these kids start to break out on their own.

With Feufollet done, I was outathere. I skipped Railroad Earth, the Sunday night closer. It was a great time, got to do it again.

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