This past weekend friends and families flocked to the scenic grounds of Devils Backbone Brewery in Nelson County, VA for The Festy Experience’s sixth annual event. After a weekend of top notch bluegrass acts, mostly sunny skies and a sold out Saturday, this year’s Festy was a huge hit.
“This was our most successful year yet across the board–from attendance to the caliber of musicians, Festy 6 was one for the record books in many ways.” said Collean Laney of The Artist Farm’s event design and management team that put on the festival.
Hosted in part by the Infamous Stringdusters, the jamgrass-centric festival attracted some of the best musicians in the genre, with special attention to those that are always pushing the limits. Cabinet opened Thursday night at an intimate free pre-party tent that got the early-arrivers fired up for much more to come. The Dusters delivered two thrilling sets on Friday, bringing serious heat to the modest-sized festival grounds that once were home to guitarist Travis Book. The fiery set was complete with the help of none other than Sam Bush for a few songs.
Saturday was full to the brim with Festy-goers, and the music did not disappoint. The Shook Twins got things started on the main stage with a psychedelic set that took full advantage of the twin sisters’ harmonizing vocal chemistry. The twangy husband and wife duo of Larry and Jenny Keel joined by Will Lee on banjo, hit the stage next as The Larry Keel Experience, welcoming the steady stream of people filing in throughout the afternoon. A powerful rendition of “Brown-Eyed Women” by the Grateful Dead highlighted the set, which included a sit-in from their good friend Sam Bush.
“He may be the best flatpicker I’ve seen since Doc Watson, not to mention a great Virginian,” exclaimed Chuck Flournoy, a six-time Festy attendee and local bluegrass enthusiast.
With 4,000 attendees, the festival was officially at capacity by late Saturday afternoon, and it was time to give the people what they had come in droves to see – Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt. Lovett played his classics to a crowd that hung to every story the legendary songwriter had to tell, with plenty of humor mixed in for good measure. This was the first time The Festy has ever reached its attendance limit, and Lovett left the stage to no less than 4,000 smiling faces.
Sam Bush Band headlined Saturday night, which resulted in one of the most memorable performances in Festy history. Undoubtedly the premier entertainer in bluegrass, Bush exceeded the crowd’s expectations, running the gamut from beautiful acoustic solos to some seriously ear-splitting jams on his electric mandolin. Just when it might have ended, the band came right back on stage with the Infamous Stringdusters for nearly another hour of music, much to everyone’s delight. This special set was capped off by a double encore of the traditional American classic “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” which even saw Lyle Lovett lend a hand on vocals, followed by the Sam Bush staple, an emotional cover of “One Love” by Bob Marley.
After a night that amazing, the only way to wake the crowds up properly was with the annual GarretGrass Gospel Hour. Seasoned Festy-goers know not to miss out on this part of the experience, cultivated by the Dusters’ jubilant fiddle player Jeremy Garrett. Garrett stayed on stage the whole time, inviting various vocalists and musicians to help him celebrate the beautiful life and experiences that make The Festy what it is. At the very end he had everyone come up for a few soulful numbers that had the whole crowd singing along. The Shook Twins and Fruition brought the Oregon-style party later in the afternoon, which was a refreshingly weird and funky twist to the rest of the music over the weekend. The Infamous Stringdusters closed out the festival in top form, soaking up all the love they had received and giving it back ten-fold to one of the most loyal fan bases out there.
That love is what truly sets The Festy Experience apart from the rest. This is not simply a band and fans with mutual love for each other, this is a family that knows and cares about each other, and The Festy is the family reunion that brings them all together each and every year.