A whole lot of magic happened this weekend in the mystical hills of Floyd, Virginia, where people gathered to listen, dance and connect with one another in a harmonious realm driven by music and smiles, a place found before only in their dreams that became reality as FloydFest 16~Dreamweavin’.
With headlining acts like Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Anders Osborne, Warren Haynes’ Ashes & Dust, Larry Keel, Keller Williams, The Wood Brothers, Elephant Revival and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, great music was a given, but what made this year’s FloydFest extraordinary was the connection and collaboration between musicians on stage, the intimate Ferrum Workshop Porch performances, the secret late night set with Pimps of Joytime, and the spotlight given to deserving rising artists like T Sisters, Look Homeward, Forlorn Strangers, Con Brio, Erin and The Wildfire and Dalton Dash.
On Saturday afternoon, unfortunate news spread concerning original headliner Gregg Allman’s inability to play due to medical conditions, causing everyone at the festival to extend their thoughts, prayers and Allman Brothers Band tributes in his direction, hoping that they would reach him in spirit. In his stead, Across the Way Productions brought in the help of Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams and many more to put together an absolute home-run of a tribute dubbed the “Buffalo Mountain Jam” in an ode to the songwriter’s masterpiece and the looming Buffalo Mountain on which FloydFest resides.
At FloydFest the fun starts on Wednesday, creating a true treat of a fifth day compared to most weekend festivals. As cars rolled in and campsites began to pop up, Richmond natives Dalton Dash got the party started at the Pink Floyd Garden Stage. Of the nine stages uniquely staggered along the trail leading to the Main Stage, the Pink Floyd Garden was great for beating the heat with a nice beverage. Tucked underneath a canopy of foliage, the garden was stacked with craft breweries, and although plenty of dancing was abound, tables and seating provided a shady resting spot to catch several great acts over the weekend. After Dalton Dash, the night rolled on with an eye-opening performance by the Forlorn Strangers followed by a fun set from Look Homeward, an up-and-coming folk quartet from North Carolina, to close the night in style.
The next day Railroad Earth and Bombino played a special late afternoon set at the Ferrum Workshop Porch, a unique stage designed to mimic the pre-21st century front porch of a family home in Appalachia, which was considered the center of life and a monumental breeding ground for pickin’ jam sessions. Performances at this stage were up close and unforgettable. You could really feel the spirit constantly churning the wheel between musicians and the crowd, spreading positivity and confidence throughout. Being the first to grace this stage at the festival, Railroad Earth and Bombino were no exception to the magic. After Bombino’s evening set on the Main Stage, a blast of rain interrupted Anders Osborne’s set as nighttime ensued, and Railroad Earth was forced to push their Main Stage performance back until midnight, overlapping with Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats at the Hill and Holler Stage. After taking cover under the beer tent, the audience was quite the opposite of annoyed by the delay. Railroad Earth fed off of the crowd’s wet and wild mood with an energetic show including a raging “Warhead Boogie” and a “Peace on Earth” encore that had everyone joyfully singing and dancing along in the famous FloydFest spirit.
Shakey Graves started Friday afternoon by playing back-to-back performances on the Workshop Porch and Main Stage, swooning fans of all ages with his intimate stories and enchanting acoustic guitar. A member of Shakey Graves’ camp left beaming about what they thought was the best festival of this summer, thanks to the kindest people everywhere they turned. Florida-based group The Hip Abduction pulled virgin listeners onboard with an exciting set in the Pink Floyd Garden Friday evening. Their eclectic, reggae-fusion sound had a sizable crowd grooving near the front of the stage, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of guitarist Pat Klemawesch playing his kamale ngoni. The Wood Brothers kicked off the nighttime at the Main Stage, showing off their soulful, roots rhythm style, followed by a shredder of a set from Anders Osborne at the Streamline Stage at Hill Holler. After Nahko & Medicine for the People set a feel good vibe at the Main Stage, Leftover Salmon took over Hill Holler for a rip-roaring performance that included some the band’s favorite “Festivallllllll!!” tracks, with an appearance from Love Canon’s Jay Starling on the dobro, and fireworks to close the night.
Keller Williams started his early afternoon set on Saturday during a brief rainstorm on the Main Stage. Song by song, the rain trailed off and blue skies took over as Keller got into his groove with crowd favorites like “Cadillac”, a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Bird Song”, “Freaker by the Speaker” and Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place”. For the rest of the afternoon, it was all about the porch stage, where The Wood Brothers played a personal Q&A set that featured several laughable anecdotes and an unplugged “Honey Jar”. With just enough of a break to catch Richmond rockers The Congress, it was back to the porch for Elephant Revival, who played a tear jerking set that included a mountain-moving version of “Ring Around the Moon”. Next up, Larry and Jenny Keel took the stage as The Larry Keel Experience with their new and impressive mandolin player Jared Pool. Jay Starling and Leftover Salmon’s Andy Thorn joined for consecutive Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe covers to end the set. Meanwhile, the majority of the crowd had stolen away to see Warren Haynes’ Ashes & Dust at the Main Stage, who played an intense, emotional set with his brother in arms clearly on the mind during his “Jessica” closer.
With an unrivaled electricity of emotion running through the crowd in the absence of the beloved Gregg Allman, the inaugural Buffalo Mountain Jam exploded onto the Main Stage in a way that will never be forgotten by the FloydFest family. Led by Keller Williams and Leftover Salmon, the monster jam kicked off with the help of a bouncing horn section from The Pimps of Joytime, who’s show-stopping singer Kim Dawson was the life of the party. Keller jumped out in front with“Born to be Wild”, and enlisted his longtime partner-in-crime Larry Keel for a celebratory “My Grass is Blue”. And let’s not forget Andy Thorn raising the bar with his banjo on Salmon’s “Aquatic Hitchhiker”. The real magic was made with the harmonizing vocals from all three of the T Sisters infused with the angelic voice of Elephant Revival’s sweetheart Bonnie Paine, who was also busy making sparks fly on the washboard during an epic take on The Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower”. A memorable duet performance of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” featured a jaw-dropping front-and-center vocal performance from Erin Lunsford of Erin and the Wildfire alongside a dialed-in Andy Thorn. It’s rare to see this many musicians on stage, each of them laughing and smiling just as wide as everyone in the audience. The energy of this performance was clearly inescapable, the light was infectious. A cover of Tom Petty’s “How It Feels To Be Me” had the crowd moved to an even higher level, and the one-time-only super group closed with “Whipping Post”, an indelible tribute to The Allman Brothers Band to finish out the very first Buffalo Mountain Jam, setting a powerful precedent for what is sure to be a rich FloydFest tradition for many years to come.
But the night wasn’t over just yet. As San Francisco’s finest funk outfits Con Brio and Monophonics ended their sexy psychedelic sets, there was a very special surprise in store for the night owls of FloydFest. Glowing fairies and sky-scraping spotlights lured the masses deep in the woods towards the late night fun. With floating dreamcatchers and psychedelic light designs vibing off the surrounding trees, the Secret Stage was a masterpiece of production, sending people into a vortex of the funkiest dimensions. The Pimps of Joytime had people grooving until the break of dawn, and Atlanta DJ Marley Carrol kept the party going even later, overlapping with many early risers’ breakfast time.
Sunday might’ve been the final day of music at FloydFest, but it felt impossible to pack up when the music schedule was stacked up late into the night. Keller & the Keels had some fun in the sun at Hill Holler in the early afternoon, with notable moments during “Breathe” and “Portapotty”. Next, Elephant Revival took the same stage to play their third and final set of the weekend, which was just as graceful as the rest, complete with a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” even joined by Keller on the drum kit. Greensky Bluegrass made their late Sunday afternoon performance totally worth the wait. The boys were clearly on a mission to get the 5-day festival goers up on those tired feet for one more pickin’ party, and left it all on the field with a rowdy performance including a touching tribute to a fallen fan, Jonathan Mills, in the form of “Living Over”. Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers closed out the Main Stage performances for FloydFest 16 with a witty, light hearted affair that had the FloydFest family bubbling over with joy. Con Brio and the Screaming J’s capped off the epic weekend with a raucous victory celebration that lasted late into the night.
We at The Poke Around would like to thank the entire FloydFest Family for welcoming us to the tribe, and for throwing a soul-stirring festival focused around shining the light and love inside of us all, each contributing to the weaving of the dream.