In its ninth installment, Rooster Walk has certainly come into its own as a unique event, with great music, people, beer and food, all set to the harmonious environment of Pop’s Farm in Martinsville, Virginia. As music fans, we look for the moments, the collaborations, that one space in time where everything comes together in just the right way. Rooster Walk’s culture is built on those moments, and here are just a few of our favorites.
Jon Stickley Trio
The unparalleled control that Jon Stickley, Lindsay Pruitt and Patrick Armitage is an exhibit of collective musicianship all in itself, with infinite transitions, tempo changes and teases throughout their music. Stickley himself was the ultimate showman, at times taking the power stance right at the front of the stage, letting the notes take flight from his guitar into the surrounding trees. As they reconciled light-speed jams with the gliding melodies of Pruitt’s violin, Armitage made sure that progression remained constant, keeping people locked into every note.
South Hill Banks
These crazy cats out of Richmond were the life of the party on Friday, starting with an afternoon set that treated fans to some of their signature originals, such as “Travelin’ Home,” and “Cocaine Casey,” and ended with a spirited cover of “Rocket Man.” Their late-night set, however, was the true gem, as the quintet played acoustically around the campfire surrounded by their friends, family, and growing fanbase. This set found its home in a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha,” and with some more grassy tributes of everything from Phish and the Talking Heads, to Tony Rice, the excitement these guys have for each other’s playing was on full display in this organic setting. Nobody there, SHB included, was eager for that fire to die down, but when it finally dispersed around 4 a.m. there was nothing but love to walk away with.
Marcus King Band
With the news of Gregg Allman’s passing on Saturday morning, hearts were heavy around Rooster Walk for the afternoon, but there was also an overwhelming feeling that people needed to celebrate the music of The Allman Brothers in order to rejoice in the legacy of the American icon. Marcus King Band were the defacto representatives of that legacy on Saturday night, dedicating a “Whipping Post” to Allman during the afternoon, and showing out with a fiery and deeply emotional set at the Pine Stage that started at midnight, and ended in the hearts of everyone in attendance. “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” heard King playing with such intensity and authenticity that could only come from heartbreak, as the torchbearers of Southern rock made it their mission to shine the light of Allman in this 15+ minute masterpiece. After getting down into the trenches of funk on Little Feat’s “On Your Way Down,” the set was capped off by “Turn On Your Lovelight,” the bluesy rocker that also happened to be the late Col. Bruce Hampton’s final song was the perfect celebration of lives well lived. Complete with a full array of horns from Empire Strikes Bass, the band dangled the familiar melody to the song in thin air for just a few seconds before exploding onto the airwaves, sending the crowd into an absolute frenzy as King laid down lick after jaw-dropping lick until he was equally as spent as we were.
Josh Shilling was an “artist at large” this year, and large he was, finding himself on many different stages throughout the weekend, most notably a stretch at the Pine Stage on Sunday where he displayed an incredible range of style on the keys during two tribute sets to iconic American bands. He sailed across the keys in the stylings of Brent Mydland for Mission in the Rain’s set, and at times during Yarn’s Rolling Stones cover set, he even took a page out of the boogie-woogie playbook of Chuck Leavell.
Mission in The Rain
Straight out of The Poke Around’s birthplace of Boone, North Carolina, Mission in The Rain brought their tasteful mix of Jerry Garcia Band and Grateful Dead favorites, including “Sugaree,” “Catfish John,” and a closing segment of “Althea” and “New Speedway Boogie,” with Shilling laying down some intricate texture on the Hammond B3.
“Yarn gets Stoned”
After a fun, uplifting set at the Main Stage on Sunday afternoon, the Brooklyn-to-NC transplants aimed their Americana inclinations towards the vast catalogue of The Rolling Stones, packing out the Pine Stage for what felt like a Rooster Walk victory lap. This is a band that is especially skilled at stripping down a song and building it into exactly what they want, while never sacrificing momentum. This was an infectious approach to the Stones’ music, as Shilling and Love Canon’s Jay Starling got down and dirty with guitarist Rod Hohl, all in between the impeccable sonic anchor of Rick Bugel’s double bass, with a clarity and tone that are matched by very few. The high point of this set had to be during “Sweet Virginia,” as Starling, Shilling, and even The Rooster, came out on stage to join the fired up crowd, swelling with Virginia pride.
Greensky had the headlining slot at the Main Stage on Saturday, and those who are familiar with the band know that they shine in the spotlight. The talk of the town was an early-set guest appearance by the 20-year-old Marcus King on the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out,” giving people the ABB moment they had been looking forward to, complemented by the best young blues guitarist around. The Motet keys player, Joey Porter, was then invited out for “Working on a Building” and “Could You Be Loved.” The ended their set with “Broke Mountain Breakdown,” that gave way to “Yellow Eyes,” before going back into “BMB,” and then closed it out with the fan-favorite “Windshield.”
“The Jammy Jam”
“The Jammy Jam” was exactly what the name might suggest – it brought together artists from all corners of Pop’s Farm, this time to sit in with Josh Shilling and his own band Mountain Heart. Special guests included Lizzy Ross and Omar Ruiz-Lopez of Violet Bell, Jay Starling of Love Canon, Justin Powell of Sanctum Sully, members of Shadowgrass, The Wildmans, and many more representatives from multiple generations of talent.
The Power of Love
The Nth Power is known for spreading their word loud and proud, and the overwhelming message of their closing set on Sunday could be summed up in one quote, “We believe in the young power of love.” Their thematic inspiration, combined with an in-your-face, soulful delivery, could not have been more appropriate to hammer home the underlying message of Rooster Walk. Through the countless hours that the hardworking staff put in, through the loss of one of America’s most important voices, through all of the fun and everything that came with it, Love is the vital fuel that makes Rooster Walk run, and this year, the tank was full to the brim.