FloydFest. Home. These two words are inseparable for so many of us. Home is the place where we have the freedom to be the souls we were destined to be, and most importantly, a freedom of love that we have the honor and responsibility to spread to the world beyond. This comes not only from the world-class artists, the passionate staff, or the beautiful FloydFest family, but from the constellation made up of all of the above, of everybody’s inner lights shining their brightest, and soaking up the abundance of light around us. This freedom cultivates some of the greatest moments of our lives, often completely by surprise. Here are just a few of the memories that we were graced with at FloydFest 17 ~ Freedom, and we sincerely hope this can bring you back home, until we meet again next year.
Thievery Corporation brought the groove on Thursday night, kicking off the weekend with an eclectic mix of world music jams and hip-hop beats. The crowd was ready to get moving and Thievery provided the perfect beats, with a heavy bass that was as much a feeling as it was a sound. Their revered diversity kept the crowd so enthralled with the music that it seemed no one noticed light rain coming and growing throughout the set. The seamless rotation of styles and vocalists kept the energy up, and perfectly showcased each member’s unique flavor and expert musicianship.
Fémina delivered another dose of world music meets hip-hop, but kept it a little closer to their own home. The Argentinian trio combined the rhythms, melodies, and instruments of their country’s folk music, with vocals that sat right in the sweet spot between rap and slam poetry. With only a cajón drum, a guitar, a few hand percussion pieces, and a triad of robust voices, they created a folk-rap fusion sound bigger than seemed possible. Though a few in the crowd bravely admitted knowing no Spanish when the women asked “Can you understand our language?” they assured us that the feeling was more important, and that it did not matter much because “love has only one language.”
After a weekend of clouds, the Shook Twins helped kick off a perfectly sunny Sunday morning with some feel-great folk music. Their warm, airy voices perfectly matched the breezy, sunny morning, and were a great way to wake up the crowds for the day. In addition to some of their own harmonious originals, they played a couple of covers, including “Dear Prudence,” a song choice so perfect for the end of the rain that it seemed they planned the weather around the performance.
After a series of late night shows, Vurro finally came out of the shadows to play for a much more awake crowd on Sunday’s sunset. It seemed each morning you could hear people talking about the mysterious half-man, half-cow who played late nights and could only be seen by the few lucky enough to get a spot around the stage before his shows began. But as soon as you got a glimpse, you’d see just why he was such an attraction—his cow skull covered face and multi-instrumental abilities certainly seemed the stuff of myth. He played rowdy ragtime piano, added hoots and hollers, banged his skull on cymbals, played bass drum with one foot, hit pedals with the other foot, and added a few synth and electronic frills for an even more ethereal feel. Vurro brought music and magic to the mountains, and the jumping and stomping crowd clearly loved it.
Another surprise with a huge sound was Zach Deputy, a one-man band with enough talent for an entire orchestra. While sitting behind a laptop set up like a DJ, he also played guitar, hit a looper pedal, played harmonica, added every layer on his laptop as he went, all while singing with such a huge voice you couldn’t believe that sound came from just one man. His self-proclaimed “island-infused drum n’ bass gospel ninja soul” ran the gamut from all-out funk, to melodic soft rock, to an almost-country folk sound. His deep, bubbly voice, playful stage presence, and upbeat style was an instant hit with new and old fans. If his scheduled sets weren’t great enough, in the early hours of Monday morning, Deputy had a Security team member drive him out to the centerpiece of the Main Field, the giant iron butterfly, and played a surprise set on the back of a golf cart to play the final notes of FloydFest 17 ~ Freedom. This took place in true FloydFest form, from the manifestation of the staff’s love for music, and the Freedom to make the right things happen.
Buffalo Mountain Jam
Now only two years old, the Buffalo Mountain Jam has been fully realized as one of the most unique, creative “super jams” around, one that artists really enjoy playing as well. In 2016, it was curated as a last-minute replacement for an ill Gregg Allman, and in the wake of his passing, this year’s jam started out peachy, with “Midnight Rider” and “Whipping Post” and later “Melissa.” This unforgettable set, put together by Keller Williams, Leftover Salmon, Railroad Earth, Larry and Jenny Keel and many others, saw more than 30 artists grace the stage throughout the show, a true team effort that served as the FloydFest Super Bowl, the moment we had been waiting for all year,. A high point for me was “Women are Smarter,” which saw such badass women as The T-Sisters, Mimi Naja, Shook Twins, Jenny Keel and more reveling in the moment. We were also blessed with a very appropriate cover of “Freedom” by George Michael, along with “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield.
“The Southern Buttered Dash”
This was one of the last surprises of FloydFest 17. With a last-minute slot opening on the Workshop Porch stage on Sunday night, Eric Horrocks and Lance Thomas of South Hill Banks, Patrick Keefe and Justin Doyle of Dalton Dash and Zebulon Bowles of Hot Buttered Rum got together to give unexpecting fans and festival staff a fun-filled surprise set that was short and sweet, but extremely potent. Bowles had just met a these two Richmond bands at FloydFest, yet they all fit together really well in a full-bodied, yet fiery sound that thrived on the energy of the especially excited Lance Thomas and Justin Doyle.
The magic of LOVE with Michael Franti
Perhaps the most magical moment of the entire festival happened Friday night during Michael Franti’s headlining set, as longtime-FloydFest photographer Roger Gupta teamed up with festival organizers and Franti to plan a surprise marriage proposal for the ages. Franti invited Gupta’s significant other, Maria, on stage to hula hoop for a song, and as she wowed audiences with her beautiful dance, Roger snapped a few photos and then picked up a microphone and got one one knee, as the place exploded with an outpouring of love and amazement. This was a true manifestation of the spontaneous love that makes FloydFest home for so many, a moment in time that will be forever cherished by the FloydFest family. To hear it from one of the few people that were behind this magical occurrence, I asked Kellee Barbour and Sam Calhoun, two of the people that really make it all happen at FloydFest, what it felt like to have a hand in something this meaningful, and I’ll leave you all with their responses:
“Raj reached out to Sam, who looped me in, so I could approach Franti’s management about the whole surprise proposal at FloydFest. Thankfully, because Raj is such a badass photographer, all of the folks with Franti (including Michael himself) were familiar with – not only Raj’s work behind the camera – but also what an amazing person he is in front of the camera, too…Fast forward to FloydFest, where with a couple of quick (what looked like unplanned & by chance) meetings, the scheme was in place and ready for execution. I know Raj was nervous, but I have to say we were all just about as excited as he was as we gathered on the side stage to watch the whole thing play out. It was beautiful and I’m so blessed to not only know Raj, but also to have been a part of his big night with Maria.”
“There is something indelibly special about FloydFest and the community it cultivates and creates. And, also, there is something indelibly — almost other-worldly — special about Roger Gupta, his spirit, his art, his perspective, and his love. Thus, it was simply destiny that he was to achieve love’s pinnacle on the main stage at FloydFest … a location that he has spotlighted with his lens for years, sharing and promoting its vibe and exceptional characteristics. Raj makes us look good — really good; basically like ‘Star Wars,’ as we say — so it was only fitting that we pay forward his dedication to our community and art. Kellee, Kris and I — who Roger asked to help facilitate the big ask — were speechless leading up to that moment; radios were off, huddled side stage, knowing we were witnessing something bigger than any of us. It just felt good, it felt right, it felt calm … like there was nothing else in the world more important than that moment. It was needed, it was perfect, and, although we were beyond busy with festival duties, we all knew we couldn’t miss this moment. And, that moment is what THIS is all about.”
To everyone that works, attends, plays and loves FloydFest, thank you.
Article by Katie Mini and Richard Oakley
Photographs by Jameson Midgett