The best new stage in Virginia lies between a pair of 100+ year old oaks, a few steps away from barns and stables complete with curious livestock and less than five miles as the crow flies from the home of Joel Sweeney, the man who brought the banjo to the mainstream of America and Europe.
And it is still a secret.
Late on a Sunday afternoon in May through October, the “Under the Oaks” event hosted by the Evergreen Lavender Farm is easily the most idyllic music listening, stomach filling, soul replenishing experience you can find in the Commonwealth…that is, assuming you can find it!
Modeled after the “Sunday Social at the Frog Pond” venue in Fairhope, Alabama, an Under the Oaks experience begins to captivate before you ever even reach the grounds. Turning off HWY 460 between Appomattox and Farmville onto SR 630, the first thing you notice is a twin bridge with opposing openings so tiny nothing greater than a Chevy has ever passed through unscathed. A few yards past is the gate to the Evergreen Lavender Farm. After parking and confirming your “invitation” to the house concert-style event (meaning you need to call and ask to attend in advance, with all donations going to the musicians), you meander past rows of lavender, bottle bushes and wildflowers to the supper club.
As fading sunlight streams in, illuminating a table swaying under the weight of massive platters of food brought by fellow concert-goers, you know you’re in for an old-fashioned covered dish supper. We set up our chairs under the oaks and ate with our plates on our laps, but only after plucking the cork from a bottle of Oregon Rose of Pinot that we brought for the occasion. It’s a great way to meet new folks, too.
Once the music starts though, it’s a listening scene – if you want to talk during the show there’s lots of room way in back so it won’t bother anyone. Even the artists – we saw Bryan Elijah Smith and JM Lyons the night we were there, both incredibly talented – commented on how nice it is to play to a listening crowd.
“Under the Oaks at Evergreen Lavender Farm was a beautiful experience. The unique homemade stage, scenery, relaxed vibes, cool farm animals, fields of lavender and extremely attentive crowd made for a magical setting to perform in,” Smith said. “No matter the circumstances; when you have a crowd that appreciates what you’re doing and hangs on to every note you play and word you sing it makes it easy to get on stage and perform from the heart. I can’t speak highly enough of this concert series and hope to be a part of it again in 2018!“
Of course, not everyone pays close attention to the no-talking rule: a nearby donkey started braying in unison with Smith as he covered Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” But honestly, that’s a pretty apropos song for a donkey to chime in on, don’t you think? Not long after, a train rumbled through on nearby tracks, its weight creaking on the tracks in perfect 4/4 time.
In short, Under the Oaks is a music lover’s dream: an outdoor, country farm setting that just envelopes you with sights, sounds, and smells to the point where you think Mother Nature herself is massaging your temples as you listen. It doesn’t get much better than that.
It is probably the most authentic music experience in Virginia. But you have to find it!
Written by Chuck Flournoy
Photographs by Kathy Kilcher