The foothills of Virginia were filled with the sound of bluegrass music as the ninth annual Festy Experience took place at Infinity Downs Farm in Arrington, Virginia earlier this month. Infinity Downs may be best known for hosting Lockn’, but it was clear that Festy would be a much more intimate affair the moment you arrived at the gates. With campers perched on a hill behind the stage and vendors set up close by, the music could be heard no matter where you were, and friends were never far.
The lineup included an exciting mix of talented young artists and well-seasoned bluegrass legends. From Fruition and Greensky Bluegrass to Gillian Welch and Sam Bush, there was never a dull moment on stage. The coordination between the Blue Ridge Outdoors stage and the adjacent eTown stage provided constant entertainment throughout the weekend. The eTown stage gave music lovers the chance to see and hear artists in a cozy, relaxed setting, with a personal touch added by Nick Forester’s interviews and banter, and then get back to boogieing down to the high-energy performances on the main stage.
On Friday night, Greensky Bluegrass played two lively sets. The quintet invited Bonnie Paine, formerly of Elephant Revival, to join them on stage and bring her signature washboard playing into the mix. By noon on Saturday, families were hunkered down with chairs and blankets on the hill to enjoy the music as their kids ran around, blew bubbles into the crowd, and climbed the rock climbing wall. The smooth, soulful sounds of Gillian Welch and her musical partner David Rawlings were the perfect backdrop to the cloudy fall day.
After the sun went down on Saturday, Della Mae lit up the stage with the help of Alison Brown and Bonnie Paine, and appearances by Sam Bush Band and Hawktail. The all-female super group dazzled the audience with their energy, and their performance felt like a much-needed celebration of women. They played a couple of fun covers, including TLC’s “No Scrubs,” and, in one of the most memorable moments of the weekend, Bonnie Paine took the mic for a powerful rendition of “Zombie” by the Cranberries. The party continued as the Sam Bush Band treated the crowd to some of his most-loved songs, including “Same Old River,” “Howlin’ at the Moon,” “Sailin’ Shoes” and a lovely solo performance of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country.”
The sun came out on Sunday, making the fall day feel more like the middle of summer, but the heat didn’t stop people from sticking around to see Billy Strings do his thing. He started his set with a flat-brimmed hat on, but before the end of his opening song, a 20-minute version of “Meet Me at the Creek,” the hat was off and his hair was free to rage just like the crowd in front of him and his stellar band. After more than an hour of high octane playing in the sweltering sun, they slowed it down in the end with “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles. It was one of the liveliest crowds of the weekend, and may have worn everyone out, as the Sunday crowd began to thin out once the sun went down. However, plenty of diehard Hobos stayed for two big sets by Railroad Earth, a great coming together for everyone who stuck it out into Sunday evening. Railroad brought out some of the greats from their rich songbook, including “Jupiter and the 119,” “Walk Beside Me,” “Loving You,” and “Grandfather Mountain,” among many more.
Written by Holly Warfield
Photos by Olivia Wilkes