Article By: Miles Hurley
Photography By: Craig Spiering
Deep into a full summer season of memorable music festivals, one of the Appalachian area’s more popular yearly events is about to happen: Appaloosa,the three-day bluegrass and folk music and arts festival that will return to the beautiful locale of Front Royal, Virginia, running from tomorrow, August 30, through Sunday, September 1st. The festival is set to see a huge lineup of musical performances, with sets from the likes of The Steep Canyon Rangers, Dustbowl Revival, Yarn, Fireside Collective, and a bunch more.
Appaloosa is founded and hosted every year by Scythian, the Celtic string-rock band that has been a highly coveted fixture of the Washington DC music scene for well over a decade now. Danylo Fedoryka, one of two founding brothers of the band, as well as its rhythm guitarst and accordion player, gave The Poke Around the lowdown on Appaloosa’s impressive success rate, it’s ideals, and of course it’s background.
Dan Fedoryka: “We were starting in DC, and we had made a name for ourselves, playing every Thursday for five years, in Chinatown. We were the house band for an Irish club in Chinatown, and playing to four hundred people every Thursday for five years, we just became this really strong DC band. Like, we sold out 9:30 club three times. So we were like, okay, we have this really strong DC following, but we’re always leaving DC to find work. There’s a huge void here. If we were to throw a music festival an hour or so away from DC, it could really be successful. And sure enough, our first year we had 3500 people, our second year we had 4500, and last year we had 6200. So the growth has been really great.
Being a performing band for all that time certainly seems to have helped Scythian understand how to book for a weekend of music, and they’ve managed each year to book bands that they personally admire but that are also highly popular across the americana music festival circuit.
Fedoryka: When we book the bands, we try to book bands that have real camaraderie on stage as well. When we look at who to book, we look at whether they have that IT factor of just loving to play and loving to be with each other. It’s been amazing, because we have all different genres: bluegrass, Americana, bands coming from Ireland, indie folk bands…so for those who come, the music is always different, but the vibe is alway the same. People just loving life, loving being with other, and that vibe is always matched in the audience. So the end result is always this whirlpool of joy.
As far as this year’s lineup goes, 2019 is seeing the festival’s biggest and most ambitious one yet. Fedoryka further commented on some of the artists he was most excited about being able to book this year.
Fedoryka: The fact that we got The Steep Canyon Rangers this year, oh boy. They’re one of my favorite bluegrass acts on the circuit to watch. And to hang out with, after the shows. For years, would never have thought they would come and play our festival, and now they’re here, I can’t believe we pulled it off. You know it’s funny, we’ve never jammed on stage together before, but it would be fun to see if we could make it happen at this Appaloosa. We go on after them, so they could actually pull it off.
And Yarn, oh my gosh! They’re some of the best personalities out there, and to have them play right before Steep Canyon Rangers and then us should be killer. And Friday, to have Humminghouse is great. They’re not touring as much as they used to before, but they’re the only band that’s been here all five years, so they’re definitely festival favorites. And then we have this band helping us close out Saturday night we found at MerlFest but who are from our backyard right in DC actually, Aztec Sun. That’s gonna be awesome.
Then there’s The Tan and Sober Gentleman. Those guys are NUTS. Seven of them, out of North Carolina, trying to get into the festival scene. If Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphy had a baby, it would be these guys. Super fun. They’re gonna host late night for two straight nights, but then we’ve paired them with other bands. But their energy is just through the roof, so that’s gonna keep the party going.
In addition to all these anticipated performers, Scythian also plays six full sets of music themselves across the weekend, between three main stage sets and then also a few daytime children sets. The Poke Around asked how the band likes to approach thinking about headlining their own festival event.
Fedoryka: “Up until now, it’s been closer to: what happens, happens. Partially because, we have a lot of fans that travel, and a lot of fans that have been seeing up for our fifteen years. And the general feedback has been: ‘I’ve never seen a more energetic Scythian show than here.’ And, we’ve toyed with the idea of blowing it out, and having this huge production, with horns and everything, but part of it has been that there’s something in the crowd and energy of us playing for our hometown, that we like to keep it just us.”
Yet Appaloosa reaches far beyond its musical performances to be a fully cultural, multi-faceted experience. The festival hosts cultural shops and vendors, demonstrations of various artistry, workshops, and more.
Fedoryka: “I’m friends with Stan Strickland, who runs DelFest. And he had some sage words of advice: If you don’t find an outlet for everybody that wants to do different sort of things, it’s gonna go bad. Most of the adults want to be hanging out, listening to music, have a beer in the beer garden. So you’ll have all these families with kids, and then all these young professionals, and it’s seamless, and it’s so organic. The way we have it situated, it flows so naturally. And that’s something I’m proud of, because when we started out, we were in our twenties. But those that have been following us from the beginning, they have families now. And they could never come see us when we’re in clubs, but they can come now. And we have a kids stage that features free music workshops. Last year, for instance, Mandolin Orange headlined, but then also did a songwriting workshop. That’s been the advantage of being a band for fifteen touring years. We just sat down one day, and asked ourselves: what are our favorite elements of every festival we’ve ever done? And what we actually did was took video cameras to festival season, and anything cool we saw, we emailed to our buddies. So we’ve basically just been gathering our favorite elements of other festivals, and I think it’s beginning to bear fruit at our fest.”
So just remember while you’re watching Scythian tear up their own main stage, they’re also just ahead and behind of more planning, more managing, even cleanup, which the band handles themselves. Fedoryka commented on that multiplicity.
Fedoryka: What’s fun for me is that I’m hanging out with friends that I grew up with, friends I’ve met on the road, and then all my musician friends, as well. So basically all my favorite people in life have converged in my hometown, under the stars. But it’s almost a weird feeling, to be honest. It’s come full circle. To be hanging out with people that used to book me, but as a peer now. But I’ll also come and play their event as a musician. So straddling two different worlds, I love it. I didn’t think it was going to be this cool, but it’s pretty awesome.
To learn more information about Appaloosa Music Festival and to purchase tickets, head to the event’s website at https://appaloosafestival.com/.