Christmas in July has become a cultural staple, people all over the country have various ways of celebrating, but for me, FloydFest is my Christmas in July. It's the weekend I wait all year for and talk incessantly about to anybody who will listen. This year, my festival family expanded by four. They were all new to the beautiful mountaintop and vibrating with that same first-timer excitement you have entering a new festival
Wednesday, patrons were still drying out from a muddy start, while the rest of us had our fingers crossed that impending rain would pass us by. Immediately, beautiful additions to the grounds greeted us, including a large ENO hammock hangout and tent, a renovated stage and additional seating areas inside of newly constructed, teepee-shaped fixtures. Sounds of acoustic guitars and harmonic melodies reverberated in the background while we grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading to our first shows of the weekend.
Up first was a set with South Hill Banks. Having caught the band here last year, I knew they would be a great kickoff show for the weekend. The band from Richmond, VA was the 2017 On The Rise competition winner, a well earned and deserved title. This year, that honor earned them multiple sets on various stages throughout the weekend.
Tyler Childers, our next stop, captured the audience with not only his smooth country sound but with lyrics that told us the story of his life from a child to recent. It felt like a good conversation with an old friend. On the other side of the grounds, we grabbed a spot on Hill Holler to catch Langhorne Slim. With a sound as easy and comfortable as sitting on a front porch with a big glass of sweet tea, it was an ideal break before a busy evening. Gov't Mule is a jam band lovers dream at every show. Consistently delivering sets full of lights, shredding guitars and soul-filled vocals, fans sing, dance, twirl and scream for more.
My final show, Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real was a first for me. After hearing and reading incredible things about the show, this was one I was excited to see. After seeing his set, you realize every word you heard was true. You'll think to yourself, and maybe even say aloud, "Wow. he sounds like Willie" referring to his iconic father Willie Nelson, but Lukas Nelson makes sure you will remember his name after attending a show. Full of energy, dynamic lights and perfectly in tune, his set was flawless for the fans packed in from front to back at the Hill Holler stage.
The day started for me with Vintage Pistol, a competitor in this year's On The Rise competition, and I was instantly a fan and absolutely blown away at their set. The psychedelic rock sound completely immerses you, and your body's response is automatic. Everyone in attendance danced along to every song, and the energy running through the Pink Floyd Garden stage was electrifying.
A day of blue skies and sunshine, as well as sets from Lindsay Lou, The Floorboards and Mama Said String Band, filled the hours, and before I knew it, we were watching the sunset. Erin & The Wildfire drew in fans with sultry vocals and energized rhythms, making them the perfect opener for the evening's headline acts.
Hitting the stage with a blast of white light and electronic bass, Foster The People fired to life on the main stage at full speed. The Dreaming Creek stage was packed with fans, all intoxicated by the noticeably variant addition to the normal headliners at FloydFest. As they are known to do, the group delivered all their top hits, hosting sing-alongs throughout the crowd, as well as including a wide variety of songs from their extensive catalog.
The energy of their set carried itself long after its ending as we made our way to Greta Van Fleet. Rocking the midnight hour, the rock band shredded, and they surmounted all the built hype prefacing their set, making it the most talked about set of the weekend
The early part of the schedule was jam-packed with fabulous performances by Mapache, Nicki Bluhm, The Lil Smokies and The Steel Wheels. Saturday saw an influx of attendees, likely for the highly anticipated headliners. The rise in numbers and temperatures kept the beertenders busy quenching thirsts at all the stages, and the food stands rocking with hungry bellies. This year marked the first year ABC allowed attendees to leave the designated beer serving areas and walk freely from stage to stage with beverages. The long-awaited change was positively respected and executed by patrons.
Hill Holler hosted No BS Brass Band at 7 pm, who lived up to their well-earned reputation of increasing heart rates and spreading contagious dancing throughout the crowd. The last bit of sunshine set on ZZ Ward who delivered a delicious set on the main stage. Her bluesy croon vocals and hip-hop infused beats combine to make the perfect cocktail, leaving fans drunk in love.
If you've never witnessed The Infamous Stringdusters live show, it's time to google tour dates and buy your tickets. The raw talent of the five-member band radiates from the stage, and combined with the beauty that is their light show, that talent is all-encompassing. Rooted in bluegrass but focused on a distinguished sound, the songs envelop listeners, keeping everyone attentive and swaying from start to finish. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful concert experiences you will ever have.
Trekking back to the main stage for Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, a plethora of fans were already in place for the show, with very few open areas remaining to squeeze in to. It's been a few years since the band played FloydFest, and their absence from it was obvious, as was the growth in their fanbase. Packed in tight from front to back and side to side, fans swayed and sang along, hands in the air celebrating their love for the group.
Every year, the Buffalo Mountain Jam is the festival's main event as it brings together the fan's favorite bands for one-time-only collaborations and combines musical talents and genres from all over the spectrum. This year, the jam featured stars such as Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams, Antibalas, Erin Lunsford and many more.
As I watched the jam unfold, perfectly showcasing individual talents with vocal runs and guitar solos, feet stomping drum breaks and full band jams, I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed by what FloydFest does so perfectly each and every year. Hosting a weekend of incredible talents in a love-filled atmosphere with scenery incontestable by any other festival, all which is executed flawlessly. There's no grandiose production, no saturation of advertisement; it's pure, raw and real. The people who surround you throughout the weekend are present, undistracted and genuine. Conversations flow with strangers who become lifelong friends. Music is played well and appreciated, not overproduced and generic. Music lovers come here to celebrate talent and appreciate a simpler way of life. That is Floydfest.
Packing up is always an emotional time of the weekend, taking family photos with your campmates, reminiscing about the weekend and saying goodbye until next year. I caught my final two shows of the weekend, the first from Metaphonia followed by Keller Williams' Pettygrass ft. The Hillbenders.
The Tom Petty tribute brought another wave of emotion, as these types of tributes do. They cause us to reflect on wonderful talents we've lost and reminisce through their music, which connects us all. Keller Williams has become the leader of these tributes here at FloydFest and deserves the sincerest of Thank You's. His efforts to keep memories alive while making new and unforgettable ones through these tributes is extraordinary.
This year's attendees danced, sang, were saturated in incredible performances and stayed up later than any previous year. All while getting wild at the silent disco, waking up early to watch the sunrise, do yoga, or simply enjoy what was the best FloydFest yet.
Photos by Ragan Dickson for Bullet Music