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Virginia is for music lovers: FloydFest 8 shows its soul

by Ryan Snyder

What we want? Soul Power, but only because the electrical kind isn’t nearly as reliable. That’s perhaps what the eighth annual FloydFest ran on for approximately two hours in its second night, as a total power failure caused all of its resources to go dark as dusk fell. Several sets were delayed, including Friday night headliner Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, while others were cut short. Still, it didn’t phase what was a nearly idyllic four-day weekend, save for a pair of brief downpours, of marvelous music and camping in Floyd, Va. If someone said that the power outage was a planned part of the festival’s revival theme, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised. The (totally credible) company line is that a single fuse was blown and a local engineer attending the festival was timely in providing a solution. While it’s completely wishful thinking to believe a music festival of any size could coordinate such an event for the better, it did create some pretty memorable moments. Toubab Krewe, touring with dub legend Earl “Chinna” Smith, went all percussive with a pounding African drum circle; Latin funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma unplugged themselves and went with polyrhythms and a sizzling horn revue; and the Barcelona Institute of Gospel delighted the kiddies with an a capella sing-along in the children’s tent. For obvious reasons, Boulder Acoustic Society might have been the only scheduled act at the time not to notice. The delayed two-hour show by the Nocturnals gave the festival administration the best systems check it could have hoped for, as the Hippie Queen herself was pounding the local power grid with her Joplin-esque wails from the onset. Potter’s band ripped through their set of ‘60s-inflected blues-rock and soul with their newest member, former Ryan Adams bassist Catherine Popper, filling Bryan Dondero’s shoes nicely. Potter saved the best for last, however, as her solo take of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” on her Hammond B3 paired with a spot-on cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” left the masses ablaze in its wake. More of those moments came during what was possibly the festival’s most-talked about sets. They were slotted late at night for good reason and watching the Yard Dogs Road Show perform was like seeing an idea conceived by Captain Beefheart, Emmett Kelly and Gypsy Rose Lee over a peyote communion. With an “adults-only” program caveat and “R-rated” signs circling the performance area, the promise of something just a little edgy and risqu’ was surely made good. The 13-member neo-vaudeville troupe dosed magic, comedy and burlesque with high levels of psychedelia and the kind of absurdist narratives that would make Harold Pinter squirm. Former Frog Brigade guitarist Eenor, once referred to by Les Claypool as “the world’s first guitar-playing redwood tree,” has resurfaced with the Yard Dogs and his gritty, avant-garde blues style came with him.

The tall, waifish axe man, partially concealed by a long grey wig and beard, fit in perfectly with the smoldering sexuality of the dance trio and the garish clownery the rest. When he wasn’t dropping jaws with impossible riffs, the Black and Blue Burlesque Revue left tongues wagging and eyes glazed with their scant wardrobe and provocative moves. It lived up to its billing and though it was the same show the second night, minus some bits for time constraints, it was impossible to resist another look. They’ve been written about here ad nauseum over the last nine months, but the Felice Brothers keep getting better. I didn’t think fiddle player Farley’s rap video routine would keep working alongside their folk tales of heartcrushing despair, but it did and his hype-man bit at the end would have been the highlight, had Ian Felice not decided to sacrifice his body into the drum kit as he was walking offstage. Just before the Yard Dogs second late-night gig, the Dynamites featuring Charles Walker ruled the evening with irresistible deep funk grooves and as a result, took home the “Best Dance Party” award that I just made up. Greensboro’s own Mantras were Floyd heroes in their own right, particularly guitarist Keith Allen, who helped out the New Familiars with their set-closing cover of the Stones’ “Loving Cup” and jammed with the Lee Boys during their wee-hours revival. Not just Allen’s, but all collaborations were sublimely unforced and genuine, proving that a festival like FloydFest doesn’t require the biggest, most expensive talent to adorn the bill; all it needs to get by is a little Soul Power.

Top: The Mantra’s Keith Allen trades licks with the New Familiarsduring “Loving Cup.” Left: The Yard Dogs Road Show spice up thelate-night. Right: Grace Potter wails after a power outage. (photos byRyan Snyder)

Notes from backstage:

BeerGuy in the VIP/artist hospitality tent says that they went through 18kegs in the course of three and twothirds days. sounds like a lot, but10 more were reserved for the afterparty and he was genuinely concernedthat there wouldn’t be enough unless the major brewers on-site kickedin a few more.

Thecoolest artists I met all weekend? Former Dispatch frontman PeteFrancis and Yard Dogs guitarist eenor both were chatting up anyone andeveryone in the chow line. Sol Driven Train made full use of the freebooze and seemed to be quite into the festival spirit.

Whileloading my gear onto a golf cart Sunday afternoon, the driver remarkedthat an old lady in a minivan was giving me impatient looks whilewaiting to drive by. The old lady, by the way, was bluegrass legendPeter Rowan. All I could do was tip my hat as he smiled and waved onpast.

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