Night #1: Thursday
Meadows of Dan, Virginia
We arrived at Floydfest on Wednesday, but wanted to set up camp and grab a solid night of sleep before hitting up the festival grounds. With five nights of music we didn’t feel we’d miss out on anything game-changing, and we wanted to get a feel for the scene in the “Delta” park & camp lot (“TOGA! TOGA!”), which is an offsite camping option for festival-goers who were too late or too frugal to jump on the festival site RV campsites and park & camp (we were too late).
Delta is about a ten-minute ride from the festival grounds, with cow pastures, mountain-tops, and the occasional rural home in-between. Shuttles run all day and night long (smaller shuttles in the wee hours of the morning) back and forth to the festival grounds, and Delta had the luxury of shower facilities as well, so this seemed to be a good decision for us. A few notes about camping in the Delta lot for future attendees that we wish had been on our radar: Showers, Space, Service, and Spawn.
The “showers” are ceiling-less outdoor shower stalls, fun at night with stars above, but not so much in the drizzling rain. They consist of a garden hose-variety spray nozzle attached to a hose hanging in the stall, no different than what you may find in any home garden, but with the added benefit of spraying heated water.
I’m guessing this was engineered this way to minimize water waste, but I’m a guy who is well past the days where anyone is going to dictate how long and/or hot of a shower I take, especially if I paid for said shower, so a quick hack using ten dollars’ worth of Walmart hardware ensured a more fulfilling shower experience for us.
The camp/park spaces at Delta lot are simply twenty-by-twenty-foot-long squares designated by a grid of sprayed white lines in an open grass field. We couldn’t possibly fit the Dodge Durango, the twelve foot-long enclosed trailer, and our (admittedly lavish) camping setup in such a small space. We asked about options and they informed us we could take our tent setup into the “woods,” which it seemed many opted to do already. As it looked a bit cramped in the wooded tree line already, and because we selected this camping specifically to avoid the hassle of parking in one place and lugging our shit into the woods (the only option remaining for the main festival site camping), we asked about the possibility of purchasing another “campsite” adjacent to our current plot of land, and we were told, “No” by the guiding volunteers.
I asked, and they confirmed, that they were sold out.
Andie, to my occasional detriment and usual benefit, is always skeptical of any answers given to her without a look of complete confidence and authority, so after a few minutes of trying to figure out how to arrange all of our “stuff” in a simply twenty-by-twenty-foot square without adding a second story, she took it upon herself to run over to the nearby tented “office” that people with the aura of knowledge and authority buzzed in an out of, and voila! – she came skipping back within five minutes with a second “campsite” reservation which was readily adjacent to our current one.
At Mountain Jam in Hunter, New York, earlier this summer, I had a frustrating few days due to the utter lack of cell phone service in the campgrounds we were staying (a State Park, on a mountain, about twelve miles away). I swore I wouldn’t put myself in that position again. This weekend I did exactly that. I have AT&T for phone service and a Sprint connection as a backbone to the U-Connect service on my Dodge, which is essentially my monthly “home” internet provider. I can usually count on one of these services having a connection, but at Floydfest itself and the Delta camp, there is a complete and utter lack of any signal from either carrier whatsoever.
For someone who has to keep at least somewhat connected throughout the weekend to check emails, voice messages, or simply check the weather forecast to plan appropriately for the day, this is a huge pain. While they do have a charging station and wifi access at the venue site itself (which we used and discovered the transfer speeds were barely usable for our purposes), we have been mainly plotting strategic trips to the nearest towns daily to check messages and emails.
If you’re coming to Floydfest and especially if you are camping in Delta, just be aware that contact with the mothership will be hindered at best. If you’re on-call for work or have told the kids to call you if they need anything, I would probably make alternate arrangements.
I won’t dwell on this subject here, because I’m already writing a separate piece about it, and you may not even consider it an issue depending on your current age and demographic. To be fair and sensitive to both ends of the spectrum on this issue I’ll break it into two parts:
If you have kids, and plan to bring them to the festival:
This is probably the most kid-friendly music festival I’ve attended. The festival site has family camping adjacent to an enormous “Children’s Universe” with their own “Forever Young” stage, tons of activities and workshops (Mime Chi, Open Mic, and even Stilt Walking). For those parents who need a break from the little ankle-biters they offer “Blue Mountain School Childcare” where, for ten dollars an hour, you can enroll your child for ten hours a day (most days), provided you trust the Floydfest volunteers to not lose, injure, or otherwise harm these precious darlings.
I admittedly gravitate towards the other end of the spectrum on this issue. I have a sixteen-year-old daughter who grew up with a father who constantly played in bands and played at festivals and parties. I attended many more concerts and festivals since her birth and I can easily count on one had the number she attended with me, and those were very strategic in terms of setting and time of exposure.
I’m not saying I’m a great parent, or this is what great parents do. I’m a fucking hack like every other parent, figuring it all out as we go. What I can say is I do not believe a multi-day music festival is the place to bring your young child, for their sake and for the sake of other festival attendees. Again, I’ll elaborate on this in another post, but for now let me address this as relevant to Floydfest.
If you don’t have kids, and plan to have adult fun:
We were immediately surprised to find that adjacent to our (now upgraded to luxury) camping squares were not one, but three camping families with kids. Little kids. Toddlers, in fact. We double-checked, and despite the presence of a “family camping” area at the festival site, we were decidedly not in one.
We thought later travelers would even out the demographics but were frankly shocked as car after car pulled in across the fire lane from us with every other one parking and immediately unloading car carriers, plastic “child pen” gates, super-strollers with canopies, plastic primary-colored desks and tiny little tables, and other endless assorted accouterments of the festival-going young, hipster clans.
The nauseatingly doting parents directly behind us had a tall but small-based pylon-like tent against the line of our new homestead that we hoped was not, but confirmed quickly, was a fucking toilet for the kids. Andie remarked on Thursday morning, as she watched these families line up for the shuttle, with the spawn-less attendees just waking up and stretching their legs, that the extra-long early-morning shuttle line looked like a scene from Ellis Island, with parents toting an ungodly plethora of child-pacifying things with them into the actual festival site.
I’m not sure if I should feel most sorry for the kids who are dragged to this debacle against their will, the parents who actually think this is a hip and cool parenting move or are succumbing to their spouse’s insistence, or the responsibly childless attendees who now have to watch what and where they smoke, the language they use, or their noise level after sunset. Quiet hours for Delta lot are posted, midnight until dawn… which also happens to be when most kids under the age of thirteen wake up and start making their own signature brand of sleep-ending noises.
If you’re among the adult and responsible, but admittedly fun-having partiers who like a good music festival to let go and be a little loud and crazy, you may want to look at different options than Delta parking before coming to Floydfest.
The Venue and The Music
I have to give kudos to the staff and volunteers at Floydfest for having one of the friendliest venues I’ve been to, mostly due to the relaxed nature of the staff. Security and rules are extremely minimal, and guess what? I didn’t see anyone blatantly breaking any rules, or anyone abusing the lax security by sneaking in a nitrous tank in their backpack. Imagine that – a venue that simply states their limited rules, doesn’t inconvenience or harass guests, and guests in turn respect the rules for the most part and everyone is happy. Take note, Live Nation.
The grounds are made up of a series of stages and beer/wine gardens. Drinking alcohol is only allowed within these areas – another indication of the “child-friendly” nature of the festival. The stages are generally set close together but surprisingly don’t have much bleed-over of sound, mainly due to the placement of stages in natural amphitheater-like valleys. The entrance and main stage boast eye-candy artworks, including what I surprised to find is the iconic “LOVE” sign from LOCKN’ festival grounds, which I can only assume was borrowed for the festival or moved here permanently with the LOCKN’ site renovations of the year.
McLovins (Hill Hollar Stage)
I had seen McLovins once before, a number of years ago, and remember seeing one of the early Internet videos of them jamming the hell out of a Phish tune. Because of their extremely baby-faced and similar look to the “McLovin” character in the movie Superbad at the time, they adopted this name thrust upon them from the Internet community.
They still rock, with the music being an interesting blend of jam with a more conventional, pretty, bouncy pop backbone. They still look like high-school or at best college kids, despite the years that have passed, or maybe they just look this way to an old guy like me. The crowd that descended into Hill Holler after they started was a blend, but heavily tending towards the young twenty-something crowd, consisting of both guys and girls. We spent about forty-five minutes enjoying their set before we headed over for the start of Thievery Corporation, a set that Andie had been looking forward to since the beginning of the trip with great anticipation.
Thievery Corporation (Main Stage)
I remembered Thievery Corporation from what must be fifteen or so years ago, when they played a festival in New York that I was working at, organized and named after a friend – Scottypalooza. I can’t say I remember anything specific about that set aside from the fact that they incorporated a variety of middle-eastern sounds, from the yodel-like vocals of Indian influence to the presence of what I thought I remembered was a sitar in the band. Andie had seen them close out Thrival Festival in Pittsburgh the summer before we met and as we talked about a variety of musical passions when we first met, Thievery had come up more than once.
I have to admit I had dismissed her love for the band somewhat, knowing her tendency towards more EDM-influenced music (which I subsequently have learned to love and has opened a whole new world of music to me), and she never pushed me to listen to them or insisted them on me. In retrospect, I kind of wish she had, although after listening to some studio tracks following this show, the studio tracks don’t even come remotely close to communicating the energy and passion that the band delivers live.
Over the course of their set we were propelled around the world several times, starting in a middle-eastern vibe with the opening numbers, taken to Jamaica for what I have to say was some of the most authentic and deep one-love-vibe reggae I’ve head in a while (reminiscent of one of my favorite reggae acts, John Brown’s Body), at one point off in a spaceship to some outer-orbital planet apparently inhabited by displaced Brazilian percussionists, then back to a dreamy mix of American and Indian pop with a heady MDMA vibe before the closing outro introduction of band members to the repeating backdrop bass line of Pink Floyd’s Money.
I love seeing new bands, and I love falling in love with new bands. Thievery Corporation is definitely one of the most entertaining and fun bands I’ve seen live in quite a while, and Andie was thrilled that this particular set was far superior to the one she saw in Pittsburgh which had left such a lasting impression.
I can safely say that regardless of your entry point in terms of your musical preferences, you’ll find that Thievery Corporation will not only deliver something you already enjoy in a new way, but they will also transport you across musical borders you had never traversed before, exposing you to sounds and feelings previously unexplored, leaving you a richer and more experienced music fan, and perhaps opening up some doors if interest you didn’t even know existed.
Vurro (Libations Stage)
Admittedly we did not see this band, but we heard them, as we sat in the main stage field in front of the festival’s iconic butterfly visuals, bathing in the afterglow of the Thievery set and perhaps being a little bit romantic and cuddly (yes, those people).
When Vurro’s set started, I immediately cocked my head with my ear raised like a well-trained hunting dog that had caught the sound of a rabbit hopping in the distant woods when I heard the honkey-tonk banging intro of piano, at first in Jerry-Lee style Louisiana rock, but then slipping into a New Orleans syncopated rhythm with the drums. Moving back and forth from these musical styles to more straightforward rock & roll, the set continued in the not-far distance from the Libations stage and beer garden.
Now imagine my surprise to find that, after listening to them and writing the above passage, I find out that Vurro is not in fact a band, but a one-man-show...or to be more specific, a half-man, half-cow show.
We considered several times getting to our feet and making our way over, but the relaxed feel of the cool grass, the colored lights of the visuals in front of us, and the unique setting for experimenting with my camera took precedence until we finally got to our feet and headed over to the Pink Floyd Garden Stage for a band recommended by a friend, named The Mantras.
I’m sorry I missed Vurro and will be sure to never make this mistake again.
The Mantras (Pink Floyd Garden Stage)
We arrived early in the set (possibly the first song), with a wood-fired, much overdue pizza in hand. We sat at one of the many empty tables which wouldn’t be empty for long, and listened to the band. What I heard was pleasantly not what I expected.
My friend Donna, a fellow musician and photographer, had recommended The Mantras via a Facebook message earlier that day when she saw we were at Floydfest. Because Donna generally plays and tends towards acoustic and folk-style music (she is a great guitar and mandolin player), and is a fellow Deadhead who never really “got” some of the newer jambands like Phish, I expected this to be a late night set of bluegrass or new-grass material. I didn’t familiarize myself with The Mantras beforehand because I simply don’t research new bands before seeing them. I savor the surprise of first-hand musical experience.
The first thing that struck me was the casual banter after the first song, marked by what I recognized as a little-more than-slight alcoholic inebriation, directed at what I can only assume were familiar fans in the small crowd huddled in front of the stage. The gruff speaking voices were almost reminiscent of redneck inflections, and again I was thrown off track concerning what I should expect musically.
First, if these guys were inebriated, it failed to show in any way in their inspired playing. They are consummate musicians and are extremely fucking tight – the type of tight that I have attributed to bands like Phish and Umphrey’s McGee; a psychic connection that only comes from playing with someone so much and exploring music together so deeply that you understand their musical mind in a way that enables you to communicate with them through the music, and even predict their intended next moves out of sheer familiarity and sense of mood. They twisted and turned around ever-changing rhythms and musical moods, often several within the same original piece, with a lockstep professionalism that ensured the crowd was constantly and gleefully surprised.
I cannot hesitate to mention the entertaining look of the band, with some of the most emotive musicians I’ve seen in quite a while. I couldn’t stop from noting the similarity in looks of the bass player to a musician in the iconic band Spinal Tap, and being a keyboard player myself, I loved the rock-star emotional flailing and derp-face sincerity of the keyboard player. At times they all looked as if they were sharing in a group psychosis, a collective insanity with wild and crazy eyes staring and prompting each other. This perceived mental state was confirmed with the night’s only recognizable cover song.
The audience at The Garden started to fill in around one o’clock in the morning when the other stages began to close out the last acts of the night. Things started to get a little crowded as the audience in the front of this modest stage extended out halfway to the back and around the sides. As the crowd grew and the energy mounted, the band became increasingly inspired and emotive. Being the Pink Floyd Garden Stage, after the crowd was sufficiently large enough, the night late enough, and the vibe imbibed enough, the band broke into the ending succession of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with a perfect (though personalized) rendition of Any Colour You Like > Brain Damage > Eclipse, complete with lunatic laughs from the aforementioned bass player that solicited roars of delighted laughter from both the band and the crowd.
They jam like Phish, have the cool and relaxed stage presence of your buddies in the local bar band, yet write songs complete with several separate movements and parts enhanced by character-voice lyrical parts reminiscent at times of Broadway musicals.
I will, no doubt, be taking any opportunity I have in the future to see the Mantras, and recommend you do too. Music is about having fun and connecting the audience with the band, making the symbiosis – not the performance – the draw of live music, and these guys do it like natural pros.
In summary, so far, despite a few things I would have like to have known and have prepared for, Floydfest has been a fun time and has more than enough entertaining acts to saturate even the most voracious musical cravings. We’re looking forward to what the next three days and nights have in store, to experiencing new music, meeting new friends, and making new memories.