Festival Review: Floydfest Heartbeat 2022
There’s an incredible amount of love that vibrates across the sacred Floydfest grounds far up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s the most beautiful stage that has served as a foundation and launching pad for so many incredible artists. This year marks 20 years on the property of Tom and Dona Pickett. It all started on a freezing cold evening in 2002 with a random knock on the Pickett’s door. Upon opening the door Pickett met Kris Hodges, Floydfest founder, who expressed an interest in putting a festival on the land. Tom said “no” and closed the door on him. After more knocking Pickett opened back up so Hodges wouldn’t freeze to death. That was the beginning of discussions of festival plans and where a stage would sit. Since the Picketts weren’t even dreaming of housing a festival they certainly weren’t considering building a stage. Tom said they put the main stage way back on the land in case he didn’t like the music. Twenty years in and Tom and Dona sat in their VIP seats by the stage this year for Old Crow Medicine Show, in the same fashion they’ve witnessed many incredible artists over the years. Turns out, I think they like the music after all.
Over the years Floydfest has attracted people from all over the United States as far as California and Alaska. As well as some of the best up and coming acts in Americana music. One of the highlights of the festival is the “On-The-Rise” competition where festival goers vote for their favorite act in the lineup over the course of the festival. The winner joins the main stage for a set the following year. Oftentimes, the “On-the-Rise” winners are propelled into greater recognition in the music scene and are met with great successes in the years to come.
Last year’s winner was 49 Winchester who played three sets this year. “It’s great to be back at Floydfest. It’s definitely one of my top three favorite festivals of all time,” says guitarist Bus Shelton. After their three days of shows on the mountain, they made their way down to Nashville where they made their Ryman debut opening up for Turnpike Troubadours, who headlined Floydfest this year. Following 49 Winchester’s standing ovation at the Ryman, they were invited back to play the Grand Ole Opry on August 30th. Currently on tour with Whiskey Myers and Shane Smith, the members of 49 Winchester are tasting the fruits of their labor after years of playing music together. Lead singer Isaac Gibson explained that they were practicing in his garage when they came up with the name 49 Winchester. It’s the name of the street several of the band members grew up on, or near. Fitting for a group of guys who have practically known one another since they were Russell County babies growing up in Virginia. Chase Chafin said that it’s cool to represent Southwest Virginia at Floydfest. He said, “People know the words to the songs and it feels good to be home.” The whole band is a genuinely humble, kind group of guys and it’s like guitarist Bus Shelton says, “Being kind is free of charge.”
Casey Noel, Will Easter & the Nomads, Palmyra, Pink Beds, The Wilson Springs Hotel, The Jared Stout Band, The Kind Thieves, Low Water Bridge Band, and The Last Real Circus are just a handful of the bands in this year’s “On-The-Rise” competition.
Graceful and vulnerable singer-songwriter Casey Noel pierces the heart of it all as she merges her vocal strength with tender lyrics that shine light on her vulnerable spirit. There’s a strength and hopefulness to her lyrics of unrequited love. Songs silver-lined with joyful sadness of lessons learned lending to wisdom and self-assuredness. Casey Noel said that Floydfest is a mainstream festival that still manages to feel intimate for both artist and audience alike. “That kind of intimacy is rare to find at such a well-known festival. The culture is one of respect for music, and musicians, with an excitement to celebrate the more well-known acts as well as the up-and-coming. It gives us, as artists, an opportunity to really engage with the audience. “On-The-Rise” is amazing for us because as a well-respected festival it allows us to get our foot in the door for other opportunities. In a music scene that is so saturated, things like that help in ways that I could never even fully explain. I’m so grateful to be a part of it. It’s always a vulnerable experience being up on a big stage but the culture at Floydfest makes you feel so welcome. They want to get to know the artist, not just the music.”
Fans took to their feet for Will Easter and the Nomads and their rough around the edges, rock-folk tunes. They brought an intimate show to the Workshop Porch Stage where just about everyone listening got on their feet to dance together among friends and relish the moment.
Born on the banks of the Shenandoah River, Low Water Bridge Band received a last-minute invite to play as they were all driving down to join the festival as attendees. They made a quick turn-around for their gear so they could “shake the mountain and rumble through the holler”. Suffice it to say, they shook the mountain and sent a rumble through the crowd, birthing new fans in their wake.
Virginia-based folk trio Palmyra took home the most votes this year and will be playing the main stage in 2023. The bands intimate and contemplative sound struck a chord with the Floydfest audience this year marking them the “On-The-Rise” winner.
There are many praiseworthy artists performing across 7 stages over the course of the 5-day festival and that list includes local favorites in the music scene. This year included a performance by Morgan Wade, who grew up in Floyd and first played the festival back in 2018. It was then that a sound tech heard her and introduced her to Sadler Vaden of Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit. Shortly after she would move to Nashville, harness the admiration of Music Row and sign a recording contract with Sony Music Nashville.
Performances from Lake Street Dive, Old Crow Medicine Show, Ann Wilson of Heart and Melissa Etheridge were highly anticipated acts at this year’s festival. But what makes the festival such a special place is that any stage, at any given time, can introduce you to fresh talent that strikes a chord in you.
Caitlin Krisko and the Broadcast, veterans of Floydfest, witnessed a palpable energy this year unlike anything they’ve felt before. A talk of the festival for good reason, Caitlin brought her soulful, powerhouse vocals to four of the seven stages this year. Dubbed “Queen” of the festival she was undoubtedly a fest favorite rocking out to the bands debut single “Devil on Your Side.” If you love Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac you will want to jump on the Caitlin Krisko and the Broadcast train. It’s just taking off from the station and nobody can stop that power in motion.
From the soulful sounds of Durand Jones and the Indications, to the Appalachian rock of Big Daddy Love. From the southern punk rock, and fan-friendly musicians of American Aquarium to the enchanting and vulnerable tunes of Neal Francis with his retro-70s vibe. Floydfest brought something for everybody this year. Francis is now set to join Grammy-award nominated Marcus King on tour later this year, who also took to the Floydfest stage at Hill Holler with his soulful rock ‘n’ roll.
The eclectic showmen and women of Bella’s Bartok treated festival-goers with a Vaudeville meets folk improvisational performance art. Starting out about 14 years ago they were mostly just a street-punk band, explains the band’s lead Asher Putnam. Their sound born of the folk influence from their immigrant grandparents mixed with their street-punk eclectic vibes, it’s no wonder their high energy, bedazzled performance drew a jam-packed crowd to the Pink Floyd Garden Stage at Floydfest. With some band member changes over the years, Putnam and drummer Chris Kerrigan met in college and have been with the band the longest. The draw of the band is the “yes-and” they said. “What are you gonna do on stage…I’m gonna do this ANNDD then jump to the next thing. Every show is different. The majority of the songs might be the same but it’s going to be a different performance. You’ve got the tent pole but what’s going to be going around it?” said Putnam. The style is true to the improvisational nature of Kerrigan’s jazz influences, he explained. And that’s what keeps it exciting to play in the band every night and what keeps the audience engaged.
What makes Floydfest so magnetic to artists and fans alike is the energy of the mountain. Set out atop one of the most gorgeous mountain ranges in the world, brimming with history and spirit, Floyd penetrates the heart of those aware of the gift of nature surrounding them. From the drum circle, to the ukulele lessons. The awe-inspiring hand-crafted vendor booths to the delicious veggie thing from The Sugar Shack. There’s a deep sense that we are all a part of something much bigger than ourselves. Something that connects the spirits one person to the next. Merge that with the vibrations pulsing out of the 7 stages and you have one collective harmonious sound of love and appreciation of this life and the gifts we get to witness from those around us.
Floydfest Heartbeat 2022 marks the last year the festival will be held on Tom and Dona’s property. Next year the festival will move to a larger, permanent home in Floyd County where there will be more space for camping and what festival planners believe will be a greater experience for festival goers. They recognize that the Pickett property, oozing with memories, will always feel like home to all those who have been touched by the magic on the mountain. This year may have been a bittersweet farewell to the space the festivalgoers have called “home” for all these years. But there’s no doubt that it’s the people and the artists that make the festival feel like family. And that is the true core, the roots, of the magic of Floydfest. The festival itself will always be a warm welcome home.