Music, magic, and mountains. FloydFest is more than a festival

By Hannah Norwood (Photo: Drea Atkins)

July 8, 2017

While taking a drive on the picturesque road that is the Blue Ridge Parkway during the sweet spot of summertime, one might ride by the magical destination that is FloydFest without even stopping. That would be a mistake.

“Music. Magic. Mountains.” It’s written on each and every volunteer and staff members’ t-shirt, and it describes FloydFest perfectly. Nestled in the mountains of Virginia is an 80-acre plot of land that transforms itself into a music and arts festival for five days every year.

We had the pleasure of speaking with co-founder and CEO of FloydFest Kris Hodges about his experiences in music, his journey into the festival world, and the origins of FloydFest. He said it best himself: “At FloydFest, there’s a space for everyone, no matter what you want to do.”

Kris Hodges, co-founder of FloydFest. Photo by Roger Gupta

Hodges wove a narrative of his early memories with music as a child growing up in the ‘70s singing in the church choir and attending piano lessons. These experiences, in conjunction with the ballads of great classic rock bands, stuck with him. As a musician himself, Hodges was exposed to all aspects of the live music scene as he played the drums and led a life on the road touring the East Coast.

He fell in love with the culture created by the Grateful Dead and followed by other jam bands like Widespread Panic. At these concerts the bands fostered an environment with a holistic approach not only to their music but every aspect of life, and the people that attended these shows followed the same mantras in their own lives. Years of observing how music can influence social change, Hodges pursued studies in Ethnomusicology in 1994 when he moved to Floyd, Virginia. There he  was able to learn about the sociological effects of music on people and the role that music can play in larger cultural movements. He studied cross-cultural connections between genres and the influence of the African diaspora on the creation of several different genres of music worldwide, including jazz, the blues, bluegrass, Americana, and even EDM.

FloydFest co-founder Erika Johnson. Photo by Roger Gupta

Hodges incorporated his knowledge of Ethnomusicology into his pursuit of creating a new space in which the inclusive jam band culture, much like the type he had encountered with the Dead, to thrive and be cultivated within a new generation. Fortunately Floyd “hit the scene when not many other festivals were taking off” and it was truly a pioneering experience in its conception. He, along with co-founder and life partner Erika Johnson, had explored the market and hand-picked Virginia specifically because it was going to be “the first festival of its kind within the state.” The site location started out as a simple but spacious pasture tucked into the beautiful mountain terrain, that has grown into the diverse multi-stage grounds it is today. FloydFest is complete with biking trails and a gravel road loop that runs the perimeter of the mountain top, with campsites fanning down both sides of the main mountain.

FloydFest was created in 2002 not only as music festival, but also as a “spiritual endeavor that encompassed safety, creativity, and communal vibes.” The goal was to attract patrons that actively wanted to participate in a certain type of lifestyle that took a holistic approach to the environment. Despite fighting an uphill battle when a huge hurricane hit during the first year of the festival; the brutal weather sent stages into chaos, but the festival persevered! Hodges says that “he saw that first year as a test,” crediting the group of very determined people who backed him during those first years, lifting his vision of the festival up and off of the ground.

Photo courtesy of FloydFest.

I asked Hodges what makes FloydFest all that different from other larger festivals– what makes it special?

As an attendee and volunteer of the festival over the past several years, I’ve already had a taste of that magic, so I’ll admit it was a loaded question. Hearing the answer Hodges gave about the passion behind the scenes and the underlying principles that drive the festival deepened my appreciation for what a privilege it is to be a part of it every year.

He emphasized that it was a family-oriented festival, which definitely makes it stand out from the onslaught of more trendy festivals that have emerged in the past decade. Not to say that type of crowd isn’t welcome at Floyd, but it’s just a more diverse mix of people. The camp grounds are even divided into quiet family camping and “not-so-quiet” camping zones on opposite sides of the mountain, giving festival goers a chance to shape their own individual experience. It is one of the only festivals out there that assigns Campsite Ambassadors from within the security team to serve as a point of contact by actively walking through the campgrounds giving out trash/recycling bags, schedules, and assisting with anything a patron might need. “The festival prides itself on catering to the needs of each and every individual attendee—not treating patrons like cattle,” Hodges said.

Photo by Drea Atkins for CLTure

Every year festival goers can look forward to a few surprises. Last year it was a secret stage found deep in the woods down a pathway sprinkled with fairy lights. The year before was a bonfire that lit a giant wooden phoenix ablaze on top of the mountain to close out Grace Potter’s set. While Hodges preferred to leave “somethings up to mystery,” he did emphasize that we can look forward to special panel discussions focused around this year’s theme: Freedom.

Tucked away in the mountains of Floyd, Virginia is an inclusive outdoor celebration of roots music, outdoor adventure and, most importantly, community. You can kayak, mountain bike, learn about social and environmental justice, make friends in the campground, eat delicious sustainably grown food from local vendors, and listen to some really talented people play a diverse set of music on one of nine different stages. So if you’re thinking of attending Floyd this year and want to know more, take Kris Hodges’ word for it: “It’s a unique place with a lot of soul, you’ll just have to go to find out!”

Check out the full lineup for FloydFest 2017.

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