By Grant Golden
August 4, 2019
It doesn’t take long to fall in love with Floydfest, from the moment step on to the festival grounds, you’re filled with an overwhelming sense of belonging. Maybe you can blame that on the back-of-the-bus Fleetwood Mac sing-a-longs, but there’s definitely something deeper that keeps tens of thousands of fans coming back to the Blue Ridge for this festival.
With nearly 75 bands on the bill, it was hard to catch every act but, thanks to the festival layout, stage-hopping was easy. The grounds of Floydfest are streamlined so that you’re never out of earshot from any given stage, and there was also ample room to chill out and take in the sights of the gorgeous surrounding mountainscapes.
It’s hard to not feel right at home at Floydfest; at every corner you’re greeted with smiling faces, laughing children, and strangers that are soon to be friends. Turn another corner and you’ll catch awe-inspiring art installations, murals of artists performing throughout the weekend or fun hand-painted signs that lean heavy on messages universal one-ness. With bright blue skies peppered with light cloud coverage, Floydfest was conducive to the sun-soaked jams that filled the weekend. There were tons of incredible sets from a wide array of artists, some new and enchanting, others anticipated beloved acts that lived up to their own insurmountable hype.
Here’s some of our favorites from throughout the weekend:
Tyler Childers served as the perfect way to kick off the first evening of Floydfest. The packed crowd was full of devoted fans shouting and swaying along to every word to new tracks like set-opener “House Fire” or fan-favorites like his dulcet-toned “Lady May,” which closed his set with a powerful solo performance. Childers’ set showed off his robust range of musical dynamics and set the bar high for the weekend. With his confident swagger, Childers commanded the audience and sent fans onward into a night full of equally high-energy, bombastic sets, but none with that felt as captivating as this swiftly rising troubador’s.
Spacey Kacey’s Sunday evening performance was the absolute zenith of the weekend’s sets, brimming with self-love and reflection, laments over life’s hardships and confetti-filled dance parties. Careening through a large array of tracks from her most recent album Golden Hour, new fans got their fill of Kacey’s more pop-leaning excursions like “Wonder Woman” and “Velvet Elvis” while die-hards got a taste of older jaunts like “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Follow Your Arrow.” Musgraves’ charisma oozed into every bit of her performance, making on-stage banter or band member introductions as entertaining as her songs. By the time we were closing out on our own golden hour on Sunday, Musgraves churned out an impressive take on The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize?” and closed out her set with “High Horse,” sending droves of fans out to the lot for an early exit of the fest.
Few acts held a candle to the intensity of Fantastic Negrito’s Friday night performance. With snarling guitar lines, captivating rhythms and soul-shaking vocal lines, it’s surprising that this set didn’t light the stage ablaze. Musically landing somewhere between funk, jazz and blues, Fantastic Negrito put on an eclectic set for the packed out fans at Hill Holler stage. As Please Don’t Be Dead standout “Plastic Hamburgers” ripped through the PA, with the crowd awash in a mix of purple and blue lighting, it was hard not to feel taken aback by the sheer wonder of the moment. If this set proved anything, it’s that Fantastic Negrito’s frontman/songwriter Xavier Dphrepaulezz is a powerhouse artist that’s truly found his footing and is running as far as it’ll take him.
Morgan Wade and the Stepbrothers
One of the absolute joys of festivals is that, with the sheer volume of artists, you’re bound to find something new to fall in love with and, for this Floydfest attendee, that was Morgan Wade. This young Virginia-based songwriter blends elements of outlaw country with folk and Americana, making for a new-age, contemporary take on classic sounds. Wade’s voice commands attention and drips with sincerity, while her plaintive acoustic guitar sits low in the mix, an amalgamation of electric guitar, harmonica, keys and bass flesh out this rootsy soundscape. Something tells me this won’t be the last we hear of this fiery songwriter.
Floydfest’s On the Rise series is arguably one of its finest facets, bands that are “On the Rise” play several times throughout the weekend and fans can vote on who they feel stood out the most from that group. The winners from this series go on to play marquee sets at future festivals. It’s a great way for attendees to catch up-and-coming acts before they become main stage staples. Of all I saw, none caught my attention the way Acid Cats did. Their late night aural explorations at the Pink Floyd Garden Stage were nothing short of entrancing. Their acid jazz stylings already made them stand out among a sea of roots-based musicians, but their tight live setup and far-reaching sonic horizons made them hard to forget. Powerful polyrhythms and syncopated beats drive their music, but a curious interplay between synth, guitar, bass and horns make it so that you’re never quite sure which direction their tunes will take. These Ohio-based cats are no joke and you’d be remiss to leave this musical stone unturned.
Jon Stickley Trio
What would a roots fest be without a little taste of North Carolina mountain music? Jon Stickley Trio is a hard band to classify; they land somewhere between bluegrass and progressive jazz, but that borderline results in a hell of a lot of fun. On Saturday afternoon Stickley and company dazzled at the Pink Floyd Garden Stage, performing fret-board acrobatics that left jaws a-drop and feet a-groovin’. The interplay between Stickley’s guitarwork and fiddler Lyndsay Pruettputs draws on classic bluegrass call and response, but percussionist Hunter Deacon’s complicated jazz rhythms blast it into the musical ether. This limitless rich juxtaposition of styles builds and dense soundscape, allowing listeners to drop-out of the real world’s distractions and tune into the wildly expansive sounds of this innovative Asheville-based crew.
Amid a slew of artists that are born-and-bred Southerners, this Londoner’s take on modern Americana feels every bit as authentic as the rest and, frankly, rose to the top ranks of sets we caught at Floydfest. Bird’s vocals rang out throughout the festival grounds with her vocal hooks digging deep into the attendees ears. Standout tracks like the anthemic “Lottery,” “Uh Huh” and the swiftly spat, guttural grit of “No Joy” kept crowd members at attention throughout the midday heat. Jade Bird’s music is as raw as it is rich, and getting to hear these pristine live performances betwixt the Blue Ridge Mountains was a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.