Entering its 11th year, the Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival has grown into one of the premier small sized festivals in the United States. Located in Martinsville, Va., RW11 will feature around 5,000 attendees, more than 40 bands performing on six stages, plus beautiful on-site camping, great craft beer selection, kids’ programming, outdoor activities and arts, crafts and food vendors.
Read on for a quick and easy breakdown of what’s to come when Pop’s Farm welcomes families, friends and festy folks May 23-26th in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
THURSDAY, May 23rd
Rooster Walk kicks off each year with an easy Thursday that’s designed with the camper and out-of-town guest in mind. Gates open to the Pop’s Farm festival grounds at 9 a.m., but music doesn’t start until 5 p.m. That gives folks plenty of time to find the ideal camping spot and get set up for the weekend ahead. And with vendors open by noon, festival patrons also have plenty of time to scope out the Willie’s and their wares, and to get a feel for the layout of the grounds.
MUSIC: The weekend’s music kicks off at the New Belgium Pine Grove stage and beer garden, located in the midst of a stand of 100+ mature row pines. That means full shade during the day and magical site lighting at night. The fest kicks off with Martinsville southern rock band Prosperity’s Folly, followed by The Black Lillies. Rooster Walk’s de facto host band, Yarn, will play the first of two weekend sets, closing out Thursday from 10-midnight.
NOT MUSIC: Use Thursday’s relaxed schedule to find the various shuttle stops. Rooster Walk offers free shuttle rides to patrons on stretch-golf carts throughout the weekend, but this isn’t a hitch-hiking system. It’s more like public transit. When you want to catch the golf cart shuttle, wait at the nearest shuttle stop.
PRO TIP: Be sure to hit the RW merch tent on Thursday. Over the last few years, certain T-shirt designs and limited edition items have been selling out by lunch time Friday. Drop by merch on Thursday to ensure you have optimal selection of styles and sizes.
PRO TIP #2: While free tent camping is included in the cost of all festival tickets, on-site parking passes must be purchased separately. If you’re planning a trip to Rooster Walk, and having your car on-site is a priority, make sure to buy a parking pass well in advance of the fest. Those who don’t will park at the off-site lot, which is about a 5-minute ride on the festival shuttle buses.
FRIDAY, May 24th
RW’s first full day takes flight at 10 a.m. on the Lester VIP Stage, which has a bloody mary bar and continental breakfast each morning. By 1 p.m., all six stages are up and running. The three biggest stages at the venue are centrally located around Pop’s Pond and within about 100 yards of each other. You’ll quickly notice that the Ballast Point Lake Stage and the Pine Grove Stage have identical set times, though organizers try to schedule contrasting genres head-to-head. When those two stages are between sets, all eyes are on the Lawn Stage.
MUSIC: Friday is headlined by The Sam Bush Band, Shovels & Rope, Turkuaz and BIG Something. Sam Bush and BIG Something play at the same time (10-midnight) on the Lake and Pine stages, respectively, presenting one of the first tough choices of the weekend. Which band do you start with? Which do you finish with? #FestivalDilemmas
NOT MUSIC: Rooster Walk’s children’s area, The Kids’ Coop, is in full swing by Friday. The Kids’ Coop is for both the young and the young at heart. There’s an open mic set each day on the Kids’ stage, a giant slip’n’slide and tons of arts, crafts, drum circles, mural painting and a “Mommy & Me” tent that provides the clean space and privacy necessary for things like breastfeeding and diaper changes.
IN CASE YOU’RE UNFAMILIAR: PalmPalm plays their first of two weekend sets on Friday at the Lake Stage (6:30-8 p.m.). A brand new band, this Richmond-based rock group is led by J. Roddy Walston, of J. Roddy Walston & The Business, and features members of jamband The Southern Belles, The Head & The Heart, The Congress and People’s Blues of Richmond, among others.
PRO TIP: For VIP ticket buyers, the “Artist at Large Band” set from 2-3 p.m. each day on the VIP Stage is one not to miss. The band is made of entirely of the festival’s various artists at large, and the sets are completely unrehearsed and entirely too much spontaneous, jamming goodness. Friday’s AALB set will feature bassist John Cowan (New Grass Revival, The Doobie Brothers), drummer Ed Toth (The Doobie Brothers), pianist Josh Shilling (Mountain Heart) and guitarist Wallace Mullinax.
SATURDAY, May 25th
Saturday often brings the biggest crowd of the weekend to Rooster Walk, and this year will likely be no different. The day starts with the Kids’ Parade marching thru, led by musicians from the festival lineup!
MUSIC: Overall festival headliner, Galactic, is joined by the likes of The Marcus King Band, Ghost Light, The Lil Smokies, The Steel Wheels, the Roosevelt Collier Band, and more. Speaking of Roosevelt, he’ll also be assuming Artist at Large duties on Saturday & Sunday, meaning VIPs will likely see him at one of the Artist at Large Band sets, in addition to sit-ins with various bands over the course of two days.
IN CASE YOU’RE UNFAMILIAR: Ghost Light hasn’t been around long, but they’re certainly a band with serious momentum. Formed in 2017, the group brings together five consummately talented artists from across the musical spectrum—guitarists/singers Tom Hamilton and Raina Mullen, pianist Holly Bowling, and drummer Scotty Zwang—and thrusts them into a wholly new context. With sold out clubs across the country and a bevy of high profile festival gigs booked this summer, now’s your chance to be the ‘cool kid’ and see the band your friends will be talking about this fall… if they aren’t already!
NOT MUSIC: Rooster Walk is a craft beer lovers dream: Ballast Point, New Belgium, Lagunitas, Foothills, Basic City and Three Notch’d will be on tap, not to mention various wines and ciders. RW also takes pride in offering “Special Tappings” of rare or hard-to-get beers from our brewing partners. Check out RoosterWalk.com closer to the fest, or grab the free festival program once you’re on-site, to get the exact schedule of Special Tappings.
PRO TIP: ‘The Jammy Jam’ has become a beloved Saturday night tradition at Rooster Walk. Every year, this magical two hours of music starts off as a traditional bluegrass jam before musicians of other genres (rock, funk, jam) join to lead the experiment to uncharted waters. This year’s Jammy Jam is hosted by The Lil Smokies, and will take place from 8-10 pm on the Pine Grove Stage.
PRO TIP #2: If you’re a late night warrior, be sure to check out the Campfire Jams on Friday and Saturday from 2:30-4 a.m. These sets literally take place by the campfire overlooking Pop’s Pond, with no stage separating the band from the fans. Friday’s Campfire Jam will be hosted by progressive bluegrass band Fireside Collective, while Saturday’s will be led by the State Birds, an all-star collective led by iconic drummer Jeff Sipe. SO. MUCH. FUN.
SUNDAY, MAY 26th
Sunday is known as The Day of Rest in some circles, but let’s be real. You probably have Monday off from work for Memorial Day. And there is so much killer stuff going down at Rooster Walk on Sunday. This is not the time for rest. This is the time for hedonistic endurance.
That said, you can combine the best of both worlds by hitting up the Healing Arts Area during the fest. Here, you’ll find massage, yoga, reiki, meditation and much more. The Healing Arts Area in the central festival area, near the Pine Grove Stage and the Gear Grove outdoors area.
MUSIC: This one has a bit of a “Bluegrass Sunday” feel, thanks to the likes of Billy Strings, The Steep Canyon Rangers, Sierra Hull, and Mountain Heart playing Sunday sets. But it’s not strictly grass. The Vegabonds bring a dose of country to the Lawn Stage at 1 p.m., Yarn does a tribute to Van Morrison from 5-6:30 on the Lake Stage, while The State Birds will crush a Special Tapping set on the Pine Grove Stage at the same time.
IN CASE YOU’RE UNFAMILIAR: What has become perhaps the most talked about set of the entire weekend closes out the festival Sunday night when Marcus King and Billy Strings join forces for ‘King & Strings’ from 10-midnight on the Lawn Stage. King & Strings made its debut at Rooster Walk one year ago, and this will mark just the second time they’ve ever played together. Marcus and Billy will play some electrified bluegrass but, if last year is any indication, far more double-electric-guitar, melt-your-face rock’n’roll. Jeff Sipe will be on the drum kit, along with some special guests chosen by two of the music scene’s brightest, rising stars.
NOT MUSIC: Outdoors lovers unite! Sign up in advance for kayak/canoe floats on the nearby Smith River, a guided bicycle ride led by the Henry County Bike Club, and a disc golf tournament, organized by Explore Disc Golf, on the 6-hole course at Pop’s Farm.
PRO TIP: If you want to truly feel like part of the Rooster Walk Family, be sure to take in Yarn’s tribute to ‘Van the Man’ from 5-6:30 p.m. This Yarn tradition of a tribute set on Sunday at Rooster Walk has become a “must see” for RW regulars. Past tributes included The Rolling Stones and The Last Waltz concert by The Band. Both were incredibly popular with the masses. You’ll dance, you’ll sing, you’ll drink Special Tappings.
Life is grand at Rooster Walk.
More more information about Rooster Walk, or to purchase tickets, visit the event website.
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