Entering the main gates at Floydfest in Floyd, VA on Wednesday, the trials and tribulations that the last 18 months have presented seemed to slowly melt away into the Blue Ridge mountain air. The general sense at the five-day festival was that this was the first concert since pre-Covid times for many of the patrons, and the sentiment of joy to return to the place they love was palpable the entire week/end. The theme for Floydfest 2021 was “Odyssey,” and that term certainly can define the adventure we all had since our lives changed forever in 2020.
Perhaps the best show of the weekend went to Billy Strings. Judging by the size of the crowd, this was the show not to miss. The Hill Holler stage was overflowing with patrons, many of whom were probably seeing Billy Strings for the first time, with the bluegrass artist’s ability to reach fans of all musical genres on full display. Last Thursday night, he brought Deadheads, jam fans, and strict Appalachian bluegrass lovers to his show and they all left satisfied and in awe.
Strings is never one to shy away from curtailing his setlist toward the geographical region he finds himself in on a nightly basis, with his choices of “Shenandoah Waltz” and “Blue Virginia Blues” sending the crowd into a frenzy. Halfway through his set, Strings’ compatriots Billy Failing, Royal Masat, and Jarrod Walker left the stage for a break leaving Billy alone, and he couldn’t have looked any more comfortable playing “Groundhog”. The apex of the set came in a “Pyramid Country” with a “Ride Me High” sandwiched inside.
One of the things that makes String such an attractive performer is his ability to connect with an audience. For many younger fans in the crowd, they can look up and see themselves in this fish-loving (and Phish-loving), pot-smoking, Midwestern boy. It was at the end of his set that Strings shared yet another common sentiment with the crowd, as he revealed it was his first time ever coming to FloydFest—no doubt sharing his maiden voyage with countless members of the audience.
Over on the main stage, Old Crow Medicine Show was nonstop energy for the entirety of their set. It was the first show of their Back in the Saddle Tour of 2021 and served as a harbinger of the good performances that will come for the rest of the year. The Avett Brothers delivered more Americana-roots stylings on the main stage on Saturday night and, although this wasn’t the first time they played the festival, they did make Floydfest history as the first performance to be streamed live. Nugs.net provided the show to fans who couldn’t make it to Floyd, VA, with the band’s performance certainly delighting both fans in attendance and fans at home.
Of course, the best part of any festival is discovering new bands. Floydfest specifically helps in this regard with their On The Rise competition. Smaller bands get chosen to compete in On The Rise by getting two different slots throughout the weekend. The best part is walking around the grounds, maybe looking for food, or friends, or portos, or whatever, and instead getting drawn to some music as if by hypnosis.
That band for me was Sexbruise? (question mark included in band name) The best way to describe Sexbruise? is a wild hosuse party. Their music is poppy and easy to follow along with, but their visuals and stage presence made them so entertaining. At different moments throughout their Devils Backbone Brewing Company Throwdown Tent set they were singing about Dr. Fauci wanting all Americans to start partying, or partaking of a comically large bag of white powder labeled “cocaine” right on stage, or watching a shark dance on stage almost as hard as everyone in the crowd. Sexbruise? reminded everyone that live music is fun and meant to be a party. The On the Rise competition will have a winner announced in early August, and although there were many good bands that participated in the competition, I would give the nod to Sexbruise?
Overall, this Floydfest was so unique just because of the circumstances we are all living in. Festival organizers were very proactive in making sure that safety was a top priority and ensuring that everyone felt comfortable at the event. The capacity was voluntarily reduced by 20% to allow slightly more room to dance and enjoy oneself on the grounds. With every single type of ticket selling out weeks to months in advance, this was a step that Floydfest did not have to take but still did because it was the safer thing to do. I’ve seen plenty of condoms given out at festivals, some drug purity kits around at festivals, but this was the first time that I saw home testing kits for a disease being distributed to patrons. Many seemed to be happy to take one from the Virginia Department of Health.
Floydfest 21 Odyssey had it all—mostly beautiful blue skies and warm sunshine, although it had some rain, some dense fog, and a beautiful rainbow. A full moon even made a bright appearance during the epic Goose set. But the weather, the activities, the music was all second fiddle to the heart of Floydfest. The most salient part of the entire festival was the love and gratitude that everybody had for the festival to have happened at all. As the final notes ended late Sunday night with the wild and zany Andy Frasco & The U.N., the magic that is Floydfest dissipated into the cool mountain air and the countdown began for when it can all go down again.