music / Columns

Jam Central Station: The Festy 9 Review

October 20, 2018 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski



Festy General
Photo Credit Candy Carter

The beautiful foothills of Virginia. Acres of open land for camping and exploring. Good food, great people, a relaxed environment, and, of course, excellent music. No, I’m not talking about Lockn’, although that festival certainly fits the bill as well. Instead, I headed back to Arrington, VA to experience my first Festy. I thought I had been a festy guy since my first Rothbury back in 2008, but I’m starting to realize that I may be mistaken. Music festivals are great, but the Festy has its own unique personality and charm to it. The Festy is a great mix of big and small, creating a wonderful environment for folk and bluegrass fans, seasoned festival goers, and families alike.

It’s impossible to talk about this festival without talking about the environment and the grounds. Infinity Downs has been hosting Lockn’ for years now, so they clearly have the capacity to handle a festival. By using their knowledge and space to put on a smaller event, they were able to make sure everything went off without a hitch. The grounds were clean, well laid out, and easy to get around. It was a bit of a walk from the venue to get back to your camp (and it would have been even longer if we had done forest camping), but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. They even had a nice gap between the family camping area and GA to make sure the families (and there were many families) could have some quiet at night. Food options were limited (first festival I’ve ever been to with no pizza option) but they were tasty and reasonably priced.

The venue itself was very well done. This is a very family-friendly festival, and they show that in many different ways. There was a rock wall for kids to climb (my son spent hours hanging out here). While many festivals have the kids area tucked away in the back of the venue or in the campgrounds, The Festy put the kids space right near the front so parents could have a great view of the stage while hanging with their families. I love seeing festivals making it easy for the whole family to enjoy, and that’s clearly a priority here. They also had picnic tables, hammocks, a slack line area, and plenty of room to spread out. There were also two stages. One main stage and a side stage called “Almost e-Town,” which featured many of the main-stage acts performing half hour sets and interviews hosted by local radio host and podcaster Nick Forester and his e Town program.

The music was clearly the highlight of this 3-day festival. With a 3-day event, you really have to come out of the gate swinging. There’s not much time to “ramp up,” and The Festy came out of the gates ready to go on Friday. The day started out for me with The Lil’ Smokies and Sons of Bill on the main stage. This was my first time seeing either act. The Lil’ Smokies have been gaining some traction, and they had a lot of energy to show why that was. Their original material was fun, but I enjoyed the pair of covers they pulled out. You hear The Beatles and The Rolling Stones covered pretty regularly, but not necessarily “Paperback Writer” and “Paint It Black.” They had their own spin on the tunes, obviously, and it was great to see some new cover options. Sons of Bill were also good, but they were better when they were digging into their emotional energy. A nice mix of rock and country, they have a nice setup and were definitely worth a listen.

Fruition had a pair of sets, starting with a 30 minute Almost e-Town side stage set. They took that opportunity to play their brand new EP in full. I hadn’t heard the new tunes up to that point, and it was pretty cool to see the band take that opportunity to do something different. Their main set was 90 minutes of rock and bluegrass. They’re a band that has truly been branching out recently, and they didn’t hesitate to embrace their alternative/indy sound that they’ve been cultivating recently. My favorite song of the set was “There She Was,” although there weren’t any real lulls.

Friday night headliners Greensky Bluegrass delivered two high-energy sets and one of the best show I’ve seen from the band. It’s often a little worrisome, seeing a favorite band at a festival, because sometimes you get a “festival set” of standard songs without many chances taken. Greensky didn’t do that for this show. They pulled out some favorites, some gems, some new songs, and a few well-placed surprises. They led off with a pair of well known songs with “The Four” and “Living Over” before pulling out some not-quite-rarities with “I’m Working On A Building” and “Better Off.” The band is getting ready to release a new album, and they pulled out the first track off of that one with “Like Reflections,” a slower tune that I could see ending up as a staple. There were a few times in the early part of this set that the band seemed to be a little off as far as missing cues, but they were taking chances with their music so it wasn’t much of a problem. After such a quiet tune they went the other way with an in-your-face “Bone Digger.” The first set closed out by going back to some more traditional bluegrass and finishing with “Demons.”

The second set was a non-stop blur of excellent music. It’s hard to pick out highlights, but opening the set with “Burn Them” is always a good start. They moved quickly from song to song, and never stayed too long in a single style. “Reuben’s Train” was a great grassy highlight, as was a blistering “Clinch Mountain Backstep, while Hoffman put all of himself into “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone.” It wasn’t a surprise when the band brought out a guest at the beginning of “Fo Sho, Uh Huh,” but I (and I’m sure many others) expected some of their good friends from Fruition. I certainly didn’t expect them to bring out Bonnie Paine, who wasn’t even on the schedule until the next evening. Bonnie jammed out a pair of tunes with the band on her washboard, adding some great bluegrass percussion to a pair of decidedly non-bluegrass tunes. She left the stage and the band closed their set with a 20+ minute version of “Don’t Lie,” and an encore cover of “Luckiest Man.”

Photo Credit Candy Carter

Saturday was a day full of artists that I had never seen before. Early Saturday bands included Hawktail, The Connells, and side stage performances from Rubblebucket and Sam Bush Band. These were all new artists to me, and the side stage performances certainly stood out. Rubblebucket was almost ethereal with their sound and vocals, almost sounding electronic at times. Sam Bush took the opportunity on the side stage to show off some of his excellent chops and highlight his band. Gillian Welch led one of the most quiet, acoustic sets of the weekend. Her classic folk songs highlighted her beautiful voice, although the sad tone of many of tunes stood in contrast to her banter with the crowd. But as the sun began to set her voice and her music truly felt like it was carrying the spirit of this part of Virginia.

Alt-bluegrass rockers Della Mae came out next. The band featured some special guests including Alison Brown on banjo and Bonnie Paine on washboard and musical saw. Despite having some excellent accompaniment, frontwoman Celia Woodsmith had no trouble commanding the stage from the get-go. Whether she was playing the guitar or just stomping her feet while singing, she exuded power and energy throughout the set. I wasn’t too familiar with their music coming into the set, but I didn’t have to be to get caught up in what they were bringing out. The first third of the set focused on mostly original material, including a raucous “Boston Town,” (one of the songs I knew coming in) and a fun cover of “Who’s Bed Have Your Boots Been Under.” All of the women on stage had the opportunity to shine early on, and fiddle player Kimber Ludiker was a standout. After letting the band get established Bonnie finally took a round on vocals with her tune “Rogue River,” and also split vocals with Celia on “Mississippi Half Step Toodleloo.” Few vocalists can split time with Bonnie and hold their own, and Celia did it with her distinct slightly gravel voice that was an excellent counterpoint to Bonnie. After that the guests started coming out in droves, including members of Hawktail and the Sam Bush Band. The band covered their namesake tune with Sam Bush and jammed out an original fiddle tune with Brittany Haas going toe-to-toe with Kimber on the fiddle. A late-set highlight occured when the guests left the stage and Bonnie took the vocals again for an excellent cover of “Zombie.” They closed out their set with one more cover, a fun version of “No Scrubs.” Overall this ended up being one of the best sets of the festival and one of the top “surprise” sets of the festival season.

Della Mae
Photo Credit Candy Carter

Sam Bush Band closed out Saturday with a set full of energy. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as Bush has traditionally straddled the line between bluegrass and new-grass, having made his name playing with Lyle Lovett while also helping create the modern bluegrass movement. What I got was an exceptional rock show with bluegrass instruments. Bush owned the stage, leading his band through the songs and not hesitating to heat things up. Certainly gave me a desire to catch him again.

Sam Bush
Photo Credit Candy Carter

Sunday was set up to be an excellent way to close the weekend. The day started off with a morning gospel-grass set featuring Nick Forster along with members of a variety of artists from the weekend. The women from Della Mae helped lead much of the music, but with a dozen artists on stage at any given time, it was a true bluegrass picking session. There were fiddle duels, a capella songs, traditionals, originals, and even a never before seen duet of “Amazing Grace” with Bonnie Paine on the saw and Nick Forster on the mouth harp. The set was labelled “Wake Up Singing” and the artists and crowd certainly had the opportunity to do just that. I was able to catch both Della Mae and Billy Strings on the side stage, and Billy’s main stage set showed why he’s had a rocket strapped to his back recently in the modern bluegrass world. The guy (and his entire band) can play like few others, and Billy writes like a songwriter twice his age. Ricky Skaggs was the legend of the day, one of the best bluegrass players and songwriters of a generation. Unfortunately Skaggs was unable to play his mandolin due to an injury, although he had a more than adequate replacement, and his band carried a lot of the weight as well. Ricky showed himself to be a solid storyteller, often talking about the history behind songs before the band jumped into them.

Carbon Leaf took the main stage next. These Virginia natives take great songwriting and put it to a blend of rock, bluegrass, and celtic music. After 25 years in the business (and on the final date of a crazy month-long leg of their tour), lead singer Barry Privett was still a ball of energy on stage. He danced around stage like a man possessed while nailing every cue. Multi-instrumentalist Carter Gravatt started off on the fiddle but spent plenty of time on guitar, mandolin, and even lap steel. I was thrilled that they reached back into their extensive catalog, playing some of my favorites from years past as well as newer songs. I wasn’t surprised that they played their bigger tunes like “The Boxer,” “Life Less Ordinary,” or “What About Everything.” It was a surprise and pleasure, however, for the band to reach back and bring out excellent versions of songs like “Paloma” and “One Prairie Outpost.” They also didn’t hesitate to change things up, like turning the end of “Desperation Song” into more of an inspirational climax than anything depressing. They had the crowd singing along with newer songs like “She’s Gone” and “The Donnybrook Affair” and brought things to a quiet place for other tunes like the set closer “Gifts From The Crows.” It’s been a few years since I last saw these guys, and I was so happy to see that they haven’t missed a beat.

Carbon Leaf
Photo Credit Candy Carter

Festival closers Railroad Earth ended the night with a two-set show that showed what makes this band so special. Along with tremendous talent across the board, the band has a way of stringing songs together to create moods throughout the night that carry on. The slower songs all contained energy, and the fast paced jams made it nearly impossible to keep still. Tim Carbone’s fiddle always gets right to me, and he was highlighted from the opening track throughout the set. I thought it would be hard to follow a first set that included such solid tunes as “Chasin’ A Rainbow,” “Jupiter and the 119,” and “Bird In A House,” but when the band built up an excellent “Mighty River” to open the second round I knew this was a good night. Including the mellow “Grandfather Mountain” helped stir up emotions in the crowd, and the set closing “Elko” helped wrap things up, as did the encore of “Lovin’ You.”

If you’re looking for a late-season festival that’s a little off the beaten trail, this is one to strongly consider. Everything was well thought out and very top notch. The music had some heavy hitters as well as some gems to check out. There was tremendous diversity in terms of the types of people at the event as well, which led to a fun mix. Despite the drive for me to get to Arrington from Cleveland (a little over 8 hours with stops) the event was more than worth it. I’m already looking at making plans to head out next year, and I’m looking forward to another strong lineup from this one.



Andy Goessling, founding member of Railroad Earth, passes away
Andy Goessling of Railroad Earth, passed away this week. Andy had missed a number of recent shows due to illness. He was a founding member of the band and a tremendously versatile multi-instrumentalist. He will be greatly missed.

Phish releases a new Live Bait
Phish released their 15th installment of their free Live Bait compilation. This includes highlights from their 2016 and 2017 destination events in Riviera Maya, Mexico.

Dave Matthews Band to head to Europe
The Dave Matthews Band will head to Europe for the first time since 2015. The band announced a month-long run starting in early March.

March 6 Munich, Germany—Zenith
March 8 Dusseldorf, Germany—Mitsubishi Electric Halle
March 10 Paris, France—Salle Pleyel
March 12 London, UK—Eventim Apollo
March 13 London, UK—Eventim Apollo
March 15 Amsterdam, Netherlands—Afas Live
March 17 Copenhagen, Denmark—Royal Arena
March 19 Stockholm, Sweden—Annexet
March 20 Oslo, Norway—Spektrum
March 22 Hamburg, Germany—Mehr Theatre
March 23 Berlin, Germany—Tempodrom
March 25 Warsaw, Poland—COS Torwar
March 27 Prague, Czech Republic—Forum Karlin
March 28 Vienna, Austria—Stadhalle
March 30 Padova, Italy—Gran Teatro Geox
April 1 Bologna, Italy—Unipol Arena
April 3 Milan, Italy—Mediolanum Forum
April 6 Lisbon, Portugal—Altice Arena

Umphrey’s McGee add dates
Umphrey’s McGee added a new run of dates that will take the band through February. This includes a handful of multi-night stops in some cities that don’t typically get multi-day runs from the band.

October 18 Urbana, IL – The Canopy Clup
October 19 St. Paul, MN – Palace Theatre
October 20 St. Paul, MN – Palace Theatre
October 26 Charleston, SC – Charleston Pour House
December 12 Puerto Morelos, Mexico – Holidaze 2018
December 13 Puerto Morelos, Mexico – Holidaze 2018
December 14 Puerto Morelos, Mexico – Holidaze 2018
December 15 Puerto Morelos, Mexico – Holidaze 2018
December 16 Puerto Morelos, Mexico – Holidaze 2018
December 28 Atlanta, GA – The Tabernacle
December 29 Atlanta, GA – The Tabernacle
December 30 Atlanta, GA – The Tabernacle
December 31 Atlanta, GA – The Tabernacle
January 11 Richmond, VA – The National
January 12 Richmond, VA – The National
January 15 Caribbean – Jam Cruise 17
January 16 Caribbean – Jam Cruise 17
January 18 Cincinnati, OH – Taft Theatre %
January 19 Cincinnati, OH – Taft Theatre %
January 25 Milwaukee, WI – The Riverside Theater *
January 26 Milwaukee, WI – The Riverside Theater *
January 31 New Haven, CT – College Street Music Hall ^
February 1 Albany, NY – Palace Theatre ^
February 2 Portland, ME – State Theatre ^
February 14 Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Steel
February 15 Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Steel
February 16 Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Steel
February 21 Ft. Wayne, IN – The Clyde Theatre ~
February 22 Detroit, MI – The Fillmore +
February 23 Detroit, MI – The Fillmore +

% w/ Big Something
* w/ The Marcus King Band
^ w/ Robert Walter’s 20th Congress
~ w/ Moser Woods
+ w/ Michal Menert and the Pretty Fantastics

Michael Franti & Spearhead announce Stay Human Vol. II
Michael Franti & Spearhead will release Stay Human Vol. II on January 25. Franti stated that this album was heavily influenced by the Stay Human documentary that Franti released over a decade ago.


Suwannee Hulaween
October 25-28
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
The String Cheese Incident, Jamiroquai, Odesza, The Revivalists, STS9, Lettuce, Trampled by Turtles, Medeski, Martin, & Wood, Galactic, Turkuaz, The Wood Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Hangtown Music Festival
October 25-28
Placerville, CA
Railroad Earth (3 Nights), The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Trampled By Turtles, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe presents Eat a Bunch of Peaches, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Pimps of Joytime

Strings & Sol
December 7-11
Puerto Morelos, MX
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon

December 12-16
Puerto Morelos, MX
The Disco Biscuits, STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Ghost Light

Winter Wondergrass Vermont
December 14-16
Stratton, VT
Railroad Earth, Infamous Stringdusters, Keller & The Keels, Fruition, Billy Strings, Kitchen Dwellers, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Rumpke Mountain Boys

Tropical Throe.down
January 10-14
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
moe., The New Mastersounds, Big Something

Jam in the Sand
January 15-19
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
Dark Star Orchestra, The Wailers, Green Leaf Rustlers

International Incident
January 25-28
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
The String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams

Panic en la Playa Ocho
January 25-29
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds Riviera Maya
February 15-17
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Phish in Riviera Maya
February 21-23
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Winter Wondergrass Colorado
February 22-24
Steamboat Springs, CO
Trampled by Turtles, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Fruition, Billy Strings, The California Honeydrops, Della Mae with Bonnie Paine, Jeff Austin Band, The Shook Twins

Winter Wondergrass California
March 29-31
Squaw Valley, CA
Greensky Bluegrass, Trampled by Turtles, Leftover Salmon, Sam Bush Band, ALO, Fruition, Billy Strings, Jeff Austin Band, The Travelin’ McCoury’s

Bender Jamboree
April 11-14
Plaza Hotel & Casino
Las Vegas, NV
Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams, Billy Strings

Lockn’ Festival
August 22-25
Arrington, VA


Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!