I can’t resist a good music festival. From the Americana overload of North Carolina’s Merlefest to the eclectic jam rock orgy of California’s High Sierra Music Festival, I’ve burnt my vacation days over the years chasing the country’s top sonic galas. For me, a great festival is
just as much about the setting as it is about the band on stage. That’s why I was excited last year about the inaugural Festy Experience on the idyllic
grounds surrounding Devils Backbone Brewery
in Nelson County. It turned out to be just what the local area needed—a multi-genre music bash with a diverse line-up and plenty of perfect spots to pitch a tent beneath the breathtaking Blue Ridge. The Festy returns this fall for three days (October 7-9). Hosted by the Grammy-nominated, bluegrass-twisting Infamous Stringdusters
(two of the band members live in town), the growing festival will feature a variety of sounds for all tastes, including the crunchy pop folk of Brett Dennen
, the psychedelic string assault of Railroad Earth
, and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad
’s tight reggae grooves—
as well as a cache of great local acts. Although the Festy is less than 40 miles from home for most of us, spending three days in Tent City requires plenty of preparation. Let this be your guide to maximizing the festival experience.
Don’t snooze on tickets
When it comes to getting tickets, it pays to buy early. Most festivals, The Festy included, offer deep discounts to early bird ticket buyers. Right now you can grab day passes for $29 in advance
, as opposed to $40 at the gate. A three-day ticket that includes admission and camping is currently $114, but that price will rise to $129 in a few weeks and eventually be $140 at the gate.
If you’re too strapped for cash to buy a ticket, consider volunteering in exchange for admission. Volunteering is a great way to get involved behind the scenes of a festival, and after some relatively short shifts pouring beer or directing traffic, you get the rest of the day to enjoy the tunes. The Festy offers a full weekend pass in exchange for three, five-hour shifts.
Catch a new band
A festival is a great place to be turned on to new music. Make a point to watch a band you’ve never heard before the fest. In addition to the solid headliners, The Festy will feature a handful of stellar lesser-known bands from across the country. Try the energetic alt-folk of The New Familiars
, the jazzy Americana of Boston’s Lake Street Drive
, or the ensemble indie freak rock of Rubblebucket
Don’t ignore the locals
With a line-up of national acts, you might be tempted to skip sets by the local bands that play around town regularly. Reconsider. Most of these bands will step up to the plate and deliver some of their best performances, especially when they have larger crowds and new faces to impress. Last year’s Old School Freight Train
reunion yielded a high-energy spark akin to the band’s early years, and I found new appreciation for Pantherburn
’s garage rock, as I heard it under a craggy sunset as opposed to a dingy bar ceiling.
Listen for campground jams
When you’re hanging out at the campsite, keep your ears open for spontaneous acoustic jams. Many of the bands on The Festy bill, including the Stringdusters,
have been known to participate in late-night picking circles, which often end up yielding some of a festival’s most dynamic musical moments.
I don’t mean to sound like mom, pre-summer camp, but remembering to pack essential gear can make or break your weekend. With unpredictable weather in early October that could range from wet and chilly to warm and sunny, be sure to pack both sunscreen and a reliable rain shell. Last year at The Festy, the evenings were much cooler than the days, so bring an extra layer to put on after the sun goes down. Your feet are your biggest ally at a festival. Pack comfortable weatherproof shoes that you can wear all day. It’s hard to dance with a half-dollar-sized blister on your heel.
For long days at the main stage, some less
obvious gear purchases can go a long way. An essential is an outdoor blanket that can handle a little water or dirt. For the past few
years I’ve relied on the Launch Pad from Eagles Nest Outfitters
, which has tough weather-repellent nylon on the bottom and soft fleece on top. It’s big enough to hold three people comfortably, but it folds together and zips into itself for easy carry. You also need a chair that transports easily from the campsite to the festival grounds. You can’t go wrong with Alite Designs Monarch Camp Chair.
It’s surprisingly comfortable for the simple, two-leg design, but the best part is it weighs just over one pound and packs down to the size of a big burrito.
Don’t bring the whole fridge
Find your deep-fried Oreos at the boardwalk. In recent years, many music festivals have gotten serious about offering high-quality food options. It’s eased the burden of packing a car full of food for the whole weekend. Since buying every meal from festival vendors gets expensive, I recommend mixing it up. Bring snacks and enough food to make a handful of meals on the camping stove, but also budget enough to buy a few meals inside. The Festy offers chow from the locally sourced catering outfit the Rock Barn, yummy organic Carpe Donuts in the mornings, and additional options from regional restaurants like the Crozet-based Fardowners. As a new experiment in ultimate convenience, Relay Foods will also deliver pre-fest grocery orders to The Festy grounds. Another rare amenity for a festival is the option to grab pub grub at Devils Backbone, which will be open throughout the event.
Most festivals frown upon bringing glass into the campground. For a beer snob like me, this used to be a problem. Not anymore. These days, plenty of excellent craft beers come in cans, so you can fill your cooler with hoppy goodness without breaking the rules. Before hitting the road for any festival, I head to Beer Run, which has a neatly organized section of canned microbrews—perfect for quickly putting together a tasty trail mix of crisp lagers for the afternoon, intense IPAs for the early evening, and hearty stouts for winding down by the fire before bed. On the local front, Starr Hill started canning its Northern Lights IPA and Festie German lager earlier this year, while Blue Mountain Brewery offers the stellar Full Nelson Pale Ale in a can.
There are three things that are hard to come by when you’re trying to sleep at a festival: silence, shade, and solid ground. The first one is nearly impossible to secure. Why? Because, inevitably, just when you’re ready to crawl into your tent and catch some Z’s, a free-spirited crew with too much liquid courage and too little rhythm will start banging away on hand drums. Drum circles can last for hours, so do yourself a favor, and bring earplugs. Finding a shaded campsite can mean a couple extra hours of sleep in the morning. If the sun gets a straight look at your tent you’ll start cooking like a Pop-Tart in a toaster oven. Fortunately The Festy has a walk-in camping area in the woods, where you can find tree-covered solace. Give yourself the best chance to secure a choice camping spot by showing up soon after the gates open. In desperate situations, I’ve pitched my tent under a larger pop-up shelter, like the Kelty Shadehouse, which is a great accessory for sun relief while hanging out at the campsite during the day.
Finally, don’t underestimate the value of a good sleeping pad. If you’re limited to a sleeping bag on a lumpy plot of earth, you’ll be crying for a chiropractor by the end of the festival. For supreme comfort, get a pad with some girth like the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core or the Therm-a-Rest Luxury Map Sleeping Pad, both available locally at Blue Ridge Mountain Sports.
Dirty truth about porta-potties
All festivals have a harsh reality that we unfortunately cannot avoid. When nature calls, you’ll be forced to enter an unsavory cubicle of stench known as a porta-potty. All I can say is, tread lightly, be vigilant about your surroundings, and hurry! If portable toilets really gross you out, watch for the cleaning truck and make your visit when things are still relatively fresh. It also can’t hurt to bring an extra roll of toilet paper from home, as some of the units tend to run low. After the sun goes down, be sure to bring a headlamp or small flashlight. The mystery of what’s behind the plastic door can be even more terrifying in the dark.
Go beyond the music
Make time to check out what else is being offered at the fest besides the bands. Whether it’s browsing local vendor booths or joining a morning yoga session, it’s good to take a break from the tunes. The Festy has a huge outdoor adventure component that includes a climbing wall, a 10K trail running race and a mountain bike race.
A note on Festing with kids
This summer my 2-year-old son became my new festival buddy. A few key moves can keep kids comfortable at the fest. Pick the right festival. Monsters of Rock probably isn’t the right scene for a little one. Make sure the festival has kid-friendly music and a mellow scene. Bring the wagon. I’ve found the Radio Flyer is better for festivals than the stroller. My son is more engaged, because he gets a 360-degree view of the action, and there’s more room to bring a bag with his snacks, water bottle, and other essentials. Find family camping. Many festivals have specific family camping sections with designated quiet times, so your kid won’t be kept up by rowdy tent neighbors. Protect young ears. When watching music, keep a safe distance from the stage. If the sound is too loud, consider hearing protection like the Peltor Kid’s Earmuff, which sells for less than $20.
The rest of the fests
By Spencer Peterson
The spirit of the harvest is alive and well in these parts, as Central Virginia opens itself to a veritable cornucopia of fall festivals—more autumn revelry
than you can shake a decorative gourd at. In fact, one could spend every weekend flitting from musical festival
, from sheepdog trial to craft fair, reeling from the
abundance of craft beer
and good cheer. Options may be intimidating, but we’ve laid it all out for you—where to go, what to bring and what to wear to win Garlic Queen of Virginia
. Godspeed, pilgrims.
Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival
Sunday, September 11-Sunday, September 25
The Paramount Theater and Old Cabell Hall, Charlottesville
$16-22 per concert
Expect the unexpected at the five Thursday and Sunday concerts that make up this
year’s Chamber Music Festival
. At any one concert, you might hear Beethoven, Dixieland and Finnish tango (and rather cryptically,
the event’s website encourages attendees to look out for masks and instruments made out of cardboard tubes). Flourishes aside, this is still the same local festival that has brought together master musicians
from all corners of the globe for 12 years running. And on top of the normal shows, acclaimed soprano Roberta Alexander will conduct a free, open master class with UVA
vocal students at 7pm in Old Cabell Hall on Monday, September 19.
What to bring: High expectations.
Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello
Friday, September 16-Saturday, September 17
Monticello, 931 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy., Charlottesville
$8 in advance; $10 at the gates
Celebrate the harvest
on the grounds of revolutionary gardener Thomas Jefferson, who knew a thing or two about culinary liberty. Friday’s events include premium workshops on everything from herbal medicine to winemaking for $15 a pop, and a dinner with celebrated gardener P. Allen Smith for $90. The festival begins in full on Saturday, when general admission gets you garden tours, chef demonstrations and lectures from dozens of experts, as well as workshops with Backyard Revolution and the Master Gardeners’ Roots and Shoots tent.
What to bring: Seeds for the seed swap, a notebook for jotting down instructions.
The Second Annual Lynchburg Beer and Wine Festival
Saturday, September 17
Riverfront Festival Park, 29 Ninth St., Lynchburg
$5 for general admission; $15 extra for wine sampling; free for children 10 and under
If you’re measuring by wine-grape production, Virginia is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the U.S. We wouldn’t have gotten there without our industrious vintners, of course, but let’s not forget the people doing the day-to-day work of drinking the stuff. This September, Lynchburg raises a glass
to the locavore lushes and bottle-a-day homebodies who keep our economy running, with offerings from the best in Central Virginia vineyards and breweries, including Bright Meadows Farm, Tomahawk
Mill Winery, Clipper City Brewery and many more. Barring torrential downpour, this bacchanalia will proceed whatever the weather, like the tough little grapes that thrive in our hills.
What to leave at home: The kids.
Harvest Moon Festival Century and Metric Ride
Saturday, September 24
Various Locations, Warm Springs
$60 entry fee for riders
Proving your cycling prowess while supporting Bath County biking is as simple as picking between the 100-mile Century Ride or the 100-kilometer Metric
, both of which will take you up Warm Springs Mountain
and down Route 39, past the picturesque streams that feed into the Cowpasture River. While you tough it out, the rest of the family can peruse the farmer’s market in downtown Hot Springs, or drop by Valley Elementary, where scheduled festivities
include a bike rodeo, hay maze and magician. In the afternoon, learn to make butter at a farm tour of Hidden Valley Bed
and Breakfast, and from 6-9pm, enjoy the ecstatic stylings of the John Jorgensen Quintet
at Garth Newel Music Center.
What to bring: A water bottle, extra tires and a portable pump for flats.
Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival
Saturday, September 24
Lee Park, Downtown Charlottesville
Coordinated by Voices for Animals and entirely volunteer-staffed, this celebration of sustainable and compassionate eating habits
is in its 15th year of prying Central Virginia from the grip of industrial food, one vegan cookie at a time. Walk downtown or stop by Lee Park on your lunch break for a wide variety of vegetarian eats. In addition to vendors like Rebecca’s Natural Foods, the festival hosts exhibits by compassionate-living advocates, animal rescue outfits and nonprofit organizations.
What to bring: Wavering carnivores, anyone you know looking to adopt a pet.
Saturday, September 24
Kanawha Plaza, S. Eighth Street, Richmond
The Commonwealth’s largest LGBT celebration
alights on Richmond this September, and boasts such acts as Martha Wash, Amy Henderson, the Richmond Men’s Chorus and Tom Goss. Representatives from loads of LGBT-friendly businesses and organizations will be present, and imfromdriftwood.com will be on-site with true stories of gays from all over the country. PrideFest goes all afternoon, but know that if you miss the finals of the Mr. Virginia Pride contest, you’ll only have yourself to blame.
What to bring: Your swankiest duds, your A-game.
Carter Mountain Apple Harvest Festival
Every weekend in October
Carter Mountain Orchard,
1435 Carters Mountain Trail, Charlottesville
Apple-cider donuts to die for, the best view in town, a short jaunt from Michie Tavern or Monticello—it’s the same Carter Mountain you know and love, but there’s no opportunity to know it better or love it more than an afternoon in October, when the harvest be
gins and the hues of autumn leaves are at their finest. Pick up a plump pumpkin or two for jack-o-lanterns and save time for the hayride. Call ahead to plan around live sets
from Carter Mountain favorites like Josh Mayo and Steve Michael Smith.
What to bring: Bags for apples, a Sharpie to label varieties.
Monacan Indian Nation Homecoming Bazaar
Saturday, October 1
Monacan Indian Tribal Center and Museum, 2009 Kenmore Rd., Amherst
The smattering of tourist traps around Virginia’s Natural Bridge may include a model of an ancient Monacan village, but Monacan culture still lives in Amherst, where most members of the tribe still reside. Each year, their museum and tribal center opens its doors to the October homecoming bazaar
, where you can peruse quilts, sample canned and baked goods, drop in on a drumming session and stock up on apple butter. The day’s events also include a scholarship auction at 1pm and a buffet lunch from 11am-3pm.
What to leave at home: A price limit for the scholarship auction.
Sorghum Festival and Virginia Jousting Championship
Saturday, October 1-Sunday, October 2
Clifford Ruritan Center, 755 Fletchers Level Rd., Amherst
Free; $5 per car parking fee
Nothing goes together like sorghum syrup and the medieval version of “chicken.” (Trust us on this one.) At the town of Clifford’s yearly bash
, you can also try such arbitrary and delicious pairings as sampling traditional apple butter while strolling through a re-enacted Civil War camp, or sipping hot Brunswick stew while perusing the offerings of local artisans. The entertainment roster is still in the works, but if last year’s jamboree was any indication, there’s square dancing, bluegrass groups and gospel choirs on the horizon. You might even learn what a Ruritan is.
What to bring: Lawn chairs and blankets, but no pets, please.
Fall Fiber Festival and Montpelier Sheepdog Trials
Saturday, October 1-Sunday, October 2
Montpelier, 11395 Constitution Hwy.
$5; free for children 16 and under
James Madison never wore polyester. Come early October and sweater weather, there’s no better way to celebrate natural fibers than
mingling with a menagerie of goats, sheep, llama and alpaca in the fourth president’s backyard. Workshops include rug hooking, wool roving, and pest management training
for sheep and goat producers, plus a number of kids’ workshops. Register online and remember the September 24 deadline. The Virginia Border Collie Association will hold
sheep dog trials all day, so don that itchy sweater and prepare for sheer delight.
What to bring: Fiber creations to enter into the art competition.
Virginia Fall Foliage Festival
Saturday, October 1-Sunday,October 2 and
Saturday, October 8-Sunday, October 9
Various locations, Waynesboro
Free; $25 for race entry
Take I-64 to Waynesboro and catch the full spectrum of fall hues the way it was meant to be seen, and once there, take your pick of two weekends worth of cultural celebrations. October 1-2, Ridgeview Park has more
than 200 classic British cars on display; Coyner Springs Park has a Kite Fly; Kate Collins Middle School hosts the Shenandoah Valley Gem and Mineral Show; and Willow Oak Plaza showcases local arts, crafts and apple-based treats. October 8-9, 5 and 10K footraces will start at Constitution Park, and the Fall Foliage Art Show and River City Wine and Jazz Festival will take place at various locations downtown.
What to bring: A kite, a digital camera, a picnic lunch.
Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival
Saturday, October 8-Sunday, October 9
Claudius Crozet Park, Crozet
$6; $5 for seniors; free for children 12 and under
The first Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival was
in May 1981. The board of Claudius Crozet Park had incurred a sizeable debt making repairs to the park’s 20-year-old junior Olympic pool, and the treasurer, Mrs. George Kane, organized the festival as a modest fundraiser. Within a few years however, the event was pulling in close to $10,000 annually, and since
then, due to rising prestige and spatial constraints, the vendor application process has only gotten more rigorous. What all this amounts to for you is a craft fair with real quality—no gaudy baubles, gimcrack
kitsch, chintzy gewgaws, etc.
What to bring: The nerve to try and haggle.
The 21st Annual Virginia Wine and Garlic Festival
Saturday, October 8-Sunday, October 9
Rebec Vineyards, 2229 North Amherst Hwy., Amherst
$14 in advance; $20 at the gates; free for children 12 and under
It’s chic to reek at this celebration of all things garlicked
, which features blends, powders, jams and innumerable varieties of allium sativum from local growers and vendors alongside delicious Virginia wines. Intrepid
chefs should send recipes to firstname.lastname@example.org for entry into Saturday’s garlic cook-off, and ladies of all ages are invited to prepare pungent costumes and dubious talents for Sunday’s Garlic Queen and Junior Garlic Queen contests, both of which award cash prizes to winners and runners-
up. Might we suggest a fishtail plait interwoven with a garlic braid? Pigtails with bulbs on the ends? The possibilities are endless,
as is the enduring, endearing stink.
What to bring: Ingredients and a portable stove for the cook-off.
Richmond Folk Festival
Friday, October 14-Sunday, October 16
Various locations along the riverfront, Richmond
For one weekend a year, Richmond puts Pabst Blue Ribbon, fixed-gear bikes and flannel on the back-burner and celebrates more “traditional” cultures, as its much-lauded folk festival
brings in an array of performers from the U.S. and abroad. This year, Larry Chance & The Earls bring down doo-wop from the Bronx, the Mighty
Diamonds showcase the reggae sound of Kings
ton, Jamaica, and the Mary Jane Lamond Quartet comes all the way from Cape Breton
Island in Nova Scotia, for your listening pleasure. And if you’re of the persuasion, The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar has waived admission fees on Saturday and Sunday during the festival.
What to bring: Out-of-touch Richmond friends.
The Chocolate Festival
Saturday, October 15
Lee Park, Downtown Charlottesville
Free; $20 to run the 5K; $15 to walk
First United Methodist Church and Lee Park
choose to fight poverty with decadence. The benefactors of this year’s Chocolate Festival
include Bread and Blessings, IMPACT, PACEM, Appalachian Service Project, Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry and international service projects in Haiti, Belize and Lithuania. The 5K and pancake breakfast start at 8am, after which you can peruse treats while the kids enjoy the moon bounce and face painting station. Also, now’s the time to start prepping that cupcake recipe—the Cupcake Throwdown competition starts at 11:30am, and like the
5K, it requires registration in advance.
What to bring: Books for the book-drive.
Shenandoah Fall Foliage Bike Festival
Friday, October 21-Sunday, October 23
Various locations, Staunton
$85 for adults; $15 for children 6-17; free for kids 5 and under
This celebration of biking in Staunton
features a total of 12 route options that are anywhere from 12 to 100 miles long. Not that you can’t bike through this gorgeous scenery any old time, but the festival has route markers, well-stocked rest stops and repair vendors to free you up from worry or hassle, plus morning orientation sessions, a Friday night reception for cyclists and catered brunch on the following days. Register online or in person, and visit them on the web for a full schedule. For the evenings, there’s always dinner downtown, a play at Blackfriars or a sunset trip to Skyline Drive.
What to bring: A bike that can handle hills, those expensive Spandex shorts.
Nelson County Fall Festival
Saturday, October 29
1655 Rock Spring Rd., Faber
Free; $20 for runners 15 and up; $10 for runners 14 and under
for the runners out there, and perhaps an incentive for the less
active (read: most of us). Fall only comes once a year, and Nelson County is celebrating
with a scenic but hilly 5K and a one-mile fun run, both of which start at 8:30am.
Rock Springs United Methodist Church will offer a $5 breakfast for those who get there early enough. The real festivities start
after the race, and include a hayride, costume parade, face painting and games like pumpkin bowling and ring toss.
What to bring: A recipe book for taking down favorites at the bake sale.
The Virginia Film Festival
Thursday, November 3-Sunday, November 6
Various locations, Charlottesville
About $12 per film; free for students
The folks behind the Virginia Film Festival set the bar high for themselves with last year’s run, which surpassed all previous iterations
in terms of revenue and involvement. It not only drew the usual array of indie, foreign and classic favorites, but even carted in preview reels of Black Swan
and 127 Hours
in armored cars (and had G-man types in night-vision goggles on patrol during both screenings, scanning the crowd for digital cameras). Mum’s the word as to this year’s films, but the jury is still open for entries, in case you’ve got a masterpiece awaiting distribution.
What to bring: A meticulously planned schedule that makes room for between-venue travel time.