The Festy Experience in Nelson County is a three-day musical gathering curated by The Infamous Stringdusters. Two members of the band live here in Charlottesville, guitarist Andy Falco and banjo player Chris Pandolfi, and I’m happy to call them friends.
Before The Festy last week, I listened to Chris and Andy rehearse in the Pink Warehouse, Downtown, where they were practicing some new tunes for their side project, The Founding Fathers. On Thursday night, they unofficially kicked off the festival with a secret set at the High Country Basecamp, just a stonesthrow outside the Devil’s Backbone concert grounds.
Fans who arrived early to set up their tents were treated to nearly two hours of music from The Fathers, ranging from their personal acoustic tunes all the way through to electronic samples of Phoenix and Miike Snow with original blistering solos on electric guitar and a specially-outfitted electric banjo. Andy and Chris are some of the best pickers in the game, but they also have a broad musical scope, and it was a treat to see them break the seal on Festy 2012 with an energetic but intimate performance in the cool mountain air.
Anyone who missed out on The Festy this year should consider that it’s a pretty easy drive to get out to Nelson, and a picturesque one to boot. You can really make the most of this health-conscious festival by participating in the 5k or 10k trail race, yoga workshops in the mornings, or a biking challenge on the mountain trails. It’s worth it to just go for a day, but to realize the full potential energy of The Festy, you’ve got to camp out. A lot of the performing artists stick around for the weekend, which allows for collaborations on stage, in the campgrounds, and spaces in between, at all hours of the day.
During the Stringdusters Saturday night set, I ran into some old pals, Stan Marshall and Luke Wilson, and over a beer we decided to have a proper acoustic music night after the show ended. Luke, his brother Abe, and Stan came over to my campfire with their instruments, and sang harmonies on John Prine songs for an hour or two, passing the guitar and the Evan Williams around. Other camping neighbors would stop by, sit down on the grass for a while, and have a listen. Then, out of the misty air, appeared a man and his tenor guitar: local musician Nathan Moore, who had played a Festy set on Friday afternoon.
Nathan and I eventually walked over to see if the ‘Duster camping area had a session going on. We turned the corner of a carved out path to see Chris and Andy hanging out with their friends and some of the other Festy artists, including Asheville-based players, Bobby Britt playing fiddle and John Stickley on guitar. Nathan joined in, and you could tell that things were going to get good.
After a few tunes, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Margaret Glaspy suddenly rose up, and started to croon a really haunting number. The name of the song escapes me, but the atmosphere will stick with me. Everyone around the area slowly stopped talking, mesmerized by Margaret and the music, and for the next couple of minutes all you could hear were the crackle of the logs and her smoky vocals, paired with string accompaniment. There was a welcoming, comfortable vibe around the fire, which is another reason why The Festy is great… it’s inclusive, not exclusive. You have to seek out that creative energy flowing throughout, tucked away in the forests, but The Festy creates the environment for it to happen.
Serendipity struck again when Margaret and Nathan realized that they played back-to-back on the Main stage on Friday, and they were just then meeting for the first time late that night. She asked if Nathan knew “Wallflower,” a Bob Dylan tune he didn’t recognize at first, but they worked through the chords together, figured out the song, and sang it beautifully. The highlight of their collaboration was a duet of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe.”
Shortly after that tune, a couple raindrops began to fall, and gradually we broke away from the hang. I had found the magic I was looking for. Sometimes you have to stay awake until the early morning hours to discover it. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the mountains and the enchanting musical encounters in the groves, The Festy is a true Virginia event not to be missed, and one I hope to return to for many years. –Andrew Greeley
Nathan Moore playing a new tune at The Festy below…