The best of the fests: 21 events to kick off your fall fantastic

The Festy Experience lights up the night over a long weekend this October. Photo: Tom Daly The Festy Experience lights up the night over a long weekend this October. Photo: Tom Daly

The Festy Experience
Friday, October 5 to Sunday, October 7
Devils Backbone Brewery (200 Mosby’s Run, Roseland)

Every music festival has an identity of its own. Names like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Bumbershoot, and Coachella may have been head scratchers at first, but now they’re branded destination festivals where dozens of acts spread out across multiple stages and throngs flock to make the scene and play their part against a backdrop of music, celebrity heavyweights, light shows, public art, carnival rides, holograms, overindulgence, and ’round-the-clock parties.

The Festy Experience in Nelson County has built its brand with a different approach. Home grown as an intimate artist-curated gathering, the Festy taps into a broader community of music, food, earth-conscious and wellness-minded pursuits. The festival—as its name suggests—plays it straight and simple, offering an accessible, “everyone friendly” event where families are accommodated, outdoor enthusiasts get their thrill, and people of all makes and models can cut loose.

The food options are locally sourced—curated by The Rock Barn’s chef (and French Laundry alum) Benjamin Thompson, and the beer is almost as revered as the live music. There are wellness offerings too, like morning yoga and late night campsite jams with occasional sit-ins from performing artists. The range of accommodations include reserved car camping, family camping, and quiet camping as well as the high-end Show Sherpa camping package option that includes a cell phone charging station and French press coffee makers. Local artisans bring their wares and the pastoral landscape sets the tone for a high quality good time.

“The best thing about this year’s Festy is that we finally know exactly what it is that we are doing,” said co-founder Michael Allenby. “From the conception of the idea three years ago, we have been sculpting the vision from each of the partners’ inspirations. It’s great to have the three-headed-focus of amazing music, local sustenance, and an authentic outdoor experience. Can’t wait for the fans to arrive that weekend and let the participation begin.”

Festival hosts The Infamous Stringdusters depart from conventional booking techniques to invite friends, influences, and colleagues to fill the bill on three stages. This year will see more than 25 musical acts take the stage, from industry vets like Leftover Salmon to mainstays Trampled by Turtles, Keller Williams and the locally based Sons of Bill and Carl Anderson. The Festy website, in its folksy way, notes the addition of Margaret Glaspy: “We heard Margaret at a party after a gig in Boston. She was playing solo, just her with a guitar. Everyone was mesmerized. “ Without the usual barriers between audience, promoter, and performer, the playing field gets leveled, and The Festy Experience literally becomes about playing in the field.

Charlottesville Pride Festival
Saturday, September 15 from 2-6pm
Lee Park

A lot has changed in the world since 1969, when the Stonewall riots fostered what is arguably the birth of gay pride; the seeds of a tectonic shift in the social evolution of homosexuality in the country from one of polite discretion to a passionate and chaotic struggle for identity and community. The spark that ignited Greenwich Village then has been fanned by over four decades of open warfare, with both sides of the “moral question” battle-hardened and methodically devoted.

As a cultural flashpoint, you really couldn’t get a more relevant issue, and Charlottesville’s LGBTQ community is planning to make a big entrance into the conversation.

On September 15, Cville Pride will host Charlottesville’s first ever gay pride festival at Lee Park. The new-ish nonprofit, more formally addressed as the Charlottesville Pride Community Network, is throwing a more-than-a-party with food, kid-friendly activities, live music, and all the standards you’d expect from this kind of community shindig, plus some you normally wouldn’t, like drag queen performances.

But the bigger goal is to develop an LGBTQ community in Charlottesville, connecting people in the area to support and information and providing local gay-friendly vendors with a platform to reach out to communities that are commonly denied services elsewhere. Go to for more info.

Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival
Saturday, September 29 from 11am-5pm
Lee Park

The fleeting beauty and light sweater weather of fall is sometimes little comfort against the looming specter of winter, with its icy road conditions and big, bulky coats. This is precisely why all the best ancient civilizations threw kingdom-wide ragers for harvest festivals: It was an absolute morale necessity. To our credit, every September for the past 15 years, Lee Park has played host to the Charlottesville Vegetarian Festival, an ideally autumnal celebration of the rich cornucopia that is fall.

The festival isn’t just a big pile of plants, though. Live music, artisans, crafts, kid’s activities, and street performers are just the tip of the iceberg, as it regularly boasts an impressive average of around 100 exhibitors each year. And the focus isn’t just on what you eat, but also on how you take care of yourself in other ways. Medical practitioners of all ilks are typically on hand to provide acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic services, among others. And of course, it goes without saying that there will be droves of fauna-friendly foods to try from organic local vendors. And it’s a great opportunity to begin bolstering your defenses against the myriad ailments and inconveniences that sadistic Old Man Winter brings with him.

Listen to our discussion of festival season from last week’s Soundboard radio show here…story continues below.

Top of the Hops Beer Festival
Saturday, September 22 from 3-7pm
nTelos Wireless Pavilion

Forty smackers gets you general admission to this beers-of-the-world event, which includes a souvenir mug, festival guide, unlimited two-ounce samples of craft beer from around the globe, and access to the live entertainment, games (there’s a corn hole tournament!), and Devils Backbone Brew University seminars. Not interested in drinking? Nab a Designated Driver ticket for $15 and enjoy the fest’s benefits, minus the brew. Get more info at

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