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This must be the place: Rolling on from town to town, been so many places, still don’t know where I’m bound

Leftover Salmon performs at FloydFest. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Leftover Salmon performs at FloydFest. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

With my feet dangling out of the back window of the truck, a cool morning breeze rolled through the Tacoma and woke me up. The first thing I saw was the silent pond below the vehicle, a handful of small tents situated around the body of water.

It was around 7:30 a.m. Saturday. A few hundred yards down a rambling dirt road off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Southwestern Virginia, I emerged from the truck and into another day at FloydFest. 

Track down my sandals. Reach for a bottle of water in the cooler. Snack on the last of the beef jerky stash. Pop open the folding chair and sit down with a slight sigh — flashbacks of wild-n-out moments and haphazard conversations from Friday night running through the mind. 

FloydFest was the first large music festival that I’ve been to and covered since the “before times,” since the entire music industry shutdown and its future unknown amid uncertain times. Some 11,000 or so music freaks gathering atop a mountain in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Acts throughout the weekend included Billy Strings, Goose, The Avett Brothers, Leftover Salmon, Molly Tuttle, and so on (and on). Dozens of musicians and groups converging in a rural setting, this serene, wooded property of melodic possibility in an era when we need the power of the universal language that is music to bring any and all together, once again. 

For someone like myself who has been immersed in festivals since I was in high school — hundreds of events under my belt — the once-familiar landscape of a largescale live music setting felt (at least initially) foreign in nature, more so this odd sense of self and of place after being away from the beautiful, organized chaos of it all for so long.

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Throughout the weekend, I kept reflecting on what it means to partake in a music festival, why it’s important and why it means so damn much to me, and on so many levels, too — whether practically or intrinsically. 

Why do I keep being pulled into this magnetically-charged giant mass of humanity and sound, of backwoods camping and random human interaction, of day-long wandering and discovery? 

Well, because the entire thing — the process and purpose of these gatherings — is meant to ultimately bring people and artists together, to find a higher meaning to our daily lives once we pack up our gear on Sunday and head “back to reality” come Monday morning. 

It’s that idea of happenstance situations of new friends, new ideas, and new music. Take what you learned while away from home and apply to your everyday avenues of people, places, and things. Go forth and share the good word of songs immortal and human beings connecting on multiple levels, something that’s increasingly rare in this current chapter of the digital revolution and seemingly meaningless priorities. 

My first festival was Garden of Eden in Vermont. September 2001. I was 16 years old. Just got my driver’s license a week earlier. The start of 11th grade was just a few days away as my parents (for some damn reason) handed me the keys to their new minivan to pick up three of my riff raff cronies and hit the road for unknown melodic adventures. 

It was Ben, Sean, Shannon, and me. Three teenage dudes and our badass friend that was a girl. Come together up in our small Canadian Border town and combine resources for the impending festival. One of us had some weed. Someone had beer and cigarettes. I had money for gas and snacks from my part-time gig as the breakfast/lunch cook at the nearby McDonalds. 

Teenagers, but not naïve. Definitely street smart for our age, for good or ill. And yet, we still didn’t know what to expect. Though we were all die-hard music freaks, none of us had been to a music festival before. 

Four of us rolling into the Addison County Fairgrounds for performances from northeast favorites Strangefolk and Gordon Stone Band, etc. Sneak in the contraband in hidden compartments in the minivan. Park along the tree line. Exit the van and soak in the vibrant ambiance swirling around us. 

Rollercoaster sets of rock, jam and blues music. Pass the joint around. Sip the cheap beer. Laughter and high-fives in solidarity of the moment. “Can you believe we’re finally seeing Strangefolk? I mean, they’re right there in front of us,” you find yourself saying to your best friend. Shake hands with strangers who became fast friends. More laughter. More high-fives. 

The sun soon disappeared behind the Green Mountains. Head over to the drum circle surrounding the bonfire. Sit down on a log together and in awe of being far from home, finally on our own — meandering down life’s path in our own time and direction desired. 

Wake up in the minivan. Four adolescent bodies crammed into two front seats and two rows in the back. Emerge from the vehicle. Track down my sandals. Reach for a bottle of water in the cooler. Snack on the last of the beef jerky stash. 

Pop open the folding chair and sit down with a slight sigh — flashbacks of wild-n-out moments and haphazard conversations from Friday night running through the mind. This many years later, that deep, genuine sentiment of joy, gratitude and discovery remains within the sacred realm that is the live music festival. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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