Summer Music Festivals Are Back On Stage

Jun 18, 2021

The Dharma Bombs play Appalachian Dixieland music.
Credit Dharma Bombs

One of the hallmarks of summer is making a comeback in 2021: the music festival. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

[Dharma Bombs performing]

The Dharma Bombs haven't gotten to perform live in more than a year – so they're especially excited to make a comeback with music festivals resuming this summer.

CHRIS GATENS: The last show we played was, I want to say, December of 2019, believe it or not.

Chris Gatens plays guitar, mandolin, and banjo. They're one of the Virginia bands featured at this year's FloydFest in late July. It's a music festival down in Patrick County that draws in big names from the folk, alt-country, and psychedelic rock corners of the music world.

GATENS: It's going to be something truly special, no doubt about it. … It's something that we really love to do, getting together and making music, and something joyous for people to dance and enjoy for themselves, and so, I mean, we just couldn't be more excited.

Sadly, if you haven't already bought tickets to FloydFest, it's too late – Media Director Brian Swenk said they sold out in April.

Brian Swenk is the media director for FloydFest in Patrick County.
Credit Brian Swenk

BRIAN SWENK: Everybody's so ready to have some normality and some music back in their lives. You know, the people that work on this festival, they can take 16 months to put on one festival, 16 months of planning and work. And this is what we do with our lives. We've totally committed our lives to putting on musical events for people, so it feels good to kind of have your identity back.

While Swenk wouldn't give precise numbers, he said the organizers did decide to reduce their capacity this year as part of their COVID safety plan.

The same is true for the Red Wing Roots Music Festival, which runs the weekend of July 9th at Natural Chimneys Park in Mt. Solon. Managing Partner Jeremiah Jenkins said they reduced ticket sales by several hundred – more than 10% of their normal capacity – due to COVID. And while there are still some three-day and Friday-only tickets available, they probably won't last long.

Red Wing Roots Music Festival is a financial supporter of WMRA.

JEREMIAH JENKINS: Live music and that experience of Red Wing is a respite. It's healing. It's important for ourselves and also for our community.

Jeremiah Jenkins is one of the managers of the Red Wing Roots Music Festival.
Credit Jeremiah Jenkins

After a year-plus of limited human contact, festival-goers will have ample opportunities to make up for lost time with an expanded dance schedule. In addition to their usual square dances –

JENKINS: The Revelers, who are performing from Louisiana, will be leading a cajun dance. We also have Charlie & the 45's doing a honky-tonk dance as well as honky-tonk karaoke, and we also have two-step and waltz lessons being led on both Friday and Saturday nights.

Jenkins said it's been a difficult year for the entire industry.

JENKINS: … and that's every sound person and staff member and even the port-a-john companies and the people that work behind the scenes to kind of build the village of a festival … the musicians and all of the people that put on shows for venues and festivals and fairs and everywhere, they've, we've all kind of sat on our hands, hoping that we could get through this pandemic. We are delighted that the vaccination did come into play when it did, and that the regulations were lifted when they were, because we were right on the wire and not certain if we would be able to gather again this year.

Another local event, Festy, changed their entire setup during the pandemic – and decided they liked it that way. What used to be a multi-day music festival held at three locations in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina has transitioned into a season-long concert series at each venue. Their Virginia location is in Earlysville, about 10 minutes outside of Charlottesville. Michael Allenby founded the event.

Michael Allenby founded the Festy event.
Credit Michael Allenby

MICHAEL ALLENBY:  It's on a 600 acre property called Adventure Farm, which has just amazing westward views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A small portion of that is called Chisholm Vineyards, which is where we've set up a bandshell.

Their new format keeps events at a smaller capacity, and has designated seating areas for groups to reserve. And instead of having people stand in line at food vendors, they can order food and beverages through a QR code and have it brought to them.

ALLENBY: We don't see it as restricted … People said it's a more elevated experience. It's a way to have a more intimate experience with the artist, and to have fewer distractions around the event.

Their next show is on Friday, June 25th, with the Kitchen Dwellers.

On July 15th, a brand new series of music events kicks off at Pale Fire Brewing in Harrisonburg. 'Voices of the Shenandoah' is an original music and storytelling event organized by the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. Mariama Dryak is their program coordinator.

You can pitch your own original song or story about the river for the chance to perform at upcoming Voices of the Shenandoah events by calling 540-459-8550 to leave a voicemail, or emailing an audio clip to

Mariama Dryak is the program coordinator for Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.
Credit Mariama Dryek

MARIAMA DRYAK: We are sharing a bit of education, facts, science about the river, and we're also really having folks who are connected to the river share that connection through their stories and music, and so the intention is really just to bring people together in celebration of the river, share in great brews at local venues and live music.

[Voices of the Shenandoah featured artist Joshua Vana singing 'To the River']