- The following first appeared in The Floyd Press on July 17, 2014.
Floydfest founder and producer Kris Hodges has been a musician most his life, playing gigs in Roanoke and beyond since the age of 14. Hodges, who is primarily a drummer (and is pictured below with his son), eventually got tired of the musician’s lifestyle and being on the road. In 1992 he moved to Floyd, lived on a farm and was mentored by the late A’Court Bason, a Floyd musician and instrument maker.
In 1999 Hodges and his wife Erika Johnson opened Oddfella’s Cantina, a funky café with a Southwestern flavor and a featured performance stage. When the live music events that the couple brought to Floyd outgrew the space, they sold the Cantina and followed their bigger dreams.
Floydfest was born in 2002 with a world music theme. Since then, music genres have shifted with changing themes each year. From its fledgling beginnings, the now 5-day festival has grown to sellout proportions and has been named one of the top 10 festivals in the country by Forbes, Outdoor, The Smithsonian and other magazines.
Hodges, who is 43, cites the melting pot of Floyd, its natural beauty, local culture and artisan community for providing a perfect canvas for such an event to take off. “There was also a growing national interest in roots music and stringed music,” Hodges said about the timing of Floydfest’s beginnings and its subsequent success.
In the past, Hodges has been focused on the content part of the festival, busy behind the scenes booking bands and manifesting plans. More recently, he’s been taking a more vocal lead role, speaking out in interviews about the festival’s 13 year history, plans for its sustainable future and the benefits it has brought to Floyd.
“Having the Floyd namesake, we have to represent, we’ve always embraced the Floyd community and always will,” Hodges told Casey Worley, the anchor/interviewer of Citizens’ Community Show, which airs on Citizens Digital Channel 20 and Analog Channel 2. Hodges cited a Radford University economic impact survey that determined that the festival had generated over $2 million dollars for the local economy in the year the study was done. “That was in 2004. Can you imagine what it is now?” Hodges asked.
With Hodges and co-founder Johnson at the helm, Across the Way Productions (the company that produces Floydfest) employs 8 full-time professionals (primarily Floyd Countains), hires 300+ locals seasonally and has a long list of local contractors and businesses that it partners with. The festival has donated thousands of dollars annually to local groups – such as Floyd Music Lab, Floyd Artisan Trail, Floyd Songwriting Project, Safety Rope, Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Jacksonville Center, Band Boosters and many more – and has been generous in its ticket donations to local charities for auctions. The opportunity to volunteer, trading work hours for tickets, has always been a festival tradition.
At a recent workday on the 80 acre site off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Hodges talked about the changes for Floydfest 13 (July 23- 27), some of which were made in an effort to match logistical operations with the success of the eco-friendly event. He acknowledged that getting patrons from off-site parking lots to and from the site has been the most challenging part of running the festival. Last year there were back-up problems during check-in and at the end of the festival. There was an increase of campsite sprawl, and heavy rains and mud created parking lot problems. “Weather is the variable, and you do the best you can with that,” Hodges said.
“It’s a transformative year for us,” he continued, noting that his company is always working to improve and do what is needed. “We wouldn’t have been able to survive this long if we didn’t take care to do the right thing,” he said, adding that the changes came down to the overall aesthetics and safety of the festival. “The trick is managing and sustaining it, now that the demand is there.”
Steps that have been taken in an effort to maintain what Hodges describes as “the boutique, culture arts and music festival vibe and experience” include controlling the number of attendees. Hodges explained that they shaved off 1,000 tickets in 2013 and are reducing ticket sales by an additional 1,300 this year. “We’d like to keep it at around 11,000. That’s a comfortable number,” he said. Last year it was reported that an estimated 15,500+ attended Floydfest 12. “We don’t want to be the biggest festival. We just want to make the best festival and make it comfortable for a limited audience capacity,” Hodges emphasized.
Changes have also been made to separate logistical operations from the festival experience onsite. There will no longer be onsite vehicle camping, including RV camping. Hodges described the new general admission parking lot and box office check-in, a flat airstrip in Meadows of Dan, named the Alpha Lot, which can accommodate about 6000 cars and can queue up 860 cars at any given time. According to the Floydfest website, general Alpha Lot parking is $15 for single day parking and $25 for multi-day parking.
RV camping will be at the Delta Lot, a couple of miles from the site, and car camping is at the Bravo Lot, next door to the Delta Lot. Buses will run between parking lots and the festival around the clock and patrons will not be separated from their gear, as they were last year. “There will be a truck or trailer behind every bus,” Hodges said. Artists and VIP ticket holders are still able to park onsite, although VIP tickets, as well as RV powered spots, sold out early, Hodges reported. Non-powered RV spots are still available (as of this writing).
Another festival change is the introduction of tent tags for 15 x 15 campsites at a cost of $50 a tag. The Floydfest population had grown so big that the festival was experiencing campsite sprawl and tents in some areas were packed tightly together. The tent tag addition was made for safety, aesthetics and patron comfort, Hodges said. “We’re going to try to accommodate about 3,000. I think it got up to 5,000 tents last year.”
Hodges explained that ticket prices have gone up incrementally about every three years to keep up with the cost of living and the added expense of increased attendance and the services that requires. The cost of headliner acts, which have also increased over the years, is also a factor setting ticket prices. “It’s a massive production,” he said.
The cost of a one-day ticket started at an early rate of $90 and is currently set at $100. Tiered ticket prices increase by $10 to $20 as availability of tickets decreases, and price breaks in bundle packages are available. A four day ticket is currently listed at tier three for $220. (Hodges suggests that patrons purchase tickets online to avoid gate prices.) “Staycation” ticket options – allowing attendees to check-in on Wednesday and check-out Monday – encourages individuals and families to make Floydfest their vacation destiny and to utilize area attractions.
This year’s theme is rEVOLutionary, reflecting the changes within the festival and with the word “LOVE” spelled backwards and highlighted in press releases and on the festival’s website. The musical line-up has a strong Reggae/Blues/Rock flavor, and Americana is also well represented. Hodges said he purposefully booked musicians that speak to revolutionary ideas, such as headliners Ziggy Marley, Lauryn Hill, Michael Franti and Spearhead and Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, who won a Best Blues Album Grammy this year for their collaboration on “Get Up!”
With ten unique stages featuring close to 100 musical acts, a Children’s Universe, Imagine Teen Tent, Healing Arts Village, Global Village, performance arts, outdoor living adventures, craft beer and regional wine, food and art vending, workshops, panel discussions on sustainability topics and even a Revolution-wear fashion show, 2014 has all the makings to be a banner year.
“I’m happy and proud that we’ve become so popular that people want to be part of this. When you come from your heart and have a quality product, people respond,” Hodges said. - Colleen Redman
Post Notes: For more information contact 745-FEST, visit floydfest.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The photo above were taken at the recent workday mentioned. Photo #1 appeared on the front page of the paper and pictures volunteers putting up the Children’s Universe sign. Photo #2 is of Hodges and his and Johnson’s son Tristan. Photo #3 and 4 are of Kurt Hallex. Hallex said he fell in love with Floydfest last year (his first year attending). He loved it so much that the Falls Church resident stayed to help with break-down. This year he is a seasonal staff member as the designer of the 15×15 campsite layout and manager of “26 ambassadors makings sure that everyone finds a spot and has a good time.” Hodges’ and Johnson’s daughter Chloe is pictured in photo #5 cutting watermelon with other volunteers to serve to the workers. In the last photo a volunteer sprays off a festival tarp and festival coolers in prep for the July 23rd festival opening. An archive of Fl0ydfest stories and blog posts are HERE.