- The following first appeared in The Floyd Press on April 30, 2015 with the title From Party to Festival.
A new generation of festival promoters, musicians and musical-minded friends are bringing homegrown music from the backyards, living rooms and front porches of Floyd County to the open countryside for a three day music festival (May 29 – 31) called Hollafest.
What began as a shared birthday party between the two Hollafest owners, best friends Josh Penn (25/ pictured in the center below) and Brandon Hollins (26), became a word-of-mouth festival last year that drew about 300 people and gave local jam bands new confidence and exposure.
Funded out of pocket and by hand labor, the 2014 festival happened in a Willis “holla” where Penn was living at the time. He explained that he and Hollins have lots of musician friends with sound equipment who said, ‘If you can get us a stage we’ll play.’ Penn replied, ‘If you can get us more bands, we’ll do a weekend festival.’
Both Penn and Hollins work in construction, so they had no problem building a stage, but organizing and running the festival was a group effort. One of the bands involved, the Fat Catz from Blacksburg, worked as staff when they weren’t playing. Hollins, whose mother flipped burgers at the event, described how they put it together in two months. “We learned as we went,” he said.
The first Hollafest was more of a gathering, said Penn. “This year it’s a real festival.” Billed as “a homegrown music festival supporting the music, art, families, and farms of Floyd,” Hollafest 2015 will showcase the best of Floyd and incorporate a supervised children’s area (hosted by Rising Sun Community School), camping, concessions and vending, along with a roster of performers playing a range of musical genres, including alternative rock, folk rock, Americana, heavy metal, bluegrass and blues.
Joining the two founders in organizing Hollafest 2015 is Ella Zander, who does online and printed media promotion and other organizational tasks for the festival. “I think the coolest thing about the music scene around here, and especially with people our age, is that everyone knows each other, and the local jam bands all play with each other and support each other,” she said.
Zander, who previously worked at a radio station in Boston, is currently a teacher’s assistant at the Rising Sun Community School. She described how she was so inspired by Hollafest 2014 – “to see what they did out of nothing, how enthusiastic people were and how everyone worked together” – that she jumped on board, asking ‘how can I help?’
The 2014 festival took place on 14 acres. This year the festival team has a dream spot to work with, a 200 acre farm owned by Floyd artists Gwen and Bruce Goepel. Zander, who rents from the Goepels, approached the couple, and they were very supportive of sharing the land, which is located about five minutes south of town, off Route 221.
Drawing on the name that the Goepel’s call the property, Camp Floyd, Penn and Hollins came up with the idea to name parts of the festival site after places in Floyd. The driveway is Route 8, the main festival walkway is Route 221 and the vending area is called “The Town of Floyd.” A slowly inclining hill in a wide open hay field provides a natural amphitheater that looks down onto where the creekside main stage will be.
Penn says he was inspired by Floydfest and by the new crop of small homegrown music and art festivals that have been popping up all over the region. Pink Moon, a homegrown festival in West Virginia is in its 7th year. Twisted Cow, a small nonprofit festival in Rocky Mount donates proceeds to the local Franklin County Future Farmers of America. Hollafest is working with Citizens Preserving Floyd County, a non-profit citizens group that has been working to stop a proposed gas pipeline from coming through Floyd and surrounding counties. Some of the festival proceeds will go to support the CPFC.
“We want to celebrate everything we love about Floyd County. Our lineup is local, our food is local, our vendors are local, and we are locals. We are inspired every day by this place, not only by its rich musical heritage, but by the mountains and rivers and rolling pastures,” the Hollafest website reads.
The majority of the music line-up is local, although headliner Crystal Bright & the Silver Hands – a gypsy band that won an On the Rise return booking at Floydfest – will be coming from Greensboro, NC. Local rising talent, like Morgan Wade, Seph and TK and Daniel McBroom, are scheduled alongside more established Floyd musicians and bands, like Scott Perry, Spoon Fight and Time is Art. Buddhagraph Spaceship is a Blacksburg band that lists their genre as “everything from old time to the far side, and the Fat Catz space rockers, also from Blacksburg, are returning, along with other regional bands.
Floyd’s Deer Run Drifters have been receiving wide acclaim for their Americana Folk-rock. They won’t be playing at Hollafest this year because they will be on tour, but Penn promises they’ll headline next year. As their drummer, he’ll be flying back to Floyd from a Deer Run Drifters Colorado gig to run Hollafest and then back to Colorado again. The band is celebrating their album release, Restless Youth, at Dogtown Roadhouse this Friday, May 1st, Penn said.
Tickets for Hollafest, which are being sold at events and can be purchased online (hollafestfloyd.com), are $50 a weekend (as of this writing) but will incrementally increase to $80 for the weekend and $30 for a day pass as the festival draw nearer. Zander says they are capping the ticket sales at about 750 for this first annual festival and will slowly build up its infrastructure. “It’s much more important to us to be well-organized and professional than to sell out this first year,” she said.
Currently the production team is looking for building material sponsors. They’ve enlisted the help of friends and family for driveway improvements, land clearing, construction projects and other festival preparations. “People helping people” is what Hollafest is all about, said Hollins. “It’s another wonderful thing about Floyd.”