Floydfest 16 gathers unique acts, handles unexpected curveball

Katie Didit and Eric Smith of Moonshine District. The band performed at Floydfest 16.

Matt Wickstrom

The theme for this year’s celebration of Floydfest was “Dreamweaving,” and dreams certainly became a reality for Lexington group Moonshine District, who performed four sets during the weekend and garnered many new friends and fans thanks to their intoxicating harmonies and Appalachian-rooted songwriting.

Floydfest’s opening day had many of the festival’s “on the rise” bands taking center stage including Dalton Dash, Rebekah Todd & The Odyssey and Moonshine District, who performed on the Speakeasy and V.I.P. stages. Moonshine District lead vocalist Maggie Noelle showed off her impressive vocal range during a performance of “Treat ‘Em Right” and later combined with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Katie Didit for astounding harmonies on original tune “Down in the Holler”. The quintet later kicked their intensity up a notch for the lightning fast, foot stomping song “Cornbread” before closing their set with one of their newer songs, titled “Firestarter.”


As Thursday rolled around, fans arriving were greeted by the first of seven sets throughout the weekend from Love Canon, a bluegrass-infused 80’s pop cover band from nearby Charlottesville, Virginia. Led by guitarist Jesse Harper and Jay Starling on dobro, Love Canon put a fresh twist on many nostalgic hits during their handful of sets, including Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Toto’s “Africa,” Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” Thomas Dolby’s “Blinded Me With Science” and many more.

Standing out from the crowded collection of “on the rise” bands on Thursday were Washington D.C. area group Dale & The ZDubs and The Blind Owl Band from Saranac Lake, New York. A cross between rock and funk, the ZDubs performed an eye-popping set led by the intensity of front-man Dale. The Blind Owl Band, who also recently performed at Super Moon Festival in Eolia, Ky. followed the ZDubs with a set soon thereafter at the intimate Ferrum Workshop Porch as the sun set on Thursday’s action. Led by Arthur Buezo on guitar and James Ford on banjo, the group features hard-driving vocals with an equally as fiery rock-bluegrass twang.

As The Blind Owl Band’s set closed, the skies opened up, spurring festival patrons to run for cover and sound and stage crews scrambling to protect and break-down equipment. The persistent rainstorm bore down for over an hour, resulting in delays of fan favorites Railroad Earth and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. Fortunately for festival staff and fans, the remainder of the weekend remained mostly dry and sunny.

Friday marked Floydfest’s second full-fledged day of musical euphoria capped off by headlining sets from The Wood Brothers and Nahko & Medicine for the People on the Dreaming Creek main stage and Colorado rockgrass pioneers Leftover Salmon and funk powerhouse Pimps of Joytime late night on the Hill Holler and Speakeasy stages respectively.

The Pimps of Joytime set saw an overflowing crowd going outside of the spacious Speakeasy tent as they opened with “Freedom Dancer” and “Heart is Wild” off their most recent record “Jukestone Paradise.” Both tunes feature the free-flowing lyrical prowess of front-man Brian J combined with the angelic backup vocals of Mayteana Morales and Kim Dawson. The group later exercised their raw funk prowess on staple “Janxta Funk” and “Zydeco.”

If there was one day to circle as “must attend” for Floydfest 16, it would’ve been Saturday, even after Gregg Allman’s headlining set was cancelled. The festival said the music legend was in a Roanoke hospital and unable to make his scheduled performance. In his place, Leftover Salmon’s late-night set Saturday in the Pink Floyd Beer Garden was moved to Allman’s main stage slot and dubbed the “Buffalo Mountain Jam” and featuring sit-ins from other various Floydfest performers, including Keller Williams, Jeff Sipe, Monophonics, T Sisters, Kim Dawson and more. The once in a lifetime super-jam paid tribute to Allman with a cover of The Allman Brothers Band classic “Whipping Post,” featuring Williams on lead vocals. Warren Haynes, also an Allman Brothers Band alumni, also honored Allman with a cover of “Jessica” to close out his set with the Ashes & Dust band just prior to the collective jam.

Two of Floydfest’s most pleasant surprises took the Speakeasy stage by storm back-to-back on Saturday afternoon — Chicago’s The Steepwater Band and the T Sisters from the San Francisco Bay area. Both groups featured very contrasting but equally appealing styles, The Steepwater Band being an in-your-face blues rock outfit, and the T Sisters featuring synchronized folk-pop harmonies and no shortage of sass. Both groups sets featured songs old and new, with The Steepwater Band having recently released a record titled “Shake Your Faith” and the T Sisters prepping for a new release in early October.

Closing out Saturday’s musical action was a secret late-night concert on a tenth secret stage nestled within the nearby forest. The concert was dubbed “Lost in Time” due to Festival organizers changing the name of this year’s festival to “16” to match the year even though it’s the festival’s 15th go-around. The secret celebration was hosted by the Pimps of Joytime and also featured performances from Higher Learning and Marley Carroll.

After busking among the crowd Saturday afternoon, Lexington’s Moonshine District re-took the V.I.P. stage early Sunday morning for a wake-up set on the festival’s conclusive day. Soon to follow were jazzy bluegrass project Dustbowl Revival, whose unique blend of string and brass instruments created a magical sound equivalent of a New Orleans street band joining forces with a progressive bluegrass project.

Providing a relaxing change of pace mid-afternoon was Nederland, Colorado’s Elephant Revival. The soothing harmonies of Bonnie Paine and Bridget Law echoed beautifully throughout the surrounding natural amphitheater of the Hill Holler stage. The band has made waves with April’s release of their latest album “Pedals.”

Following Elephant Revival was Kalamazoo, Michigan’s Greensky Bluegrass and Keller Williams with his funk band More Than A Little. Greensky has reinvented and ascended the bluegrass ranks in their ten-year history due to the creative mind of lead vocalist and mandolinist Paul Hoffman and musicianship of guitarist Dave Bruzza and dobro master Anders Beck.

More Than A Little closed down Floydfest’s Hill Holler stage for the weekend with a rousing set of gospel and funk mixed with the typical charm of Williams. The group put a new twist on the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” and The Grateful Dead’s “Eyes of the World.” Coincidentally, Bruce Hornsby and his band The Noisemakers closed out the main stage just after More Than A Little’s performance. Last summer, Hornsby performed with The Grateful Dead during their “Fare Thee Well” 50-year reunion collection of shows in San Francisco and Chicago.

One final set from Moonshine District and up-and-coming group Con Brio helped to put an exclamation point on Sunday and Floydfest 16. Con Brio is a funk-pop outfit also hailing from the Bay area that features Ziek McCarter on lead vocals, embodying many of the same musical traits as the late Michael Jackson — a suave getup, nimble limbs, slick dance moves and a voice with range that grabs you and demands you attention. The energy pouring out from McCarter was directly reciprocated to the crowd who danced feverishly along with McCarter and company.

Floydfest offered more than it’s fair share of musical excellence, and the festival staff were prepared  for anything thrown their way proves how special of a place Floydfest and the people involved are. Saturday night’s super-jam was a once in a lifetime collaboration that came together rather abruptly and went off without a hitch. The mix of “on the rise” and big-time acts at Floydfest is unparalleled by any other festival, and is why Floydfest can be expected to have success for years to come.