In 2020, music fans and festival-goers were held in suspense as one by one, events were canceled or postponed indefinitely due to the worsening pandemic. When FloydFest did the responsible thing and added themselves to the list of events that wouldn’t be happening that summer, fans began to look hopefully toward 2021. Their cautious optimism was rewarded when it was announced that FloydFest 21 ~ Odyssey would be taking place from July 21-25, albeit with a reduced capacity and several changes to the 2020 lineup.
FloydFest is known for being heavy on the string bands and requisite jam bands, but there were a few surprises in store at FloydFest 21. Here’s a look at some highlights that went beyond what you might have expected to see.
Short & Company*
Short & Company, a Kentucky band with an eclectic style heavily rooted in the blues, brought everything to the stage that’s essential for a flawless performance. They were unpretentious, solid as hell musically, and were obviously having a really good time. This is clearly a band who has put in the time and has the natural rapport that allows them to create a sound that comes from a place of authenticity, and everything from their original tunes to their searing cover of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” was damn near flawless. That alone makes them worthy of mention here.
Grammy-nominated, philanthropically-minded, and with a style and voice that resonate with power and love, Devon Gilfillian should be a household name by now. His energetic performance blended rock, hip-hop, soul, funk, and more, and wrapped up with a call for the audience to move past politics and division and to move forward in unity, which is a message that can’t be shared often enough. At the same time, Gilfillan puts his money where his mouth is. In 2020, he re-recorded Marvin Gaye’s classic album “What’s Going On,” which according to his website, “raised funds for low-income communities and communities of color, providing resources and education around the democratic process.” More of this, please.
Dr. Bacon sounds like if your granny told the church to fuck off and had her wedding in the bayou, but still wanted to dance like the old days and invited your grungy punk cousin to sit in with the band. And from there, everyone jumps in. Dr. Bacon weaves genres together so fluidly that it’s impossible to pull them apart, and while genre-defiance is hardly a new thing, they do it with a deftness that makes it all sound new again.
Consider the Source
From their engaging master class on the workshop porch to their blistering all-electric set, with an electric-hybrid set in between for good measure, Consider the Source’s first FloydFest appearances showcased their versatility and gave a glimpse of what audiences worldwide already love about this “Sci-fi Middle Eastern Prog Fusion” band. Never a band to sit still for long, the trio took advantage of the pandemic-forced break from touring to work on finishing their latest album, “You are Literally a Metaphor.” While drummer Jeff Mann admits the situation “wasn’t ideal” and bassist John Ferrara laughs about his crash course in technology, the band, including guitarist Gabriel Marin, managed to continue their work together through “show and tell”-style rehearsals over Zoom and shooting ideas back and forth via email. Thanks to technology and the cohesion that comes with shared vision and ideals, Consider the Source were able to stay on track and their performance was among the strongest showings at FloydFest this year.
Sexbruise? was hardly what one might expect to see at a festival where it seems almost like a requirement for each band to cover at least one Grateful Dead song, and they were a welcome surprise. Poppier than most of the acts at FloydFest, Sexbruise? are winning audiences over with their ridiculous lyrics, bass-heavy melodies, and pancakes flying through the air. They perform with the intensity of a small child up past his bedtime, running on birthday cake and the knowledge that his parents won’t send him off to bed until the last guest is on their way. It’s a near-frantic experience, with occasional breaks for a snack before they’re off again. Beautiful.
Brooklyn-based Turkuaz tore up the stage in a stellar retelling of the classic Talking Heads album Remain in Light, alongside Adrian Belew and Jerry Harrison, both of whom were instrumental in the production of the original album and subsequent tour some forty years ago. In addition to the Remain in Light set, which had been in the works for more than two years before debuting at Peach in early July 2021, Turkuaz played a blistering set of their original material that sported a series of hard-hitting rhythms and smooth harmonies.
Keller Williams is a FloydFest legend, and for good reason. The multi-instrumentalist known for his high-energy stage performances is in too many projects to list here, and he performed four distinctly different sets at FloydFest this year, including one on the children’s stage with his daughter, Ella; one with the Keels; and a jam that included members of many of the bands who performed at this year’s festival. From his offbeat originals to his jangly bluegrass covers, there’s a little bit of Keller that works for everyone.
Abby Bryant and the Echoes
Another up-and-coming standout were the winners of 2019’s On the Rise competition, Abby Bryant and the Echoes. Known then as Downtown Abby and the Echoes, the band’s new name reflects a maturity that’s evident in their upcoming album, “Not Your Little Girl,” recorded during the pandemic. The band played a unique set each of the five days of the festival — including cover sets and original material — and were joined by a host of guest musicians, including stellar saxophone player Justin Pinckney of Chupacabras and Lazy Man Dub Band, both excellent bands in their own right, and guitarist Josh Daniel, who rose to fame with his daily podcasts during the pandemic. Still clearly a fan favorite, Abby Bryant and the Echoes embrace a variety of styles, from soulful ballads to danceable bar pop to straight-up rock with a hint of blues and psychedelia, drawing from the band’s varied influences to create a sound that keeps folks coming back.
Browsing the vendors is a must at any festival, with booths offering a variety of tie-dye clothing, floppy hats, beautiful handmade jewelry and more. Landon Fraker and Lynne and Lucille were two vendors who caught the eye of many passing festival-goers, drawn in by their offbeat artistry and bold creativity. Fraker’s black and white sketches are reminiscent of Shel Silverstein without being derivative and his full-color art beautifully blends realism with whimsy, and Kelli Fisher of Lynne and Lucille creates everything from creatively-shaped planters (think human skulls and rear ends) to earrings made of bones and recycled musical instruments. It’s almost worth a trip up to the mountain just to admire the art; there was much more to be seen along the way.
From the old hippies to the young people decked out in full festival garb, there seemed to be this unspoken understanding at FloydFest 21 that everyone was there for one thing: to listen to the music, without the need to intrude on the space of anyone else or to upstage the performers. One of the bands, Consider the Source, noted the appreciable balance between being family-friendly and “not so much,” and this seemed to be a prevailing view held by many of the artists and fans at the festival. The staff, from volunteers all the way up to Sam and Trisha Calhoun, who run the show, were professional, kind, and helpful. At the core of things, the people are what make a good festival, and these are some of the best.
Artists with asterisks* by their names are part of this year’s On the Rise competition, which allows fans to vote on their favorite up and coming artists. Winners and runners-up return next year for featured performances. You don’t have to have been present at FloydFest to vote for this year’s On the Rise winner. To vote, download the FloydFest app, click on “On the Rise,” and hit the thumbs up on the artist of your choice. Voting remains open until August 1.
Dr. Bacon photo by Rich Levine