2019 Appaloosa Festival: You’re Invited to the Family Party
The 5th Annual Appaloosa Roots Music Festival took place over Labor Day weekend, August 30 – September 1, 2019. Attendees enjoyed three full days of music at Skyline Ranch Resort in Front Royal, VA, just outside of Washington D.C. With a focus on bluegrass, Americana and Celtic music, the 2019 Appaloosa featured Grammy Winner Steep Canyon Rangers, Dustbowl Revival, Scythian, YARN, Fireside Collective, Humming House and more.
Coming Home to Appaloosa Festival
Appaloosa Roots Music Festival is a small, intimate festival. It feels like being invited to a family party, which makes sense. The festival was founded by Dan and Alex Fedoryka of the Celtic rock band, Scythian. One of the reasons they decided to start a festival back in 2014 was because they were on the road so much and missed DC family and friends. It also gave the brothers an opportunity to hang out with other bands they had gotten to know on the festival circuit. This was Appaloosa’s fifth anniversary and the staff pulled together a very nice show.
I arrived at the Skyline Ranch and Resort around 5:30 in the evening. Check-in was really easy and not at all crowded. Next, I went to find a camp site. The VIP camping area is mostly under trees and the sites were measured out and numbered. Again, people were friendly and everything went very smoothly.
As I drove in, I noticed hammocks all over the place: groupings of hammocks and single hammocks. Hammocks everywhere. Of course, I didn’t have a hammock, so I chose a camp site with no trees. No sense in wasting a resource.
I introduced myself to my neighbors, Melania and Kyle—two hammocks—who helped me put up my canopy. As I was setting up my tent and hauling the rest of my gear out of the car, I could hear Scythian starting their Friday evening set. It was very easy to hear the music from the camping area, and I fell asleep to it every night.
Let the Music Begin at Appaloosa Festival
After I got set up, I walked to the main festival site to check it out. I bought a very yummy pulled pork sandwich from Burnt Ends BBQ and a glass of A Hopwork Orange from Blue Mountain Brewery and settled in to enjoy Humming House from Nashville, an Americana band leaning toward rock with some nice ballads. They were followed by Upstate, a septet from New York’s Hudson Valley. They were closer to the jazz line than the previous band and the vocal harmonies of the trio of women fronting the band were amazing.
I noticed on both Friday and Saturday that the bands and music during the day had a heavy Celtic influence, but after the sun went down, the music took on a very jazzy and even funky sound. I had been looking forward to Dustbowl Revival, but I admit that I am a light-weight and usually go to bed around 10 p.m. This is mostly because I have to get up at 5:45 a.m. to get to 8:00 classes during the week, and I although I tried to push it, as 11:00 approached I knew it was no use. I was happy to find that I could hear the music very well from my camp site.
Dustbowl Revival was the last band to take the main stage and I was surprised by their sound. I knew that they had played on the viral YouTube video with Dick Van Dyke trying to get his wife to dance, and I was expecting bluegrass, but their sound was much more rock and roll. In any case, they sang me to sleep on Friday.
Catch Dustbowl Revival at Huck Finn Jubilee, Ontario, CA (September 27-28, 2019)
Rustic, Refined, Reclaimed Appaloosa
On Saturday morning, I got up and decided to get some photos of people in hammocks—a hammock company was one of the sponsors. They were mostly full of children, but a few adults managed to snag some. In addition to the hammocks, there were also games everywhere such as frisbee golf and corn hole. Appaloosa is definitely a place to kick back and relax. Dan Fedoryka told me in a previous interview that when he and his brother were planning the festival, they wanted to create an event where twenty-somethings would feel comfortable kicking back with a few beers, but families would not worry about bringing their kids.
I went in search of coffee, which I found at the Old Tin Coffee House. They sold their brew out of a small utility trailer that had been built out with log siding. It fit perfectly with Appaloosa’s rustic, Virginia aesthetic. The main stage is built from lumber reclaimed from old barns and the bars and stools in the beer garden and VIP tent are made from reclaimed lumber as well. The wood has been finished so you can see the beautiful grain, and the lower portion of the bar in the beer garden looks like sections from a tin roof.
After buying coffee, I needed to find shade because being a delicate Northern flower, I can’t take too much heat and sunshine. Thankfully, there were shade tents in strategic places all over the festival grounds: one in front of the beer garden, one by the kid’s play area and the VIP tent. There was also a very interesting contraption made of PVC pipe that sprayed a fine mist of water and had slim hoses connected to it. That was almost as popular as the hammocks with the under twelve crowd!
Saturday Musical Delights
The first band on Saturday was Poor Man’s Gambit, with classic Celtic reels and jigs. One thing that I thought was a very good idea was the use of two stages side by side. I have previously been to festivals that had multiple stages, but they were scattered all over the grounds. With this set up, one band was setting up while another was playing, and this avoided that 15 or 20 minutes of dead space between acts. You can tell this festival was designed by musicians!
As Poor Man’s Gambit was finishing on the Main Stage, the Hillbilly Thomists were getting ready next door on the Saloon Stage. The members of this group are all Dominican brothers and they play straight up bluegrass and do it very well.
What is a Hillbilly Thomist?
In 1955, the southern author Flannery O’Connor said of herself, “Everybody who has read Wise Blood thinks I’m a hillbilly nihilist, whereas. . .I’m a hillbilly Thomist.” She said that her fiction was concerned with the ways grace is at work among people who do not have access to the sacraments. The Thomist (one who follows the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas) believes that the invisible grace of God can be at work in visible things, just as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, in the person of Christ.~ (From www.dominicanajournal.org/music/the-hillbilly-thomists/)
The next band on the Main Stage was the Gothard Sisters from Seattle, Washington. I had never noticed before this weekend how many groups who play the Irish festival circuit are made up of siblings. The Gothard Sisters are, indeed, sisters and they have beautiful, haunting voices. They also opened their set with one of my all time favorite songs, Andy Stewart’s “The Queen of All Argyll” and I learned that a mandolin is sometimes referred to as a “hobbit guitar.” Useful information, that.
Beyond the Appalossa Main Stage: Vendors, Kid’s Tent, Workshops
It was at that point that I decided to wander the grounds a bit and visit some of the vendors. There weren’t many, but they focused on hand-made items and unusual art pieces and the offerings were good quality. Another favorite part of festivals for me is the food and there was a nice assortment of food sellers, as well. (I opted for pad thai and grilled chicken for lunch, both of which were excellent!)
In addition to the two featured stages, there was also a stage at the entrance, a kid’s stage and the Late Night stage. You could hear music no matter where you were on the grounds. I caught One Street Over on the Gateway Stage, with an enjoyable mix of Celtic and American folk tunes. The Kid’s Stage featured music for kids and some even by kids. The group T21 is made up of brothers Tommy and Liam on piano and cello, and the name refers to Trisomy 21 because their younger brother, Michael, has Down Syndrome. Sibling Rivalry is a fiddle group made up of, you guessed it, siblings. It’s a trend.
Many of the bands who were performing also put on workshops. The Gothard Sisters did an Irish step dancing session and there were fiddling and guitar workshops as well.
Appaloosa: Celtic Pop, Americana and Funk
I came back to the main stage area as the Hussey Brothers were finishing up and Screaming Orphans were about to start. This is a group of four sisters, not orphans, originally from Donegal, Ireland, who play a mixture of Celtic and pop. They were one of the highest energy groups at the festival and the first one I saw get an encore. They really had the crowd on their feet and I ended up listening to Fireside Collective, the next group, while standing in line at the merch tent to get a CD and have it signed.
Scythian played next on the Main Stage and the crowd, of course, loved them, especially the 80’s dance mix. They were followed by Parsonsfield, a band with an eclectic Americana sound, which transitioned well into the funky vibe of Aztec Sun, the final act on the Saturday Main Stage schedule.
Read more about the host band, Scythian – and the history of Appaloosa Music Festival:
Sunday Morning: Mass & Donuts
Events on Sunday morning began with Mass at 9:00. Mass was held in an enormous tent at the front of the property and plenty of people attended. After church, the crowd headed for the food vendor Fork’d for fresh cinnamon and sugar dusted donuts—the traditional post-communion communion.
Sunday morning music began with a bagpiper on the main stage. If there were any doubts about the Celtic flavor of this festival, they have now been laid to rest. The Sunday schedule featured the Williams Brothers, Honeyday, Kentucky Avenue, Ben-David Warner, Six-String Soldiers, Jessica Willis Fisher, Yarn, Shane Hennessey and another appearance by Parsonsfield. The Steep Canyon Rangers were the Sunday night headliners with their award-winning bluegrass. Scythian ended the night and the festival on the Main Stage.
I left Appaloosa with T-shirts, CDs and a new appreciation for the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and its bluegrass and folk music culture.
I hope Scythian enjoyed their party because I certainly did!
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