In its Fifth Year, Appaloosa Music Festival Kicks up its Heels
In its Fifth Year, Appaloosa Festival Kicks up its Heels
By Maggie Fry
Photos Courtesy of AppaloosaFestival.com & ScythianMusic.com, by Meghan Smith, Craig Spiering and Danielle Lussier
Appaloosa – DC’s Roots Music Festival – takes place over Labor Day Weekend, August 30 – September 1, 2019, at Skyline Ranch Resort in Front Royal, Virginia. The festival, hosted by the Washington DC-based band Scythian (sith-ee-yin) is celebrating its fifth year.
Maggie Fry checked in with Danylo Fedoryka to learn more about Appaloosa Festival and Scythian:
The Shenandoah Valley’s own Americana festival, Appaloosa, turns five this year, and to celebrate it is expanding from two days to three. Founded by the members of the folk rock band, Scythian, the festival takes place at Skyline Ranch Resort over the Labor Day Weekend.
The children of Ukranian immigrants, Danylo Fedoryka and his brother, Alexander, grew up in a musical family. “My mother went to Julliard and she taught us all of our instruments. When we were kids, we used to travel the country doing classical chamber music.” That training came in handy when the Fedoryka brothers decided to form a band. “She taught us how to practice and have a nice tone and things like that, so by the time we grew up and rebelled with folk music, we inherently knew how to practice and form a band, even though this is the first traditional band with a drum kit that my brother and I have ever been in.”
The band that would eventually become Scythian started with the two brothers busking for gas money. “We were in school and we found ourselves staring at the car with no money for gas.
I said, ‘Let’s go out to Old Town Alexandria and see if people will put money in the bucket.’
[Alex] was like, ‘Okay.’ At that point, we only knew two songs, two Celtic fiddle tunes that we played over and over again. It went really well, but we were like, ‘Man, we can not only play two songs. This is getting embarrassing.’ ”
The brothers not only learned more songs, but formed a full band in 2004. “We all quit our jobs on the same day,” Fedoryka recalls. Since that time, Scythian has released thirteen albums, seven of them made in the studio with crowd-funding from fans. After touring for ten years, the band decided to start their own festival. “We kind of got the idea to found it because we were always leaving to find work,” Fedoryka said. “And D.C. is such a huge city but there were no Irish festivals here, and there were no Americana festivals here. There was a huge void.”
Appaloosa has definitely filled that void. In 2018, the two-day event drew over 6,200 people, and this year the festival has been expanded to three days to celebrate the fifth anniversary. In addition to Scythian, this year’s lineup features Dustbowl Revival headlining on Friday night, D.C. band Aztec Sun on Saturday and Steep Canyon Rangers on Sunday.
Although the bands on the lineup are from all over the U.S.–and Screaming Orphans from Ireland–the Appaloosa planners try to showcase local talent. “We definitely try to include some,” Fedoryka said. “Kentucky Avenue is from D.C. and Aztec Sun is from D.C. and then we’re from the area, too. We definitely try to represent. We have such a wide variety of interests musically, and the festival is kind of an incarnation of that.”
Founded in 2014, the festival has grown organically in many ways. “Because we tour all these different circuits and we essentially put on the festival ourselves, we aren’t a big corporate investor that says book these huge $250,000 acts and then people will come. We’ve done it organically and also we know who is going to be the next famous person.”
A good example of this is Billy Strings, whom Rolling Stone has named “…the bluegrass guitarist you don’t want to miss.” “So it’s kind of got a reputation of being a place you go to have an intimate musical experience with people before they become famous,” Fedoryka said. “We met Billy Strings just jamming, not even playing the festivals. He was jamming with the musicians just trying to get into the festivals. We met him and we knew he was just destined for greatness. And now he’s become the most popular touring act in the Americana scene. And so that’s kind of been our thing for Appaloosa, we have our favorite bands from the Irish circuit, the Americana circuit and then the Indie-Folk circuit.”
The festival grounds are a reflection of this organic focus as well. In its first years, the festival rented a mobile stage for the main venue, but in 2018 a crew from Strong Oaks Woodshop built a traditional timber-framed barn to be a permanent main stage. The building was constructed from reclaimed lumber from area barns that had been dismantled, and was sponsored by Bold Rock Cider. “We try to make everything beautiful. Like the main stage has twelve different reclaimed woods from old Virginia barns. The beer garden has tables and benches made from reclaimed lumber as well as the bars.”
Fedoryka and the staff have worked to make Appaloosa the kind of festival where twenty and thirty-somethings can come, have a few drinks and have fun, but also a place where families feel welcome. “It’s kind of a joyful atmosphere,” Fedoryka said.
Even the name was chosen to reflect a joyful, fun-loving attitude. The Skyline Ranch Resort, where the festival is held, offers guests horse-back tours of the Smoky Mountains, and when the brothers were choosing a name, they turned to horses for inspiration. “So we were thinking of names and my brother, Alexander, was like, ‘An appaloosa horse.’ The name is catchy, it represents the grounds and it just sounds awesome,” Fedoryka recalled. “And the Scythians were the ones who invented the stirrup.”
Fedoryka is especially proud that the young festival is attracting national attention. “…we were nominated along with Austin City Limits, Jazzfest New Orleans and the Lucidity Festival… as best family-friendly festival at the Fest-X Awards in Las Vegas this year,” Fedoryka said. “That makes me really proud because our community used to have a really rich bluegrass history, but it has pretty much all died down. And so to be part of a revival makes me really happy.”
The current members of Scythian are Alexander Fedoryka on fiddle, Danylo Fedoryka on guitar, Larissa Fedoryka on bass, Nolan Ledewski on flute and whistles and Fritz McGirr on drums.
For more information, go to appaloosafestival.com.