Rock the Blocks Music Festival
March 21-22, 2014
Written by Elise Olmstead
When my shoes hit the pavement on the way to a venue I am filled with great memories of music seen with friends. I think of stopping together in impatient, giggling clusters at stoplights and smoking cigarettes 20 feet from the entrance around a corner. I can feel the warmth of dancing bodies and smiling faces of much missed friends. These memories and more swirl in my mind from the weekends spent at Rock the Blocks and I was eager to once again make the trip to Blacksburg, VA.
The annual Rock the Blocks (this year being their third) takes place in the downtown home of Virginia Tech, and the crowd that was rockin’ was young and ready for music. College students and locals mingled with the music fans that had traveled for their favorite bands, making an awesome mix of personalities and music preferences. The two-day music festival hosts bands from a wide range of genres such as death metal, jam, indie pop, dubstep, folk, and more. Hosted in 8 venues over two nights, music fans of all kinds could pack in an amazing variety and quantity of music into the evening.
Friday night we were doing the sidewalk waltz with our friend and host for the evening Roger Gupta, who is also a photographer for Rock the Blocks. He’s the best at sneaking away to get great shots, so while he darted about we mingled with friends. After moseying our way into Ceritano’s and catching a minute of N.A.R.P.’s blues-y, energetic jam rock, we headed to see friends and up-and-coming musicians Threesound at Pita Vera’s.
The walk was short, as most of the festival is contained to an area of 6 blocks or so near Main Street. Frank’s was the furthest down the road, but the weather was pleasant and everyone was enjoying their time outside. Once inside Pita Vera, we were overwhelmed with friends, like artists Bryan Bailey and Nicholas Daily, as well as photographer August J. Threesound was playing their Lotus-like mellow jams mixed with originals sung by drummer and vocalist Bobby Crim, and the room was filled with a happy crowd that’s been ready for the music and the weekend. Dharma Initiative followed, and you could tell that many people were waiting for the Hampton Roads, VA based jam band. People who had been sitting got up to boogie and an influx of fans came pouring through the door.
We slid past Sharkey’s, which was lively and lit up by lights while DJ’s Manndibles, Boogieburg, DJ Pyrite, and Dioptrics made the wing place bounce. The Fritz was playing at Ceritano’s, an italian restaurant and bar. The restaurant happened to have a big room in the back great for holding a band and a crowd, and while we grabbed a drink from the large bar, we watched the room crowd with warm bodies as The Fritz played their rock-infused jams. Some friends ran out to Pita Vera’s to catch jam/groove band The Color J, or the world-infused tunes of Mateo Monk down at She-Sha. I take opportunity to grab a skirt from Whitley’s design, who is vending her patchwork clothes inside Ceritano’s. I’m grabbing my husband from a cigarette break as ELM starts jamming, and before I know it, it’s a complete fury of sweaty dancing in the room as girls in crop tops and high heels strut alongside the kids in flat brims and wire wraps. Everyone is truly enjoying tap their toes together and the first night ends triumphantly.
Saturday started late, but after some downtown lunch and a shower we felt ready to rock. We made XYZ Gallery our first stop, since it wasn’t open for music the night before and our artist friends had displays. The quaint student-run gallery was filled with the whimsical tunes of indie band Bombadil when we we entered, and when I craned in to the room I saw a crowd sitting cross-legged around the band. It was an intimate environment perfect for their light harmonies and simple indie-pop beats.
We sidle in with our friends Moogatu while they eat some dinner at Pita Vera’s, and before long the symbols crash and Les Rhinoceros’s set starts. The guitar shreds, heavy bass, and rock ‘n’ roll drums send the eating families out with to-go boxes, but the kids draw nearer to the music. Moogatu starts their set with my favorite Umphrey’s Mcgee song, “Nothing Too Fancy,” then jams seamlessly through their originals filled with harmonizing guitar into covers like Allman Brother’s “Jessica.” The jam band fans are swooning and their limbs are warming up for the night. Deaf Scene comes up next to “turn your tie-dye into black,” and though their jams may be on the heavier side, they still break out favorites like “Casey Jones” by Grateful Dead for the crowd.
Richmond musicians The Shack Band provide a breath of fresh air with their uplifting jazz rock in Ceritano’s, and girls are spinning hoops as the guys tap their feet. They play one of my favorites “Picture Yourself” that is perfect for singing along with guitarist Hunter Pease’s vocals. We break away to catch DELTAnine down the street at Champ’s where we see that the band is killin’ it and we happily re-unite with many of our friends. I love the space-y electronica of DELTAnine combined with the live guitar and drums, and their beats make me dance until the music has to end.
Before retiring we hit an after party in town, which similarly to last year’s after party, is in a house much too small for the crowd. We soak in as much time as we can with our friends before saying our goodbyes, and getting ready for the drive home on Sunday.
Rock the Blocks is one of the only music festivals I have attended that involves venues around the city and such a great variety of music types to choose from, but it works so well that I am curious why more cities don’t have similar events. The festival is becoming our annual visit to Blacksburg, and I look forward to the killer lineups and friendly faces in years to come. Keep on rockin’!
Check out the gallery below of photos from Roger Gupta!!