Rooster Walk 6 Review

May 22-25, 2014

Martinsville, VA

by Elise Olmstead

photos by Roger Gupta


My first year at Rooster Walk in Martinsville, VA, was a welcome start to the beginning of our festival season.  It reminded me of all of the core reasons why we believe in throwing festivals and bringing people together, and set an example for community-oriented music events everywhere.

Rooster Walk Inc. is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting music, arts, and education in the Martinsville/Henry County area, and the crown jewel of a festival they throw every Memorial Day weekend celebrates their local community.  Many local businesses sponsor the event, and Martinsville natives crowd the grounds to join in and contribute.  Created in memory of two Martinsville natives: Edwin “the Rooster” Penn and Walker Shank, many of the ticket buyers, staff, and musicians have a special bond with each other over the memory of their lost friends.  Over the weekend we met many people who knew these two well and even told us stories from when they were alive.  The festival donates its proceeds to local and regional charities, and also raises money for the Penn-Shank Memorial Scholarship at Martinsville High School.  Even volunteers contribute to the charities by donating $20 when they apply to volunteer.

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Immediately as we walked the grounds, we felt the uplifting vibration of family and home.  While the locals could have showed us a cold shoulder, they embraced everyone around them instead.  We found ourselves waving to friends we haven’t met yet as well as wrapping our arms around those we don’t get to see often that are dear to our hearts.  We were immediately comfortable as well as charmed by the grounds where the festival was held.  Stringed lights bordered the food vendor area as well as twinkling over small peninsulas that held the VIP hospitality area and the “Kid’s Coop.” We crossed a small bridge to the “Creekside stage,” with a Beer Tent available close by.  Crossing yet another bridge on the right hand side of that area, you make it to the main stage and vendors.  Here we found the vendors, artist galleries, and many of our artist friends painting on the hill.

The music started Thursday night for VIP patrons only, and we were lucky to enjoy a little bit of Major and the Monbacks, Empire Strikes Brass, and the space-y funk band Urth until midnight hours.  Friday the grounds started to fill in and familiar faces began cropping up everywhere, but we were forced to find shade as the sun was scorching. Sitting on a log hearing the gentle sounds of the creek was a great way to spend the afternoon.001 (21)

Jam Grass trio Bootstrap Slick started off the day on the Creekside stage and we sauntered over in time for Charlottesville-based Travis Elliot and Friends.  We enjoyed his blues-y rock guitar and unforgettable melodies in originals such as “Hearts of Paper” and a charming Fleetwood Mac cover. Sanctum Sully’s folky bluegrass and three part harmonies filled the evening air at the MDCU stage and we couldn’t help dancing to a stand up bass solo, originals like “Devil’s Island,” and cover of “Waker” by Widespread Panic.

John Stickley Trio was an obvious favorite amongst the Rooster Walk patrons, as I had seen multiple people walking around with black tank tops emblazoned with his name beside a stick figure.  Music lovers of all ages crowded around the stage to dance along to the jazzy bluegrass tunes emanating from John’s incredibly fast guitar picking and violinist Lindsay’s emotional fiddle.  As the sun was setting Anders Osborne set the night on fire with his uniquely American blues rock songwriting, emphasized by the incredibly talented band behind him.  He starts out with the toe-tapping redemption song “Echoes of my Sins” from his album American Patchwork, and continues to wow the crowd with originals new and old like frantic drum beat of “Aim Way High”, or the relaxing beach-y sound of “Marmalade.”

The Pimps of Joytime got everyone dancing with their soulful grooves and funky beats.  The females in the band shined brightly, treating everyone to some delicious percussion on bongos, wood blocks and tambourines as well as contributing power house vocals.  Combined with the smooth vocals and scorching guitar of Brian J, the unstoppable beat of John Staten’s drums,  and the clever sampling and bass from David Bailis, not a single soul could stop from grooving to their signature “Janxta Funk.” We get down to some acoustic music mixed by Tucker Rogers at the Silent Disco, but then soon find ourselves heading to bed to get ready for the next full day of music.

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Saturday starts with eggs sunny side up and the sounds of Empire Strikes Brass floating into our campsite.  A new stage, The Smooth Ambler, opens up for daytime music up on the hill.  The pretty harmonies of female band After Jack soothes us as we wander, and after Eric rests a while at the camp site we make our way to Stephane Wrembel, who I was told by friends that I couldn’t miss.  His set was indeed impressive, and both Taco and I were blown away by his progressive jazz style.  The acoustic virtuosos showcased their knowledge of music theory and would seamlessly go from impressive solos back into high energy toe tapping music.  It’s a perfect segue into the joyous bluegrass of Infamous Stringdusters, who tease the audience with soothing acoustic sounds then quickly change into speedy plucking breakdowns.  They played favorites like “Long Lonesome Day,” “Mountain Town,” and a cover of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up.”

Kings of Belmont plays their first set of the weekend up at the Smooth Ambler Stage as we watch the sun begin to set, and their cover of “Time” by Pink Floyd sets the mood for the evening.  Karl Denson’s blistering set lights up the night and the sounds of his jazz flute infect the soles of everyone’s shoes as they rush to the front of the stage.  The band showcases each of its talented musicians, letting the horns scream their joyful sounds, the organ wail, and the guitar play a scorching solo.  Karl all the while plays his jazz flute in beautiful harmony over the band’s tight beat.  Singer Dabrissa lends her vocal prowess to the mix for “My Baby Likes to Boogaloo” and the band members dance in unison on the stage.  During the encore we recognize the tune from The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” before closing the set with an epic jam.

Particle starts their late night set with the organ/synth heavy “Triple Threat” that sets the tone for a dance happy set.  Karl lends his jazz flute to the jamtronica tunes for a few songs, then a Pink Floyd cover of “Have a Cigar” sends the crowd screaming.  Artists are painting by the wayside and everyone is feeling the infectious vibe.  Hands are thrown in the air and drinks are flailed as they play a rousing “E-Pro,” and we all find ourselves singing “Na-na-nananana-na-na!”  Their encore teases the Beverly Hills Cop theme and when the music stops we find ourselves wandering with permanent grins stuck to our faces.  “Particle killed it!” was a popular comment that I heard from passers-by the rest of the evening.

While most Sundays are the time to pack up and move on out, Memorial Day weekend gives us a much needed Monday off and the music continues until late Sunday night.  I treat myself to a nice nap then get ready for a full day of great bands.  We amble our way to the Smooth Ambler stage and everyone is already cuttin’ a rug to the band Amazing Mongooses, a rock power trio from Decatur, Georgia.  I am filled with happiness as we watch our friends The Shack Band take the stage next, and so grateful to be back at a festival with all of my favorite people.  My husband and I boogey along to their happy sing-a-longs, swaying to Josh Crowley’s sax, humming to Hunter’s on-point vocals and guitar,  and bobbing our head to the tight, clean beat.

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We run down to the creek to watch the rubber ducky race at 5 and run along the water with the kids to watch the ducks float valiantly down the current.  Even adults are getting excited and hooting and hollering, cheering along their kids or just any kid in  particular.  It was a fun way to get everyone involved and the lucky winning ducky received 3 tickets to Floydfest.

The Kings of Belmont take the main stage at 5:30 and the crowd is ready to get down.  The band has played every Rooster Walk since the first year and dedicated their set to Walter Shank.  They start out with originals with touching and clever lyrics like “Benjamin had a Gun” and “She Bends,” while also mixing in some of our favorite Ween covers “Transdermal Celebration” and “Roses are Free.”  Kids of all ages are dancing, throwing frisbees, and doing handstands in front of the stage.  As a thank you to the gracious crowd they encore with sweetheart serenade “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” and we all proclaim that their set was just too good to be true!

William Walter & Co. keep us moving with their blues-rock harmonica mixed with acoustic and electric guitar.  I watch Roger Gupta break into a smile when they play his favorite song “Ocean” and the whole crowd is in a gentle smiling mood. Funk band The Lee Boys take the MDCU stage at 8 and bring the energy back into our step, entrancing us from start to finish and encoring with an enthusiastic rendition of “Voodoo Child.”  Taco wandered back flabbergasted by the performance and was talking about it the rest of the night.

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We may have lollygagged here and there during the weekend, but we all waste no time in arriving to the stage for Yarn.  We wanted to soak in the last of the music and try to keep Rooster Walk from ending.  We sat across the tiny creek on the little VIP hospitality island in perfect view of the stage for Yarn’s extra long set that ended 45 minutes past it’s scheduled midnight curfew.  Pauly from Empire Strikes Brass joins in halfway through with his ultra sexy saxophone and they play the song “Love Light.” Yarn wows us with crowd favorites like “Eminence Front” (which got me up and moving in mere seconds) and “I Know You Rider,” the ultimate teary-eyed, hug filled song for us to sing along to as the night came to a close.

We left Rooster Walk feeling refreshed, happy, and serene.  The people that we met revived us in heart and soul, and we watched a community as well as people from all places come together to enjoy the beautiful music.  Which is, if we think about it, the whole point of music festivals all along.  We are glad to join in on a Memorial Day tradition for so many, that means a lot more than just the headlining name on the lineup.  It’s truly an event that remains surprisingly human.  Until next year, cock-a-doodle-doo!