Rock The Blocks Music & Art Festival

April 8-9,2016, Blacksburg, VA

Words by Elise Olmstead

Photos by Roger Gupta

Rock the Blocks started for me this year at The XYZ Gallery, rubbing knees with some beautiful people during an aromatherapy meditation session led by Amanda Frizz.  It was hard for me to concentrate, because my mind was racing about the great music to come later in the evening.  It wouldn’t be the last serene moment of the weekend, but it was a great way to stop and catch a breath before diving in!

Founded in March of 2012, Blacksburg, VA, has been historically taken over by tunes and avid music fans every frigid Spring.  Rock the Blocks takes place over the course of multiple venues and restaurants downtown, uniting the local community as well as welcoming new visitors.  Bands include nationally touring musicians as well as smaller local musicians and genres range from indie to jam.  We always have a great time experiencing new music and leaving our comfort zone of usual festival lineups.

Besides filling the town with great music, Rock the Blocks also works to highlight visual artists.  Artists display at The XYZ Gallery where musicians also play.  As the evening settles in, it becomes a crowded, intimate room filled with stimulating treats for your eyes and ears.  This year’s artists included Lacey Vilandry, Jackie Harder, Wondrous Whitley Clothing, and August J Photography.


Friday night we started the evening with a dinner at Gillie’s, then headed out to 622 North, which boasted a jam band lover’s dream lineup that evening.  Ripejive, a local jam band, started the music, then LITZ and The Southern Belles kept the tunes going.  The venue was packed with enthusiastic music fans as well as wandering locals, and by the time the neon lights hit Austin Litz’s singing face, it was hard to even move your feet near the front of the stage.  The Frederick, MD, band recently released a new album Illusion of Time, which they played multiple tracks from, including  “Gypsy Queen” and “Round Trip Ticket.”  The set closed with a hot “Devil Went Down to Georgia” that was a crowd pleaser.

The Southern Belles, a Richmond based band, took the stage at 622 next, and we took a moment to check out some more venues before digging into their groove-centric set.  Those Manic Seas, an indie rock band from Richmond, created a unique experience at Champs.  The entire set’s vocals were sung from a face on an old television that sat atop a mannequin.  Was the vocalist somewhere behind the scenes singing along?  We’ll never know, but it felt like he was right there with us on the TV!  Shaed from Washington, DC, was rocking Ceritano’s, and I couldn’t help but flock to the beautiful female vocalist like a moth to a flame.  Their chill “colorful music” resonated with me and I wrote their name down to stream some tunes on a work day flow.

Back at 622 North, The Southern Belles set was heating up.  Playing old favorites like “All Night” as well as songs from their newest album, Close to Sunrise, like “Wreck,” The Southern Belles create a relaxed party atmosphere that makes you want to raise your hands and sway.  They don’t let you get too relaxed, though, breaking out catchy guitar riffs and dance-able beats at every turn. “Jet Trails” is a personal favorite of mind that they played because of the funky beat my toes were tapping almost involuntarily the entire time.  Other bands that played Saturday include “devilgrass” band Atoka Chase, and Toxic Moxie, a punk band with an electronic twist from Richmond.



Saturday was a great day of friends and food, cooking pancakes in the morning and welcoming new folks into the fold of what would be an amazing Saturday night.  Live painter Bryan Bailey joined us and I was proud to collaborate on his canvas for a moment at Sycamore Deli during jam band Giles McConkey.  The blissful start to the evening descended into a whirlwind of venue hopping with our pack of friends, as we rushed off to check out some electronic tunes from Electrobro at Champs then Moogatu at Ceritano’s.  Ceritano’s is a favorite spot of ours during Rock the Blocks because of the large dance floor they have where the bands play.  With beers in hand, we watched the face-melting progressive rock band, led by the amazing guitarist Chris Lee, play some originals as well as an amazing cover of “Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica.

There was no time to waste as we rushed back to Sycamore Deli to catch The Mantras, our long awaited headliner for the evening.  There’s no one that quite shreds it for us like The Mantras, and their album Jam Bands Ruined My Life is one of my favorites of all time.  I got an amazing “Before My Time” into “Girlfriend is Better” back into “Before My Time,” which affirms my love for the band’s seamless mash-ups and segues.  We had to skip out early though to see some of the shredding “sci-fi middle eastern” band Consider the Source at Ceritano’s, where we shook our bones until we were completely tuckered out.  Other bands that played Saturday night were the amazingly theatrical M.H.& His Orchestra, one-man-jamtronica-band Aarodynamics, and local Americana band The Rusty Seesaws.

The next morning we were glad to have some chill time with our friends, and didn’t really want to leave. It is always an amazing time at Rock the Blocks and 2016 was no different.  I commend the organizers for uniting the community and the venues for a great event that embraces both music and art, including local talent and national bands.  Blacksburg is a great town and I’m glad they let music fans play in their streets for a couple days every year!