Written by Elise Olmstead
Photos by Roger Gupta
I couldn’t believe it was already the 6th annual Rock the Blocks this April 14-15, 2017. The trip has been a staple of our early spring every year, walking and rocking those Blacksburg blocks in March with great friends and plenty of local flavor. The festival brings music to various venues, restaurants, and bars in Blacksburg, VA, drawing local college students as well as music fans from all over the area.
This year was an anomaly in that it was beautiful weather, even unseasonably warm. As we made our annual stroll to the CAIO office to get our wristbands, the streets were filled with students dangling their legs over brick walls, a band playing for tips on the sidewalk, and a general pleasant feeling that was as intoxicating as spring pollen. There was definitely a calm feeling about Rock the Blocks this year. It was not as heavily attended, but the lack of a pressing, overwhelming crowd gave the attendees room to breathe. The weekend felt balanced and peaceful, with genres of every kind of music to enjoy, time taken to have conversations with friends, and plenty of walks in the light breeze.
We tend to bounce back and forth between venues, especially traveling with one of the festival photographers. It makes for an experience full of excitement and variety. For the sake of not making you dizzy, though, I won’t describe my back and forth, though I assure you it was a lot of fun. Friday night we even bounced over for some awesome Greek food at Souvlaki, as one benefit of constant travel is the plethora of amazing restaurants and smells that enticed us as we walked.
The weekend started Friday at 7PM with some lighthearted music at She-Sha, like the solo folk musician Reed Yearwood, and the female indie duo The Geebies. I enjoyed the music, but did not find the venue comfortable for watching music unless you were sitting down having dinner. Saturday She-Sha hosted a Sine Wave Surfers Showcase of electronic dance music artists, which was kicked off with a music production workshop by Yamin Semali, who discussed a favorite instrument of EDM and Jam musicians alike – the Ableton.
622 North is one of my favorite venues during Rock the Blocks, as I find myself usually enjoying the bands that play there, and you can’t beat the drink prices. The venues at Rock the Blocks often take over a genre theme to allow music fans a little less bouncing around the city. On Friday, Booster McConkey jumped 622 off to a great start with their classic rock jams, and the great music continued with Seph Custer & The Papa Tom Band, who closed their set with an awesome mash-up of “Clint Eastwood” by The Gorillaz and “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Erin & The Wildfire ended the night, her amazing voice blazing like an untamable wildfire across the grooving crowd as she sings “If you want my body, and you think I’m sexy, come on baby let me know.”
Saturday 622 hosted one-man looper Mateo Monk, who sang some of his poignant roots songs off his album “Stars and Stripes,” jam band Threesound, who is a staple of Rock the Blocks and is sounding better than ever, and the charming and melodic husband and wife duo Megan Jean and the KFB.
Champs always has a raging crowd, and this weekend was no different. As I leaned in to order a drink, I apologized for yelling in a girl’s ear and she responded with “No problem, just give my boyfriend a good tip. I need a vacation.” Friday night the venue had a variety of electronic acts, including analog DJ Mettaforce Funk, creative house DJ Electrobro, producer Spark Arrester, and LJ MTX. Saturday night the genre took a rowdy turn, featuring instead punk tinged with unique flair. We caught some of The Tills, whose lead singer looked like Syd Barrett, and disco punk band Toxic Moxie, who garners a large cult following in the RVA area.
Ceritano’s has the biggest room suited for music, so they often feature what I would consider the headliners of the weekend. Nationally touring acts like LITZ and The Fritz fill up the room with music fans. Friday night there were many sit-ins among the bands, Mateo Monk joined Buddhagraph Spaceship, Nick Thrasher and Austin Litz of LITZ sat in with “Get Slutty” jamtronica musician Aarodynamics, and then LITZ tore up the stage with some favorite originals like “Time.” Saturday The Fritz drew a huge crowd, Jamar‘s soulful voice carrying over the entire room and driving them into a frenzy. One intoxicated attendee in front of me straddled a speaker pole and made motions at it, calling it “naughty.” Stoop Kids closed out the weekend in a weird and wonderful way, waving their arms like vishnu as they spit rhymes over jammy breakdowns.
The temperate weather was well suited for the daytime music that took place Saturday at The Farmer’s Market, starting bright and early at 9AM, and including some of our favorite artists like Seph Custer and Mateo Monk. We spent some time out in nature around the area as well, which is not an opportunity we’ve had in the past, when the event was usually frigid.
It was another beautiful weekend at Rock the Blocks, and it’s great to see them continuing the tradition. It’s situated right at the perfect time of the year when I am craving festivals, and it manages to satiate my hunger for the time being. It’s great to see a festival getting so many different people, musicians, and local businesses involved. I can’t wait to go back next year.