Written by Matthew J. Hunnicutt
Photos by Eli Tuchler
April 21st – 23rd marked the fourth annual Progress Festival. Festivities were held on the beautiful grounds of Highland Farms in Dublin VA. Their mission: “To generate an avenue for artists to express themselves and excel at their craft; to create a unique blend of both local and out of state artists to have a positive and beneficial influence in our community”. And despite heavy rain and muddy conditions, that’s exactly what they did, showcasing more than 25 Musical acts, artists from all mediums, nonprofit and environmental speakers, all organic, locally sourced food, and even a Russian bath house/Sauna.
The Property is the perfect mix of wooded hideaways and lush green pastures with camping available in both environments. I arrived Friday evening through a moderate but steady rain to find Music underway. Buddhagraph Spaceship kicked off the evening to a moist but enthusiastic crowd. The venue featured two opposing stages located in a wooded clearing with about 100 feet in between. Above the largest stage was erected a massive 50-foot tarp which served to keep campers dry during even the heaviest bouts of rain.
Despite the inclement weather, festival organizers managed to keep a roaring bonfire burning for the entire three-day event. Located adjacent to both stages, campers took turns warming themselves around the blaze, which featured a kenetic metal sculpture that spins faster and slower relative to the fires heat and provided many, myself included, with hours of heat and entertainment.
Friday night, campers were treated to performances from Parkers Pill Box, Upstate Rundown, and Oak City Slums to name a few. But the night really came alive for me when Jouwala Collective hit the stage. This RVA group blends Gnawa music, traditional African and spiritual songs characterized by trance inducing chants and rhythms, with modern influences of funk, jam, jazz, rock, soul, reggae, blues, chaabi and electronic. It’s an experience that must be felt to be understood. During their sets, I find myself alternate between hypnotically swaying with eyes clenched, and frantically grooving as fast as my feet can take me, a true roller-coaster of sound and emotion.
After the set, I slipped away to the Kitchen. Food was provided by Highland Farms resident Wynne and Mother Walley Hedlesky, and was prepared using organic, locally sourced ingredients. I opted for the tacos made with “happy local chickens, Zesty Sauce, black beans and rice”. Wynne and Walley were the sole food vendors for the event so they had their hands full, but were more than up to the task. During the weekend, I tried every item on the menu and they were all unique and absolutely delicious.
The night ended with a glorious display of unity and harmony with an organized drum circle in which all campers were invited to participate.
What can I say about Saturday morning besides the struggles were real. We’ve all been there. I got the poured all night, tent leaked, socks are wet and its still raining blues, and I really don’t wanna. But I gotta, and I know as soon as I do it’s going to be better, and of course it was. When I arrived at mainstage I was a little surprised at what I saw and more surprised by what I heard.
About half of the camp was gathered under the big blue tarp hiding from a pretty heavy rain, rocking to an even heavier band. Saturday morning at a festival is usually filled with dreamy notes and airy lyrics designed to lure you out of your tent like that smell that wafts off the pie in those old looney tunes and beckons you with a curled, come hither finger.
This does not describe Horse Culture. The high voltage self-described southern gothic punk trio blasted campers out of their soggy sacks with hard rocking metal riffs and screeching vocals. If I hadn’t been there I never would have believed it, but it was just what everyone needed to kick the tent and drop the day into high gear.
After a healthy dose of rock and mimosas courtesy of some anonymous and generous soul, I made my way back over to see Wynne for some pancakes with cardamom spice peas, and cream. Then back to the stage in time for Roc Lava. A three-piece Rap Group, Roc Lava uses original beats and voice modulation technology to produce a unique style reminiscent of Bronx style with down-tempo dance and break beats.
Around three the weather finally broke and a helicopter could be heard, and finally seen, overhead. A few campers are treated to rides but the weather doesn’t permit for very long and the excursions must be cut short.
The Saturday Night lineup included performance by Lucid Traveler, Jordan Hull, Of Tomorrow, and Electrobro. But I would have to say that the highlight for me, without question, was You Bred Raptors? Performing out of NYC, You Bred Raptors? is an instrumental, experimental post rock ensemble made up of 8 string bass, cello, drums and two glockenspiels. They performed the entire set in costume with blank masks which added to the eerie atmosphere of the performance. As the name suggests, the band pulls from pop culture themes creating unique medleys such as one performed this evening that included the theme song to The Terminator and Night Rider.
Rains returned Saturday night and persisted throughout the night creating difficult driving conditions for some campers Sunday morning but festival organizers quickly sprang into action cutting pine branches which they used to pad especially muddy passes. This type of quick thinking and proactive problem solving was what really held this fledgling festival above the rest.
Despite the adverse weather, everyone I spoke with reported having a great time and said they would be returning next year and recommending that friends do the same. A big thanks to Father of Time for organizing this event, to the Hedlesky’s for keeping us fed, to the fantastic bands, and all my muddy buddies, without whom none of this would have been possible. Till next time, keep your whistle wet, your socks dry and keep on jammin’!