Written by Erin Beck
Photos by Roger Gupta
The Festy Experience is not going to fill your head with noise, with music blaring until 4 a.m. You aren’t going to rush from stage to stage because three bands you want to hear are playing at the same time. You’re given the space and time to notice, maybe, that you just watched two female performers play back-to-back, and to think about why that stood out to you, and what that says about the music industry.
Maybe you’ll also find yourself looking at the steel cup you’re drinking out of, and reconsidering whether you use plastic at your next gathering back home. You might also have the space and time to process and talk about what happened in nearby Charlottesville, where festival owner Michael Allenby lives and where white supremacists recently showed their faces.
At The Festy, to be held Oct. 5-8 in Arrington, Virginia, the hope is that festival-goers are fully present, according to Allenby. Attendees have said in years past, “I go to festivals and at the end I feel exhausted,” according to Allenby. “I go to The Festy and at the end, I feel rejuvenated,” they say.
The Festy, now in its eighth year, started out as a homecoming for the Infamous Stringdusters. This year, the other headliners include the Drive-By Truckers, Ani DiFranco, Elephant Revival, Sam Bush Band, the Jerry Douglas Band, Joan Osborne, and Beats Antique. It’s evolved into a regional gathering, according to Allenby. Last year, it moved to the current location, the same location LOCKN’ moved to this year.
The remnants of Hurricane Matthew brought 40-50 mph winds on Sunday, contributing to a vendor fire and evacuation. “We only lost 90 minutes,” Allenby said. “I was like, ‘wow that’s worth investing into.’ That community needs to be nurtured.”
This year marks the first time Allenby set a goal for himself to book 50 percent female artists. When he was booking bands around the end of last year, “it just seemed kind of OK and cool to disrespect women.” “It wasn’t necessarily specifically political,” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily a quota. I just needed some goal to shoot for …at the end of the day, it’s a task I have to do.”
Singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Phoebe Hunt played at a recent festival, and heard people talking about how it was a mistake to book two female bands back to back. She told them, “that’s not a mistake at all, because so often so many guy bands are back to back and no one notices.” She had noticed the female-heavy line-up, though. She will also be one of the female artists playing at The Festy, this year. “I think that’s great, but I also think it almost shouldn’t have to be a topic,” she said. “I just want to be seen as a great artist, not just thought of as a female artist.”
Sustainable festivals have been “a bit of a theme of our summer,” Hunt says. She sees it as a “movement happening in this country.” “The Festy Experience is kind of representing Virginia and it teaches people how to have a sustainable gathering,” she said. “They have to experience it to know it’s possible.”
Sustainability has always been a goal of the festival organizers. “If you create an event and then you hand everyone trash and then they put the trash on the floor and you have to pick the trash up, that’s just a stupid operation,” Allenby said. “It’s best to never hand them the trash in the first place.”
Allenby, who used to spend his time on the road managing the Stringdusters, had already been digging deeper into his Charlottesville roots. Then the white supremacists came with torches. So while the festival is in its 8th year, it’s still a response. “It’s on everyone’s mind, but right now everyone has to go to work,” Allenby said.
At The Festy, he said, “there’s an opportunity to take a walk, take a hike, actually connect with your family, not just sitting in the same room on your phones. That’s the experience we’re building.” Hunt said that touring all over America, including “the broken down parts,” this summer has inspired her to go back into the studio at the end of October, and record songs about unity. She said that experiences like The Festy are “what’s going to keep America great.”
“They’re keeping America talking to each other,” she said.
For tickets, go to thefesty.com. You can also call 434-220-4000 for more information. An adult ticket, with camping, for the weekend is $199.00 plus fees.