Words and Photos: Dave Cunningham and Kathy Moore
I have always heard great things about Pasture Palooza and for some reason or another I have never gone, even though it is Berryville, VA, only 90 minutes from my house in WV. I’m a huge fan of small festivals- I try to support as many local ones as I can because that’s where family gets together to hear some of the best live music around. There is an incredibly rich music scene around the part of West Virginia where I live-Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and D.C. are all within 3 hours of me, and closer I have Morgantown and Thomas, WV, Frostburg and Cumberland, MD, and Winchester, VA. I wanted to go to Pasture this year because I had that weekend free in September, and when the lineup was released, my mind was made up. I was happy to represent the Jamwich and write a preview and recap for a festival that was new to me and that had a lineup that introduced me to many new bands. I was a first timer with no bias nor expectations, which was a very exciting feeling. I wanted to find out how a small fest like Pasture had made it to its tenth year. What do I like about small festivals? It’s fewer bands and longer set times, a diverse lineup that reflects a variety of genres, and a strong, local representation. The dedicated fan base is key, as is the venue and the staff.
Pasture Palooza 10’s lineup was the perfect mix of a few national touring acts backed by various regional favorites, and the set times were longer than the sets at most of the festivals I have attended this year. It seems that longer set times make the bands feel less rushed, and they establish a better connection with the audience. The band gauges the audience, finds their groove, then runs with it, while the audience has time to digest what they are hearing and find their groove. Pasture has always had diverse lineups-including Rumpke Mountain Boys, Tipper, Zach Deputy, John Kadlecik Band, and Dopapod- and many crowd favorites like BIG Something, People’s Blues of Richmond, Jouwala Collective, Toubab Krewe, The Fritz, and Reckless Island have returned to play many times. I was particularly happy to see Virginia so heavily represented because there were bands I had never seen like Sid Kingsley Duo, Jouwala Collective, Reckless Island, and Sono Lumini. Both the sound quality and light show were top notch. It was fun to see the various collaborations, especially Mike Candela, artist at large, playing one of his last gigs before moving to Kansas, as well as musicians in the crowd enjoying the music before and after their performances.
We arrived Friday afternoon to the Sid Kingsley Duo, composed of drums and keys, who played a laid-back combination of funky original songs and covers. This was the first sit-in of Mike Candela’s that we saw, and his soulful guitar playing contributed significantly to their loose, jazzy sound. Next up was Reckless Island who got the crowd on their feet with their energetic blend of reggae and rock. They played an interesting variety of covers including Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad and the Beatles.
When festival favorite People’s Blues of Richmond took the stage, the size and energy of the crowd increased dramatically. Part way into their set PBR mentioned that they pulled in at 7:50 and were tuned and ready to play by 8:00. They played with a level of intensity and urgency that I had never seen from them previously, which is no small feat. They sounded like they had the intention of packing in as much as they could in their hour and a half time slot. Their set consisted of nearly all originals except for the powerful cover of Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice.” Talking to the crowd, PBR said that they were excited to be back after missing last year, which was the first Pasture they had missed since 2012, where they said the stage was made from just pallets and a tarp.
After raging in the crowd to PBR’s set, BIG Something picked up where PBR left off and kept the momentum going. They are always an exciting band to see because their seven members can deliver an array of sounds which makes every set have a unique feel. This show was completely different from the show we saw two weeks prior when they opened for Umphrey’s McGee in New Jersey; Friday’s set had a heavier and more focused vibe. Mike Candela sat in for a lengthy portion towards the end of the set, trading solos with lead guitarist Jesse Hensley and sax player Casey Cranford which left the crowd frenzied and wanting more.
The first set I caught on Saturday was Sono Lumini, a three-piece instrumental band originally from Winchester and now based in Athens, GA. Their ambient, electronic sound with a strong jazz funk twist was fun and upbeat and left me wanting to hear more. Jouwala Collective was one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing and they exceeded my expectations. Their music is a trance-inducing blend of traditional Moroccan Gnawa music, funk, soul, and rock. The hypnotic vocals and driving bass lines alternately delivered by the Gimbri and four-string electric bass were perfectly accented by the soulful keyboard and thundering guitar parts all layered over complex, ever shifting rhythms from the percussion section that would no doubt inspire one to dance all night long.
After severe storm warnings all weekend, it ended up sprinkling just enough to give us a rainbow before the Fritz’ set, which was a sign of the beauty to come. It’s hard to categorize the Fritz– just when I think I can come up with the words to describe their music, they completely switch things up. Whether playing an extended late-night set or 30-minute tweeners, the Fritz always delivers. This set was no different; they destroyed it! The high energy danceable grooves and positive lyrics delivered by keyboardist/lead singer Jamar Woods are beyond infectious. Combined with the powerful, psychedelic, and at times heavy sounds coming from the rest of the band, the Fritz are one of a kind.
Pasture Palooza veterans Toubab Krewe brought their innovative blend of West African and Appalachian sounds to an enthusiastic crowd. It seemed that Toubab Krewe was the most anticipated set of the weekend; when talking to people they were the band most mentioned. They started strong and maintained their powerful flow the whole set. The enthusiasm in the crowd was palpable; in every direction I looked people were dancing nonstop to the fast beats. After a few songs, the band took some time to introduce themselves, talk about their travels to Mali, and talk about the traditional instruments that they play, like the kora (Dirty Shirley) and the djembe. They resumed playing and gained momentum while the crowd danced their hearts out. The last band of the evening was The Nth Power featuring Jennifer Hartswick. Their pace was a bit slow for a closing headliner but when Jennifer Hartswick stepped out, they sounded like a completely different band as the energy level blew up.
While I was happy with the lineup and the length of the sets, a tweener act during the 45-minute wait in between sets would have been ideal. The music was over by midnight both nights, but the crowd was not ready to sleep. Some vendors remained open, some folks gathered at the campfire, but most people hung out at their camps. An organized campfire jam would have been a fun way to end the night and get the crowd back together.
What I liked most about Pasture was that I could walk around alone, I felt comfortable, and it was easy to talk to people. Smiles were everywhere. Small festivals are like large family reunions-you don’t meet strangers; you meet friends of friends. There is a dedicated fan base of folks who have been coming to the festival for years. Just about everyone I talked told me that this was their fourth, fifth, or sixth time; this loyal following creates a trust and respect that that leads to a sense of safety and freedom so that kids and dogs can both roam freely.
Adding to my sense of safety was knowing that Bear Care was on site. I have seen the bright yellow tent at many fests but have never talked to the crew. I wanted to show my appreciation and meet everyone, so I stopped by and introduced myself. I talked at length with Alex Russell, EMT and owner, who then showed me the set up and explained their services. The Bear Care crew are life savers-literally. The staff is made up of trained EMTs and nurses who provide emergency first aid in a judgement-free space. I met five of the friendliest and professional folks who devote their time to saving people. Also present at Pasture but not obtrusive in any way was security. At no point did I feel unsafe – even when walking around alone at night. The venue was well lit, and I knew that there were people out there looking out for each other.
Located in the rolling hills of Berryville, Virginia, some 65 miles west of DC, the venue sits on a beautiful piece of property. We found it without problem, and we were greeted with smiling faces at the gate. We had our choice of tent camping in the woods or car camping in the field, both of which were an easy walk to the stage. As soon as we pulled into our spot, our friendly neighbors came over to greet us. The property was very maintained and clean- being barefoot, kid, and dog friendly is essential. I really appreciated that trees were lit up at night; there was enough light to be able to get around, but not too much to be annoying while trying to sleep. Another positive point of a small venue is that you can see and hear the music from camp. It was great being able to eat and relax in the shade at our camp while listening to the music.
For a small festival, there was an impressive variety of vendors. Food choices ranged from BBQ and burgers to vegetarian and vegan. In addition to the assortment of functional glass art vendors, you could find posters, tapestries, tie dyes, decorative glass art, jewelry, crystals, pins, and a vendor that specialized in CBD products. The live art gallery, led by Ashton Hill of Kettle Head Art, was packed with talented artists who worked from morning until night creating original works. At times you could find several artists collaborating on a piece as they interpreted the music through their visual art.
Pasture Palooza is an inviting and well-run festival that provides a safe and enjoyable environment that appeals to a wide variety of people. It’s no surprise that the festival has been successful for ten years in a row. It’s refreshing to see that small festivals can be highly successful without having to cater to a specific crowd or genre of music. I came home feeling positive and energized, and I am already looking forward to next year’s festival