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Roadtrip adventures part 1: Rockbridge Festival

Regular visitors to this page might be wondering where I’ve been over the past week, since I haven’t been posting. Well, I did a road-trip down to Buena Vista, Virginia (I was told it is pronounced Byoona Vista) for the Rockbridge Mountain Music and Dance festival – my first old time festival. I was thinking about going to the Clifftop festival earlier in the summer but that proved impossible. September turned out to be a better time, so off I went.

My plan was to drive as far as Winchester Virginia, stay overnight there, then do my grocery shopping and drive the last couple hours down to Buena Vista. I really had no idea where to set up camp when I arrived. There were already a lot of people there. The site is like a great big flat field, with the Maury River on one side and a line of trees and a hill on the other. There were people camped all over the place in tents, pop-ups and RVs. I saw right away there were still some spots along the river so I drove down there, found a place to park and set up camp.

I explored around a bit, made some lunch and decided a wee nap was in order. When I awoke, there was an RV parked next to my camp and I met a fellow named George. He was on his own for the moment but his wife Suzi joined him the following day. They live in Virginia, a couple hours away from Buena Vista. I learned quickly that many old time festival-goers (and are quite a few of these festivals in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina over the summer) go to a lot of the festivals and have known one another for years. George took me around and introduced me to so many people and everyone was totally welcoming and friendly to me.

One of the people George introduced me to has somehow acquired the nickname, The Mayor. The Mayor doesn’t play music but he loves to be around it. If people need to make something or another happen at one of these festivals, The Mayor facilitates. He poured me a tasty beverage and we continued walking about, The Mayor introducing me to his “citizens”.

I learned that Rockbridge is one of the more laid-back festivals, in part because there are no contests. There are workshops on the Saturday for banjo, fiddle, guitar and more, and there are two square dances, Friday and Saturday night. At the heart of the festival though, is jamming and visiting.

They had two food trucks on-site near the dance tent for those who preferred to eat out rather than cook in camp. I tried both of them and found items like burritos and fried chicken tacos to be very good.

One day, there was an “Estrogen Jam”. This jam was to be for all women – or guys in dresses. I did see one fellow not in drag sneak in though. Here’s a clip from it….

Both square dances were excellent, with a different band each night. I have a clip from the Saturday night dance, with Aaron Ratcliffe calling and New Cut Road playing…

There were all kinds of jams going on, especially after dark. Some were big, others quite small….

Some of these jams went on into the wee hours. Nights were quite cool and some campers had built jamming structures with tarp sides, heaters and lanterns.

I was worried I might find it difficult to meet people at the festival, especially as so many of them seemed to know one another. My experience was the opposite – thanks in no small part to George who made me feel at home among his group of friends. I had a great time, and played plenty of banjo along the way. I’d love to go back to Rockbridge and some of the other old time festivals as well. They are at the heart of this music I’ve been playing.



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