For the final project, I had visited Floyd Fest with a friend, held near Floyd, Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The festival brings in a diverse range of music, which includes Folk, Reggae, Appalachian, Zydeco and Bluegrass, The main event of the festival is the live music entertainment, but also offers a wide range of workshops, which includes but not limited to arts and crafts, yoga, poetry and even a Children’s Tent for the younger festivalgoers. For the tickets, you had the option to do a single day, multiple days, or 5 day pass, which my friend and I opted for the 5 day pass. For the five day pass, it would have been $185, but when volunteering, it was free of cost with the only requirement being that we volunteer for 20 hours, which was a cake walk since its only 4 hours per day.
Prior to the class starting, my friend and I had heard from a mutual friend how fun it was to volunteer for the local festival. Once I saw that the final project was to interact with a local event, it had gotten me more excited to attend the festival. But what interested me was why they had a festival in the middle of nowhere, especially in the little known city of Floyd in Floyd County.
As one of the leaders in our volunteer group explained, we have to look at the history of Floyd. The county began with trappers, hunters and traders, first settled in the early 1740’s. In 1831, Floyd country was carved out of Montgomery County and named after Governor of Virginia at the time, John Floyd. As time progressed, the residents of the area were notoriously known as counter couture hub spot, a destination for those that wanted to live closer to nature in the 60’s and 90’s, then a destination hub spot for isolationists due to the Y2K scare. Due to the limited isolation in the town, the arts flourished in the area, having almost routine literary and music scene, with the Floyd County Store regularly hosting Friday Night Jamboree since 1960.
The main source of income for the area is from the Blacksburg- Christiansburg businesses and college sector, where people may travel roughly half an hour to work. The citizens live in modest homes, an average income of $40,000 per family. For the whole county, there’s only one high school, which helps to bring together the county as a whole, but with the downside of knowing each other’s business. When I asked the veteran volunteer how it was going through school, he informed me that not many people, from his experience and friend group, think about getting a higher education and that school was a waste of time. They would much rather find a blue collar job and get a family started. He also informed that now that he’s older, that he wished he focused more on school so that he could have gone to get a degree in economics, but doesn’t mind the current job as being a mechanic. It has its perks, but he wished that it wasn’t as dirty of a job.
When looking around the festival, the participants weren’t as diverse as it would be in Blacksburg, with the majority of the festival goers being Caucasian. When I found a fellow vendor that was African American, I asked him how it was growing up in a county where minorities only made up five percent of the population. He informed me that it wasn’t too bad, that there were days that the teasing would get bad, especially in elementary and high school (The county currently has no middle schools), but majority of the time not being bad at all. Though, he did say that ever since Black Lives Matter came into the spot light, it was becoming more of an awkward situation since everyone knows everyone.
Having community events is one of the biggest pushers for the county, as it brings in people from far and wide, which brings in money for the county. Events ranging from quilt shows, to classical opera, to livestock fair and even dog jazz, brings in enough taxes to have a $34 million dollar budget per year, even with property taxes being lowest in the country, rated at 55 cents per $100 of the real estate value.
When I first went to volunteer, they allowed us to check in midafternoon a day before the event. The next day, the line for the festivalgoers had started several hours before the gates had even opened. One of the goers had even informed me that he had waited for 5 hours in line after the gates had opened. When I asked him if the wait was worth it, he responded with a big smile “It’s the one thing that I look forward to all year”. At first I felt as though I was out of the loop, I wasn’t very aware of the culture of the area, so when I asked a couple questions, I would normally get a response with a slight chuckle. When the bands started to play, I recognized a song that I had done a review on, The Dillard’s, and started singing along with it. A passerby noticed that I was singing along with the cover band, which then he joined me and we shared a drink. After that ice breaker, I felt more at ease and was able to enjoy my volunteering and festivities with more enjoyment.
Before taking this class, I would have probably tried to not associate with any of the festivalgoers, except for the few that I felt more comfortable with, but I had realized that even though some of the accents were more difficult to understand, I was able to have relatable conversations that I actually enjoyed having. Before I would have imagined the only conversations I would have about was mudding, fishing and guns, but the topics we discussed about was more about economic, environmental and political issues with the deep concern in education reform with the hopes of bringing in more skilled labor, not just blue collar occupations. The community atmosphere of the whole area, not just in the festival but also in the surrounding county and town just felt like it was a welcoming area.
Though it may seem like it was a grand location to retire, I believe that I wouldn’t be able to live in the area as I grew an appreciation for modern convenience like a dryer, which I found out that some people still refused to own one due to the amount of energy it consumes per load. The experience made me appreciate modern showers as well, as having to wait for a lukewarm shower meant that most of the festivalgoers and volunteers opt out of showering for those five days that we were there, if you can imagine a field full of body odor after five days.
Overall, the colors and general friendly atmosphere of the festival was very rewarding, as I felt a time well spent. After spending time with the locals, I saw that it wasn’t just about trucks, fishing and guns for the locals, but more about the idea of enjoying spending time with people, to create memories with family and friends while also enjoying recreational activities in nature. I b believe the county made a great decision in allowing festivals and shows to come to the county, bringing in large amounts of income while also lowering local tax for the citizens of the people. The only recommendation I would give for the local leaders of Floyd County would be to emphasize more on the education of the children in the county as well as helping the families that are in need, as the children will be the future leaders of the county. I had met multiple people that were bright and intelligent tell me that they wish that they had received more support as opposed to having to work while in high school.
This whole experience has given me an inside look to not only a personal setting, but also a gathering setting for the area that surrounds Floyd. If anyone had even a hint of interest in attending the festival, I would highly recommend volunteering for the free passes as well as the bonding you will receive with your fellow volunteers, with a side of looking into the Floyd culture.
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