Earlier this week in an interview with Katy Daley, Tom Mindte made reference to the encouraging number of young bluegrass pickers and singers he finds in southern Virginia and western North Carolina. The music is definitely more a part of the local culture outside of the large cities in this part of the country, but it also gets an assist from teaching studios that offer instruction in Appalachian styles, and businesses that understand the need to continually grow new fans to keep the grass growing.
Several major festivals offer youth instruction programs, like Wintergrass in Washington and Grey Fox in New York, who build a specialized curriculum over the course of several days in preparation for a main stage performance on Sunday. The fact that this also provides something with a fun, educational focus while their parents are enjoying the festival isn’t lost on the event producers.
But where a culture of young performers already exists, promoters can encourage developing young artists in other ways, including booking them as part of the festival fare.
Such is the approach taken by the Chantilly Farm Bluegrass & BBQ Festival in Floyd, VA, whose 7th annual event is coming up in May. Located about an hour away from both Roanoke and Blacksburg not far from the North Carolina line, Floyd has become a hot spot for traditional music, both through the mountain folks who have settled there for generations and newcomers drawn to the area by its small town charm, and heady arts and music scene.
Surely part of that is the result of FloydFest, a large annual festival that brings large crowds to Floyd each summer to hear a varied slate of Americana and world music acts. But another part is the way the town and surrounding areas support traditional Appalachian culture.
We spoke with Jason Gallimore at Chantilly Farm about their approach to supporting young pickers within an otherwise typical rural festival setting. While big name touring artists are featured each day, he also makes sure that acts consisting of musicians in their teens and twenties appear on stage as well.
Can you tell me a bit about the Chantilly Farm festival?
“Chantilly Farm got off the ground in early 2011 and we wanted our first event to be a concept that would truly appeal to the local community, so we decided to build upon the incredible reputation that the Floyd area has within the bluegrass niche.
For decades, music fans from all over the world have traveled to Floyd to participate in the Friday Night Jamboree held at the Floyd Country Store or to check out the world-class collection of recorded music at County Sales. So the fact that Floyd didn’t have any sort of annual bluegrass or old-time music festival up until that point made us realize that maybe the timing was right. The venue is situated on 200 acres of beautiful rolling hills in close proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Downtown Floyd, so we definitely had the space and location to be able to grow an event once we got it off the ground.
Here we are seven years later and we couldn’t be more thankful for the support we’ve received from our local and regional community and the fans. Being the official home festival of Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice has added a whole new level of excitement to what we do and we plan on continuing to provide a lineup and an experience that fans can get excited about each year. We’re constantly adding new activities and infrastructure at the venue including further development of hiking and biking trails, a new stage which debuted in 2016, and an continuously evolving effort to build stronger relationships with our fans, our sponsors and our performers.
In addition to the annual bluegrass festival held each Memorial Day weekend, we’re hosting a wide range of events that include car shows, concerts, the Floyd County Fair and an increasing number of outdoor recreation events.”
How/when did the notion of including youth activities and young performers on stage come to you?
“In 2015, Chantilly Farm became an official affiliate venue of The Crooked Road, Virginia’s heritage music trail. A large part of that organization’s mission is to promote and encourage the development of youth performers who will ultimately be the ones that carry on the traditional Appalachian music, crafts and heritage skills that we’ve all come to appreciate.
Since the very beginning, we’ve tried to incorporate youth acts into our programming at Chantilly Farm to give them an opportunity to showcase their music and further develop their performance skills. Not only does it add variety in terms of diversifying our lineup, but we feel that it’s our duty as presenters to do our part in encouraging these kids to continue on with their careers in traditional music.”
How have you found teen acts to book on the show?
“Often times you’ll see these young artists at local shows or other regional festivals, but social media has played an increasingly large role in helping promoters find new talent. You may be scrolling down your timeline and see a video clip, an audio clip, or link to a story that features the artist. Then after hearing them you say to yourself, wow these kids are talented! Technology has provided the younger generation with a platform to promote their music that generations before them never had, so it’s a very exciting time for these youth to be entering the music business.
But even with all the new technology, word of mouth from bluegrass fans is still one of the best ways to find out about new talent. Keep your ears open and if you keep hearing about a particular musician or band over and over, make sure to take the time to look into it further to find out what it is about their music or stage show that’s creating such a buzz.”
Tell me more about the program you are teaching at Heartwood in Abingdon.
“The Crooked Road has provided a huge boost to heritage-related tourism throughout Southwestern Virginia which has a direct impact on our rural economies at a time when many communities are struggling to stay afloat. In addition to being a fantastic resource for tourists and music lovers, the organization puts so much time and effort into showcasing our regional entertainers, artists and related businesses in a way that highlights the truly unique character of this part of Appalachia.
I was honored when The Crooked Road asked me to participate as an instructor for a series of workshops for youth in which they’ll have the opportunity to learn about various aspects of the festival and events industry. This is a perfect example of how the organization is using education as a tool to further develop our regional events scene. I’m really looking forward to hearing some of the questions that come from the youth participants this year, because after all, it’s not only an opportunity for them to learn, it’s an opportunity for us as instructors to learn more about the very different perspective that kids today have about the music and entertainment industry. So it’s very much a give and take relationship, but I always try to remember that the most important thing is to always do your best in giving back.”
Many states and municipalities in the Appalachian region have begun to view bluegrass, old time, and traditional mountain music as a valuable tourist resource, and finding ways to make it a renewable one through fostering youth participation.
Young people can catch the bluegrass bug watching seasoned entertainers on stage, but nothing makes the “I could do that” switch click like seeing people their own age performing, and having fun doing it.
Hats off to Jason and everyone at Chantilly Farm for keeping a youth focus on bluegrass!
You can find all the details about their May 26-28 festival online.