Friday FloydFest report

The winners of the 2010 FloydFest Under The Radar Artist competition, Big Daddy Love currently hail from North Carolina but ironically all have roots in the Galax, Virginia area.

“It’s funny” said front man, accoustic guitaris and songwriter Daniel Smith, “my earliest musical memories are driving to town in Galax with my family all singing hymns.  My daddy was a banjo player and gospel music singer and it was my grandma who actually taught me to play.  She played Maybelle Carter style guitar and I remember her drawing out the grid, showing me the fingering and chord progressions when I was real young. “

He took some time off from bluegrass and gospel to explore country and rock and roll, and brought that experience back with him when the band was formed. Their brand of bluegrass fusion shows the heavy influence of Earl Scruggs and Ralph Stanley.

Banjo player Brian Swenk came to Big Daddy with the same influences but from a completely different direction. “My dad was a rock and roll musician so, for me, playing bluegrass was my way of rebelling!”  Brian cites as teachers and mentors Snuffy Smith and Steve Lewis.

Big Daddy Love had only been playing together for a year, and had just released their freshman effort To the Mountain when they won the Under the Radar competition here last year. “We’re just finishing up our second release now, Let it Grow, which should be out in September” said Ashley Sutton “and I think we’re really just starting to hit our groove.”

It was clear to me that the crowd agreed. While not a traditional bluegrass band, clearly, the foundation they all share in that style combined with strong vocals and musicianship, great songwriting, and a relaxed and engaging stage presence really augment the fundamentals they all learned as kids.

As I mentioned earlier, there are 11 separate stages in almost simultaneous operation here at FloydFest. A very popular one of these is the Virginia FolkLife Porch.

Produced by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities this series was conceived and is being hosted by Jon Lohman, to showcase the finest in regional musical styles including bluegrass, old time, mountain gospel and blues.

In a suprisingly accessible and intimate setting, Festers are being treated to discussions and workshop style performances from artists including Sam Bush, Nat Reese, The Dirk Powell Band, Larry Keel and Jorma Kaukonen.

This morning we got to see The Carolina Chocolate Drops. They took questions from the audience, explained the history of their musical progression and the influences on their craft by old time musicians like Etta Baker and Joe Thompson.

We’ll check back in with the FolkLife Porch as often as we can this weekend. What an amazing opportunity to interact with some amazing musicians.

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About the Author

Diane Farineau

Diane Farineau, her husband, photographer, Milo and their friend, photographer, Chester Simpson, hatched a brilliant plan last year to write a book about music festivals. Somewhere along the way The Festival Project, as it has now become, turned into a website and a blog and an amazing journey into the world of today's bluegrass and Americana artists and festival scene. When not listening to or writing about music, Diane has a day job as a hospital administrator, is a mom of two musical teenagers, and writes about life's never ending stream of ironies.