Greensky Bluegrass at the 4848 Music Festival – photo © Gina Proulx (more photos below)
We always remember our first times. And there are all kinds of ‘first times,’ aren’t there? Some are easy to discuss in mixed company, some not so easy. It’s typically awkward and often involves a few laughs from inside jokes, or mistakes too funny not to acknowledge out loud. And we never forget them.
A first time of sorts happened this earlier this month on SnowShoe Mountain in West Virginia. It was indeed new, and different. But it was hardly awkward in execution. In fact, it was smoother than I’d ever expected, and may well be the beginning of an annual tradition for many, including this writer/photographer.
The inaugural 4848 Music Festival at SnowShoe Mountain Resort promised a different kind of festival experience, and it did not disappoint. The debut of this event, produced in conjunction with the fine folks at AllGood Music Festival and SnowShoe Ski Resort, was billed as ‘festivacation’ with attendees afforded multiple activities to enjoy with their admission, in addition to the performances of 18 genre busting acts, offering over 30 hours of stellar live music.
But the music at 4848 wasn’t the only path for enjoying oneself up in those beautiful mountains.
Snowshoe covers 11,000 acres in the Appalachian Mountain Range and includes the second highest point in West Virginia at 4848’. (Now you know why the festival is named 4848!) Snowshoe Mountain Resort, touted as the best ski resort in the region, delivers a phenomenal summertime outdoor playground. In addition to the live music, Snowshoe Mountain’s ‘Fun Pass’ is included with each ticket, presenting new options for summer music festival experiences: Split Rock pools, zipline, and a climbing wall, along with Shavers Lake activities including swimming, paddle boats, canoes, kayaks, as well as hiking trails, beach, and lakeside hammocks. Oh yes, and fireworks each night.
At the bottom of the mountain, accessible by the free scenic ski lift for those above in accommodations, was the beach, a restaurant for campers not wanting to cook, and an entirely different way to enjoy oneself away from the stage. Kids ran off energy, people swam or paddle boarded, or partook of the fare at the Boathouse restaurant. Musicians Nathan Moore and Joshua Davis performed sets in the mid morning on the patio by the beach, for an audience enjoying brunch, or even those out in the water who paddled their boats and kayaks closer to listen. My husband observed staffers cleaning the beach daily with rakes, it was so well-maintained. Camping was at the bottom of the mountain, meaning those of us in tents, had a fun ride up or down on the ski lifts during the daytime. At night, the lifts closed for safety, and shuttle buses ran campers up and down to the resort.
Unlike most music festivals, camping at 4848 had its own share of creature comforts, also part of the ticket price. I truly appreciated the lack of upselling on services like showers, or using the boats and paddle boards. And the basics of any festival, most importantly the cleanliness of the site and facilities, were impeccable. I had a brief chat with a member of the custodial staff as they waited with courteous patience for the ladies to vacate the bathroom for yet another thorough cleaning that seemed to happen frequently throughout each day of the event.
Indeed, the SnowShoe and All Good staff appeared to have solved many potential problems before they even had a chance to manifest – save that of cell service access. WiFi was only available inconsistently. But to their credit, this was posted clearly on the website. I suspect for some, this festival was among their first time spending multiple days without consistent access to the Internet. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The first person I met at 4848 also happened to be a great person to ask questions about the event from the perspective of the ski resort staff.
Michael Valash greeted us at the entrance to camping and was ready to help in any way. As the SnowShoe Director of Outdoor Adventure Rentals Activities and Events, Valash, a 19 year veteran at the resort, had a unique understanding of all it took to put this event together, a first of its size for SnowShoe.
“This has been in the works for about 1.5 – 2 years, and I think that amount of planning time shows,” Valash said as he sat in his all terrain vehicle in the camping area on Saturday afternoon. “AllGood and the lineup they put together worked well with the vendors and merchants, and made a great match for Snowshoe,” he added.
Attendance numbers were as Valash put it, ‘a great number for a first music festival.’ With about 3000 tickets sold, most attendees availed themselves of resort accommodations, with about 250-300 choosing to camp in the cool mountain air. “We executed well, Valash said. (We) Got a lot of feedback about the event venue, the resort, the lift, the village, the lake, the boathouse. It just all tied together for a great guest experience.”
As with any event of this size, security has to be considered. Valash offered, “We’ve only had one or two very minor issues this weekend. Absolutely nothing major.” According to Valash, “This will probably become an annual event.”
Niamh Jenkins, an office manager from Baltimore, isn’t a first-time festivarian. But she is a first time festivarian in the kids section. And she is also a first time visitor to SnowShoe. Her son is 4.5 years old, and seemed to enjoy all the fun happening with the other children at his first ever festival.
“I waited a while before bringing my son to a music festival. It can be hard for a parent to actually have fun themselves when also trying to properly care for their child, especially if they don’t have help along with them. I came with some friends and I’m grateful for their help, but in the end, they can’t take all their time to do it. They’re here for fun, too, ya know?”
Jenkins appeared relaxed, often not easy to pull off when corralling a busy preschooler at a large public event. I asked if she was able to have fun herself along with ensuring her child was happy.
“Oh yes, definitely. The staff here has made things as easy as possible for me, and I guess just about everyone with a kid at the festival too,” Jenkins continued, “We splurged on getting accommodations instead of camping. And I’m glad we did. This place is gorgeous, and everyone here is so nice. Parents should know that 4848 understands us and our needs while we are here. I’ve never been to SnowShoe before. But I’ll find a way to come back. Perhaps next year, if they do this again. And I sure hope they do!”
Music happened in three locations at 4848, not counting the pickers in the campground or onsite, along the way. First, the morning performances at The Boathouse Restaurant patio already mentioned. And up on the mountain at the resort, two stages on opposite ends of the resort offered the larger acts. Bluegrass fans had plenty to choose from amongst the variety of artists performing.
4848 headliners Greensky Bluegrass, fresh off the January release of their latest album, All for Money, have been packing venues coast to coast and were recently featured in Rolling Stone, NPR, The Washington Post, and more. And they seem to have added at least once fan this weekend.
Stephanie Benton of Lancaster City, PA counts 4848 as her first ever festival. Primarily a country music fan, she lists her favorite artists of this weekend to be Marcus King, Lettuce, and a new favorite, Greensky BlueGrass.
The Ghost of Paul Revere, Fruition, Railroad Earth, and Billy Strings have been regular visitors to the mid-Atlantic region festivals over recent years. Their presence on this lineup made for a nice grouping of bluegrass artists along with the other genres represented.
Mackenzie Garrabant, of Colorado goes to a lot of bluegrass festivals. She knows what she likes at a festival with respect to lineups, environment, and as she calls it, ‘energy.’ As for her thoughts on 4848? “I’m feeling it, I like it. Aside from the humidity! I’ve been a sweaty babe all weekend.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that for this part of the country, the humidity was quite low up on SnowShoe Mountain. I let the Coloradan used to ‘dry heat,’ continue. She pointed to her hat and clued me in about the private joke related to the label on it, “This (says) Stuff Grass. My homies and I went to a Billy (Strings) show last year, and at the end of it one of my friends yelled ‘Stuff me up, Billy!’ So yea,” she said laughing, “we kinda just started calling all the real good Blue Grass that stuffs ya up and makes ya feel good, ‘StuffGrass.’” The obvious followup question had to be, whether she found some ‘Stuff Grass’ up here on SnowShoe Mountain at the 4848 festival? Garrabant’s response was quick and full of conviction, “Oh hell yea.”
My camping neighbors were equally thrilled by the presence of 25 year old Michigander and flatpicking wizard, Billy Strings. Philadelphia resident, Alex Van Haute deemed 4848, “an amazing festival. If you need anything someone from this place is always ready to help.” His friend Chad Smith of Richmond, Virginia agreed. He added how happy he was to have made the last minute decision to attend. “I made the choice on Thursday. I’m glad to be here for the first time. The venue is incredible. The staff is really nice. I almost missed Billy Strings, I needed to take a nap. I got there in time for the second set.” Van Haute was so taken with the Strings show he all but forgot other events that took place around it. “I was on the busride last night and a lady asked me how I like the fireworks. I told her “Billy (Strings) played so well, I forgot about the fireworks!”
Rounding out the bluegrass artists on the lineup had artists bringing funk and soul to the stage, with Orgone, Turquaz, and The Nth Power. Raging Fyah, on a two week run in the US from Jamaica brought reggae, who later in the day where observed riding the ski lifts up and down as they sang for anyone in earshot. Roots-influenced indy rockers, The Hip Abduction, surprised many – now new fans – with a strong set. Rock-infused R & B was served from the amazing Marcus Strings. Alt-Country artist Rayland Baxter proved that coming to the stage early in the day will often offer up musical surprises that those who miss it will regret. And progressive rock artists Umphrey’s McGee metaphorically lit the stage on fire with a Saturday night performance full of special guests from earlier in the weekend.
In short, 4848 brought a strong lineup, conscientious attention to a quality fan/guest experience, and for those of us more accustomed to a humid summer, a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of festivals at lower altitudes. Keep this one on your radar from next year, folks. It’s difference as compared to the typical Mid-Atlantic music festival, is worth it!