FloydFest 12 sold out before it began, and the crowds began arriving early last week for four days of music, communion, crafts, games, camping food and fun. Based on the ticket sales, organizers were expecting a total crowd of 17,000; 15,000 came last year. Final numbers on this year’s attendance are not known yet.
The music kicked off on the Dreaming Creek Main Stage at 4 p.m. Thursday . The lines at the parking lots were full and the midway of the festival site crowded as festival attendees from all 50 states and many foreign countries found their way to Floyd County and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“This is my 10th FloydFest,” gushed Audrey Lindrum of Spokane, Washington. “It won’t be my last.”
First-time attendee Carlin Rockland of Columbia, South Carolina, agreed.
“They had everything here,” he said. “Music, fun, weather and adventure.”
Weather joined the crowd Friday night with drenching rains, flooding, mud and many challenges for the veteran FloydFest crew.
Soggy conditions and mud forced festival organizers to close parking lots and call for help from the Floyd Country School system for extra buses and drivers to get attendees to and from the festival. Emergency parking lots were set up at Floyd County High School and the Commerce Park on Franklin Pike.
But while the rain dampened the festival, it did not appear to dampen the enthusiasm for the records crowds that packed the event from Wednesday – when VIP events kicked everything off – to Sunday night, when music continued well past the scheduled closing time and even into Monday as musical acts, food vendors and support personnel stayed on to help those who needed more time to pack up soggy belongings and get on the road.
Festival officials front-loaded the event with key acts like the Lumineers on Thursday and spread a schedule that mixed entertainers that appealed to young and old alike throughout the event. Music played well into the night, often past midnight. The hard rains that fell on Friday night and Saturday cut back on some activities and caused cancellation of some scheduled events, but the majority of the festival stayed on schedule.
Rainy conditions, muddy parking lots and concourses and other problems associated with weather brought some complaints and some fans packed up early, but the sun returned Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday as local farmers brought tractors and four-wheel drive vehicles to the parking lots to help drivers pull out vehicles stuck in the mud.
Festival officials used technology to keep fans up to date on shifts in parking lots and changes through a stream of posts on Facebook and the help of Internet bloggers who posted around the clock.
“Thanks to Facebook,” I knew to drive to the Commerce Park and wait for a bus,” said Kelly Arens of Roanoke. “It took a little longer than usual to get to the site, but we made it and we had a good time.”
Wireless phone service, a problem in the past, eased this year when Verizon Wireless brought its COW (Cells On Wheels) portable cell tower to the event.
“This was my first FloydFest, and I had a blast,” said T.M. Harper, “even waiting in line for shuttles. Just make a few friends and pass the time sharing stories and libations.”
Some posted notices on Facebook with complaints about the shuttle backups and said they would not be returning to FloydFest in the future.
“I had to wait hours in a line for a bus to finally take me to FloydFest after we parked far away,” said Michelle Stipe Barnes of Georgetown, Kentucky. “Then when we finally get there to see the Lumineers they don’t even have one big screen so we couldn’t see the band at all. Very disappointed.”
But Chris Wilson of Radford offered another point of view.
“An awesome fest,” he said. “I know they had some hiccups on the first day but the rest of the fest amazing. I’m sure they will have those hiccups cured by next year.”
“Had to bail this morning as my tent was flooding and I was dreading the Sunday exodus,’ said Joseph Bollini of Asheville, North Carolina. “Can’t win ‘em all and I still love the festival. Best of luck solving parking, a true head scratcher.”
When backups hit the parking lots Thursday, a call went out to the Floyd County School System for drivers first and then buses and drivers to help with the overflow.
Some complained that it took too long to get to the festival, but the extra buses and drivers helped ease the backups.
“FloydFest is a great event that is not only fun to attend but also very beneficial to our local economy,” said Locust Grove Supervisor Lauren Yoder. “This year, the organization had a lot thrown at them with the wet conditions and I ‘m sure there are a number of things they will improve before next year. The bands were amazing, the food and beer were good, the volunteers did a good job and the festival attendees that I interacted with seemed to be having a wonderful time.”
Floyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Shortt rode one of the transport buses from Floyd to the site on Sunday and reported seeing and hearing good music and having a good time.
“They did a good job,” she said. “We enjoyed ourselves.”
For the first time, the festival sold out this year in both four-day all event and single day tickets. Signs on the Blue Ridge Parkway, U.S. 221, Rt. 8 and Black Ridge Road warned of the sellout before unsuspecting attendees without tickets arrived.
With new parking lots, signs also appeared along the Blue Ridge Parkway and in overlooks warning that festival parking was not allowed there. Parkway rangers lowered the speed limit from 45 to 25 along the stretch of road north and south of the festival site and some tickets were issued but a number of festival attendees said they received warnings only from the rangers.
“A ranger stopped us for doing 40,” said Sandra Legston of Dubuque, Iowa. “He was very polite and urged us to drive at 25 and sent us on our way.”
Some accidents were reported in the muddy parking lots but no injuries. Festival officials picked up the towing bills to get patrons free of the mud.
FloydFest founder Erika Johnson thanked the hard work of staff and the help of Floyd Countians in dealing with the problems caused by rain and crowding.
“Floyd is a special place where people come forward to help each other,” she said. “We saw that so much this year and we are so grateful.”