A year ago today, there wasn't a single car in the parking lot of Norfolk's O'Connor Brewing Co. Despite a very wet prognosis, the clouds took a break from giving Hampton Roads a thorough, week-long soaking. That July sun made for an ironic— and welcomed—relief.
What the parking lot was filled with: 10x10 pop-up tents housing banjo makers, artisan vendors, beer pourers, beer drinkers, and, throughout the course of the day, over 2,000 roots music fans. Fourteen bands with fiddles, banjos, mandolins, and acoustic guitars performed on two stages (one inside and one outside). The inaugural event culminated with a powerful performance by Grammy-winning Dom Flemons (former and founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) and his musical partner/multi-instrumentalist Brian Farrow.
If it sounds like it can't get any better, the event was completely free and family friendly.
Why was this festival founded?
We play in a Hampton Roads-based string band called Brackish Water Jamboree. A stranger on the street would probably describe us as "bluegrass," but we usually tell people we play "old-time" (unless you actually play or listen to old-time music. If that's the case, we'll tell you we play "Americana").
We founded this festival for a few reasons:
To promote banjos and fiddles in eastern VA. There's not a lot of that going on in this corner of the state. VA has a rich musical heritage that we believe needs to be promulgated. We want to share this heritage with our native and transplanted neighbors and friends.
To bring more touring roots-music acts to Hampton Roads. For a touring band, Norfolk is an expensive little nook to get to. Assuming no tunnel traffic, we're at best a 3-hour out-of-the-way stop for an act on an i95-run throughRichmond, D.C., Baltimore, Philly, or New York. By helping to grow awareness and demand for roots music, we hope to make Norfolk a contender for more national roots-music acts.
As a band, we've experienced rich relationships we've met performing roots music (both with and for). Brotherly-love, though it can at times seem scarce these days, is alive and well in the roots music scene. We want to foster and grow this among musicians and the audience alike. We want to introduce you to your next favorite band, or your next best friend, and we don't want to charge you for it. Life is hard. Music makes life bearable. Fellowship and music together make life pleasurable. There are enough things you have to pay for and this shouldn't be one of them.
What's different this year?
As we're gearing up for now the 2nd annual NorFOLK Festival (that will take place on August 12th at O'Connor - rain or shine), there's a marked difference in the air, both with regard to the festival offerings, and to the community's excitement and participation.
We've more than double the amount of bands performing (29 in total) and added a third stage.
We have another internationally-touring headliner: Hackensaw Boys
We've added banjo and fiddle competitions
The festival now benefits Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters. We never set out to make money on this event. It's completely free. We take 20% of every sponsorship we get and give it directly to the hospital (this year's gracious donors include Davis Law Group PC, Edward Jones, O'Connor Brewing' Co., and Tidewater Bluegrass Music Association). We then host several musical events throughout the year to raise money (admission by donation, and we'll accept pocket lint and spare change). Our costs include a national headliner, regional bands, professional sound companies, videographers, marketing & advertisements, printing, website, and other administrative fees. Any dollar we happen to take in once those are covered goes directly to the hospital.