Musings on folk, Americana, country, bluegrass and newgrass

Nine reasons not to miss Rooster Walk Music and Arts Festival over Memorial Day Weekend

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Rooster Walk 9 Music and Arts Festival, set for May 25-28 near Martinsville, Virginia, is a week away, the weather forecast is offering blue skies and temps in the 70s and I’d like to suggest you forego that annual Memorial Day trip to the beach with the masses. Instead head to the verdant foothills of southwest Virginia to relax and take advantage of some amazing musical and outdoor offerings.

Following are nine reasons you don’t want to miss this year’s event. But don’t just take my word for it: The Richmond Times Dispatch has named Rooster Walk among Virginia’s best outdoor rock music festivals and Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine touts it among the best Southern family-friendly festivals as well as philanthropic.

  • Headliners. Rooster Walk organizers continue to top themselves each year with their surprisingly rich and electic offerings and this year is no exception. The nearly 50 eclectic acts include headliners Greensky Bluegrass, The Wailers (Reunited), Mandolin Orange, Anders Osborne, Anderson East, the Motet, Marcus King Band (two sets), Pimps of Joytime, Mipso,Love Billy Strings, Eric Krasno, YARN, Susto and Artist at Large and Bassett, Virginia, native Josh Shilling. Marcus King Band and Susto have been named among “five emerging bands to catch on the southern festival circuit.” The full band schedule has been released, so you can start mapping out your minute-by-minute viewing plans here.
  • Lesser-Known Acts. I have discovered several new favorite bands and performers at previous Rooster Walk events and from the looks of this line up, you will too. Make sure to check out Erin & the Wildfire, the Trogone Band, Mission in the Rain, Juliana Macdowell, Sanctum Sully, Shadowgrass and Mason Via, among others.
  • The Venue. This is the third year at the beautiful, rolling, wooded 151-acre Pop’s Farm in Axton, Virginia, just off U.S. 58. The festival grounds feature five stages and plenty of trees to hang your hammock. There’s also myriad activities including biking, including 21-mile road ride to/from Mountain Valley Hops Farm and Brewery, and hiking to get you moving during breaks in the music. Don’t have a bike? No worries. The local YMCA will have some on loan at no charge.
  • Brunch, Ballads and Beer. This year’s Saturday brunch features songwriter in the round performances by Mandolin Orange’s Andrew Marlin, Mountain Heart’s Josh Shilling and Lizzy Ross of Violet Bell. The locally sourced brunch will be catered by Danville’s 616 Farm To Table restaurant. The meal will be served family style, in courses, and each course will be paired with a New Belgium beer sample (or water, if you prefer). Proceeds from brunch ticket sales will go to the Rooster Walk Music Instrument Program for band programs in the Martinsville/Henry County public schools. Unfortunately this event is already sold out but you can get next year’s ticket here.
  • Smith River Float Trips. Canoe and kayak rides on the Smith River will be available, but organizers say tickets are going fast. Smith River Outfitters provides boats, paddles, safety equipment and a shuttle service in the ticket price. Children younger than 14 must be with an adult.
  • Tuff Strutter 5K. If you think a good time is going out and running 3.1 miles, you’re going to love the Tuff Strutter 5K, a trail race put on through a partnership with the Martinsville-Henry County Family YMCA, set for 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 28. Organizers say the trail should hold a wide appeal because it’s not nearly as tough as the former one at Blue Mountain Festival Grounds that was dubbed the toughest 5K on the East Coast. Register online here.
  • Local Libations. In addition to the return of Miller Lite and New Belgium, Rooster Walk will feature craft beer from Winston-Salem’s Foothills, Founders Brewing and Lagunitas. Hard ciders and wine will also be available.
  • Yoga, massages and more. Healing Arts practitioners from across the region will be at Rooster Walk bringing the best techniques to help optimize your energy flow. From reiki to massage to yoga, the Healing Arts Area, located on the shady shores of Pop’s Pond behind the Bassett Furniture Lake Stage, will have just what you need to get recharged.
  • Kids Coop. One of Rooster Walk’s biggest appeals is that it is very family friendly. In addition to artists perfoming specifically for youngsters in the children’s activities area known affectionately as the “Kids Coop,” anyone 12 or younger gets in free with a paying adult.

There’s also arts and crafts vendors, a disc golf tournament, slacklining, and more.

In additon to helping you relax, Rooster Walk also helps the surrounding community. While the festival has grown from a couple of bands and a few kegs in the middle of a field to one of Virginia’s hottest music festivals, it hasn’t forgotten its roots. Martinsville, Virginia, natives Johnny Buck and William Baptist co-founded the festival in memory of two childhood friends — Edwin “the Rooster” Penn and Walker Shank — who died too young. In creating “Rooster Walk,” Buck and Baptist hope to celebrate life and the notion that you shouldn’t waste a moment of it as well as give something back to their local community. And give back they do. Rooster Walk Inc. has raised more than $100,000 for local and regional charities and that’s before this year’s festival.

“A lot of fans are attracted to festivals because they enjoy feeling part of something larger than themselves,” Buck, executive director of Rooster Walk, told Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine. “The community has done a great job of slowly and steadily working to diversify not only its economic base but its ability to attract tourism.”

Rooster Walk Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit, partners with fellow nonprofits Arts at the Rives Theatre, Piedmont Arts Association and the Martinsville-Henry County EDC’s Tourism Division to help bring in more than 4,000 visitors to the area over the Memorial Day 2016 weekend as well as  high quality musicians and artists throughout the year.

In addition, a portion of festival proceeds will be donated to the Penn-Shank Memorial Scholarship Fund, which annually awards a $4,000 college scholarship to an inspiring Martinsville High School senior.

Rooster Walk Inc.’s Band Instrument Donation & Repair Program collects old band instruments that the organization pays to refurbish and then donates to entry-level band programs in the area. Rooster Walk Inc. also recenlty created a micro-grant program to help public school band programs fund small-scale purchases such as music stands and sheet music.

“Rooster Walk has grown to become one of the premiere cultural events in our community, and the EDC is delighted to assist them in securing state marketing funds,” says Jennifer Doss, director of tourism with the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation (EDC). “Visitors travel from all over the Mid-Atlantic to participate in the multi-day festival each year and we know that with increased marketing this following of loyal fans will continue to grow, boosting area tourism.”

General admission tickets are still available and there’s plenty of fully-shaded GA tent camping with your name on it. Campers are welcome, including RVs, tow-behinds & popups, no electricity. Single-day tickets start as low as $35 each, and three-day passes are just $130, but be warned, prices go up May 25. Low on cash? You can also volunteer to earn a four-day pass. Volunteers who work during the actual festival are asked to complete three shifts of four hours each in order to earn free admission to the entire festival. Volunteers also receive free tent camping, free parking and one free shower. Sign up here.

Visit or email for more info.


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