Who has the best lights in town? Vote now for your favorite in our holiday lights contest.
The event's organizers have been busy dispelling rumors and learning from unavoidable problems.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Tracy Hewitt (left) of Poultney, Vt. and Izzy Shapiro of Durham, N.C. dance during a performance by Spirit Family Reunion on the Dreaming Creek Main Stage at FloydFest on July 25.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Cars fill one of the onsite lots at FloydFest on July 25.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
FloydFest organizers Erika Johnson and Kris Hodges say they're determined to make the event the best it can be.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
FloydFest organizers say they learned from this year's parking problems and will be able to address them next year.
Monday, September 2, 2013
From an artistic and financial standpoint, FloydFest 12 was the event’s most successful to date. The July 25-28 event sold out before the first note was played — the first-ever sellout.
But the outdoor music festival with at least 17,000 paying customers once again experienced problems that at best irritated patrons and at worst angered them. Organizers fixed FloydFest 11’s big problem — getting out on Sunday. But getting them in on Thursday presented a new set of problems this year.
Then the rains came on Saturday, in torrents, pouring about 3 inches’ worth onto the site off the Blue Ridge Parkway where Patrick County and Floyd County meet. Vehicles were mired. The fairway was a trail of ooze. And new parking sites in Floyd County had to be set up — an “emergency plan” that resulted in the Floyd County Board of Supervisors asking the festival bosses to explain themselves.
On top of those troubles, organizers heard and saw rumors galore about the event and themselves — on Facebook, blogs and the festival ground itself .
The strangest one began making the rounds after the festival — FloydFest had been sold or was for sale.
Festival co-founders and chief organizers Erika Johnson and Kris Hodges recently discussed the lessons learned, and addressed the rumors.
“FloydFest is my heart and soul,” Hodges said. “And that’s not for sale.”
But with heart and soul come heartaches.
Parking and rumors
Last year, the festival scheduled its highest-impact performances for Sunday, and sold single-day tickets for that day. It resulted in what Hodges has called “system overload,” with not enough buses to promptly get folks on and off the festival site .
This year, having hired a civil engineer who came up with a plan to deal with the traffic, Sunday exits went off fairly well, despite the deep mud that remained. But according to Hodges and Johnson, the engineer did not properly plan for Thursday — and the festival had scheduled its hottest acts for that day, with a headlining show from The Lumineers.
The organizers said that they had told the engineer to plan for a heavy Thursday. But when it came, he had not scheduled enough drivers to man the 20 buses available to ferry people to the festival site.
“We knew all these people were coming Thursday,” Johnson said. “And they all came early and they all came with even more stuff” than they needed for four days of camping. . That is where a confluence of rumors began circulating .
For years, FloydFest had partnered with neighboring winery Chateau Morrisette for a large slice of off-site parking that was close to the festival grounds. Representatives of at least a dozen charities — under the nonprofit Floyd County Cares’ umbrella — helped with parking. In exchange, money collected in parking fees went to those groups. Both the festival and the winery also took money for expenses.
But Chateau Morrisette, under new management, wanted to change that agreement, Johnson said.
The winery’s general manager, George Weldon, declined to comment other than to say that the winery ultimately determined that it was “time to move on” and that it is developing that former parking area into a full-time music venue of its own.
The festival had to look elsewhere, settling on a hilly site just across from its park-and-camp lot. But it was farther away , and many of the school buses could not navigate the steep terrain while pulling wagons loaded with camping gear. So the organizers implemented a gear-check system.
Not only was it taking a long time for customers to get onsite, it was taking a lot of time for them to be reunited with their tents, coolers and other camping supplies.
Floyd County Sheriff Shannon Zeman and his chief investigator, Jeff Dalton, had for years coordinated the parking volunteers. But this year, they both decided to give up those duties. And that gave rise to another rumor — that the festival had fired them.
Dalton said that he has no idea how such a rumor got started.
“It just got to where we were tired,” Dalton said. “You go doing all this stuff, and FloydFest is growing.”
The pair even sat in on meetings about the new parking area, giving input about it, Dalton said.
With Zeman and Dalton’s departure, Floyd County Cares, which Zeman heads, was out, too. Festival organizers had to contract the parking work.
“Although it didn’t need to be the end of Floyd County Cares’ involvement, it was, in that no one else stepped forward to pull together the effort, and we ran out of time,” Johnson wrote in an email.
Dalton said that he respects Chateau Morrisette’s owner, David Morrisette, and the FloydFest organizers. But the attention he has received this year — the local Floyd Press has published extensively about the various controversies — has made him laugh.
“Eleven years we’ve been doing FloydFest,” he said. “ This year we didn’t have anything to do with it and we’ve been in the media more than ever.”
Rumors found expression onsite that Thursday. Johnson said she heard two customers complaining that “it’s too bad that FloydFest got greedy.”
“I was taken aback by the outspoken way that those particular patrons were presenting it to the public at large as fact,” she said. “So I felt compelled on behalf of the company to pull them aside and say, pardon me, I’m so and so, and I couldn’t help but overhear what you were proclaiming and wondered if you could tell me where you heard that. And I would also like to correct that misimpression with the brief but very real facts of the situation.”
Hodges and Johnson said that they will not be using an engineer in the future. Instead, they will heed the lessons and make sure that parking and shuttling goes smoothly on future FloydFest Thursdays .
Rain and supervisors
Hardly a FloydFest has passed without at least one strong rain. The first one is famous for sitting underneath a tropical storm’s stubborn remnants. The July 27 downpour reminded some of that one. Except this time, there were a few thousand more people on the grounds. And many of them had vehicles that were stuck in the new parking area.
While the event does not refund ticket prices, it did pay for towing, hiring farmers and others with tractors in Floyd and Patrick counties. And those who hired their own towing got refunds for that, Johnson said.
But where the Floyd County Board of Supervisors was concerned, stuck cars were not the issue.
As the deluge grew, festival organizers first called on Floyd County schools, which agreed to let the festival use space at the county’s adjoining vocational, elementary and high schools.
Organizers, in need of more shuttles, called on county buses and bus drivers. And when the schools’ lots were full, organizers called on Dreaming Creek Timber Frame Homes — a festival sponsor that had built FloydFest’s highest-profile stages — for space on its property at Floyd County Industrial Park.
Some supervisors questioned why Floyd County was helping the festival, an event that takes place primarily in neighboring Patrick County, and wondered whether they should be charging for all of that parking. As it turned out, Virginia law prevents them from charging after the fact.
By then, a wide variety of commenters had already posted their opinions about the event, the rain, the parking and more at Floyd Press reporter Doug Thompson’s blog, Blue Ridge Muse. Thompson had written in the Press that the board wanted festival organizers to come to a meeting and answer a variety of questions, including what value the festival brings to Floyd County.
Thompson had also used his blog to debunk many of the rumors .
Supervisor Lauren Yoder had taken to Thompson’s blog to make a comment. Apparently, parking at Dreaming Creek’s property at the industrial park had spilled over into a county-owned portion of the property.
“Let’s be really clear about the only thing the county officially has requested, that we be reimbursed at some level for the use of the property in the industrial park. … As far as I’m concerned I’m only interested in being fair,” Yoder, also a FloydFest attendee, wrote, adding that “a private business shouldn’t get free services from the county.
“On the other hand I definitely don’t want to get into position where local government is telling a private business where it should be doing business. … This is a very simple matter of a small amount of money that has been blown way out of proportion due to a split in the community between those who like FloydFest and those who dislike it.”
In an Aug. 27 supervisors meeting in Floyd, Johnson took the dais to state her case and hear questions and comments from the supervisors. She told the board about the falling-out with Chateau Morrisette and about the sheriff’s and detective’s retirement from parking coordination.
She told them that despite the fact that very little tax revenue from FloydFest winds up in Floyd County’s coffers, the event brings value to its town and county namesake. Johnson said that an 8-year-old study out of Radford University showed that even back then, the weekend pumped about $1 million into the county’s economy, and that a new study, done with a Virginia Tech group, is forthcoming.
She told them that the festival donated $54,600 to local charities this year, with $17,000 more earmarked for donations — typical of the festival’s annual donations.
Across the Way Productions paid $12,000 to local farmers who towed cars out of the mud, and Floyd County Schools netted $9,000 for its buses and drivers, she said.
Board chairman Case Clinger had been concerned about insurance liability on the school buses. Johnson said that the event has a $3 million umbrella policy.
Supervisor Virgel Allen said that FloydFest did the “right thing” in working with the schools, given the circumstances.
Yoder’s concerns also seemed to be addressed. He said that he was interested in having festival customers park there in the future.
Back to the grindstone
Dalton, the festival’s former volunteer parking coordinator, was used to hearing complaints throughout the years, but he put it in perspective.
“We took a lot of cussings,” he said. “You know how people are. You can have 15,000 people there, and there’s 20 of them that’s got something to fuss about, and you’ve got to listen.”
He remembers that first torrentially rainy FloydFest, and a couple more that followed.
“Sooner or later, your luck runs out. And this was just a bad year,” he said.
He thinks the event might do better with fewer people on the grounds, too. With only one way in and one way out , dealing with up to 20,000 people is going to be difficult.
“You’re limited on how much you can do to make it better. I wish FloydFest well. They’re good people. They bring in a lot of people to Floyd County, and it’s generally an orderly crowd.”
Hodges and Johnson say they believe they can make it work at the current crowd levels, and are working to prove it next year, when FloydFest happens again on the last weekend in July.
“We’re not personalizing it,” Johnson said. “We’re just nose to the grindstone, continuing to make FloydFest the best it can be.”
Weather JournalMix on Sat AM; coming blog changes