Rooster Walk Music and Arts Festival is one of the best up-and-coming events you've never heard of.
That's about to change. With this year's star-studded roots rock lineup and a new home, you can count on it.
Rooster Walk started with a couple of bands and more than a couple kegs in a field on the outskirts of Martinsville, Virginia, as a way to honor two high school buddies who died too young.
Two years ago, Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine named the event the best "Underground Festival" in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast.
But there's nothing "underground" about this Memorial Day weekend event, scheduled May 21-24. It will feature headliners Yonder Mountain String Band and more than a dozen other heavy hitters, including Lake Street Dive, Steep Canyon Rangers, Southern Culture on the Skids and Donna the Buffalo.
"Rooster Walk in 2015 goes from being a great concept to a regional fixture on the festival scene," says Dean Johnston, president of Arts at the Rives Theatre (ART), a community nonprofit that has transformed the historic Rives Theatre from a movie house into a live-music venue that features Rooster Walk acts throughout the year. "Suddenly Yonder Mountain String Band is the top act as opposed to Yarn, and they now have a venue designed to host a festival. With the new location, I think they can take it to next level."
More than 40 acts are scheduled to perform at Pop's Farm -- just off U.S. 58 and about an hour's drive from Roanoke, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina.
In addition to the headliners, the aforementioned Yarn, Particle, Mountain Heart, Dangermuffin, The Mantras, BIG Something, People's Blues of Richmond, Big Daddy Love, Stop Light Observations, The Congress, Mipso, Major & the Monbacks, the Kings of Belmont, After Jack, Jon Stickley Trio, Lizzy Ross, Annabelle's Curse, Mighty Joshua, the Southern Belles, The Shack Band, Empire Strikes Brass, Seth Stainback & Roosterfoot, Anthony Rosano & The Conqueroos and Junto, among others, are set to play on five stages.
"People come for big acts, but the festival is about the small-letter bands and the musicians you discover," Johnston added.
This festival is also about small crowds. Unlike Coachella or Bonnaroo, Rooster Walk attracts thousands, not 10s of thousands.
And rare is the festival that offers such an interesting blend of musical genres, according to mandolin player Andrew Hendryx, co-founder of Brooklyn-based alt-country band Yarn, a Rooster Walk favorite that is scheduled to perform twice during this year's event.
"One of the things I really love is the community of people here and the way the promoters blend music," he said in between sets during the 2014 event. "What an inspiring place to play music. They have an amazing quality of musicians here."
In addition to music, craft beer and farm-to-table food truck offerings, there's on-site camping and a wide variety of arts, crafts vendors and kids activities including free music, tie-dye and hula-hoop workshops, a parade, face painting and a Teen Dance Party. Other attractions include a Healing Arts Area with yoga and massage, a disc golf course and numerous walking/hiking trails on the 150-acre Piedmont foothills property.
"We couldn't be more excited about all the great things going on around Rooster Walk 7," says Johnny Buck, executive director and festival co-founder. "The band lineup came together perfectly, and the new venue is just absolutely gorgeous. Both primary stages are located on the edge of a small lake, and the water is going to serve as a stunning backdrop. It's got the perfect recipe for a Memorial Day weekend to remember."
About 600 people gathered seven years ago to listen to music and to celebrate the lives of two close friends, Edwin "The Rooster" Penn and Walker Shank. In 2014, more than 4,000 people attended the festival. A portion of the proceeds goes to a college scholarship fund as well as a band instrument program at area public schools.
For Jessica Beverage of Charlottesville, Virginia, Rooster Walk has become a Memorial Day weekend tradition for her and her two young children. "It's like you're having a backyard cookout with your friends with music. It's down to earth. It's not pretentious. We just dig it."
Watch a promotional video here. Rooster Walk Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to music, arts and education in the Martinsville/Henry County area. For ticket information, visit www.roosterwalk.com