The Festy Awards: Best of 2020 in (Streaming) Music and (Virtual) Festivals
The 2020 Festy Awards – The Festies: The Best of 2020 in Music and Festivals
What a year.
I said that same thing writing this last year, but then I was lamenting the incredible amount of live music that was somehow packed into just 365 days.
Last year, I talked about all of the amazing new venues we visited, the new artists we got to see live, and all of the incredible festivals we were lucky enough to attend.
What a difference a year makes.
In 2020, we had to reimagine everything about the world of live music, including our place in it. As Live Music Journalists, we found ourselves without a purpose.
Slowly, however, the music community came together in the most incredible way.
Musicians started sharing intimate live performances from their homes, and the fans showed their appreciation. Festivals began to accept the inevitable cancellations and shifted towards virtual gatherings. Eventually, the curve was flattened enough as we were blessed with the Summer weather, and actual LIVE music returned, on the wings of the amazing creativity and ingenuity that this community is capable of.
As for Festy GoNuts, we started an at-home web series, Festy From The Futon. We used the platform to catch up with our musician friends and see how they were using their quaran-time. We also hosted virtual dance parties, and were elated to see our friends dressed in their festy attire dancing and smiling along at home, all reveling in the shared experience. We used our platforms to help streaming musicians get the most out of their efforts. And we learned a greater appreciation of everything we are lucky enough to enjoy in our lives.
What’s important is that we ALL adapted, and got through it, together!
In a year that is unlike any other any of us will ever experience, the music played on.
That is why we couldn’t possibly be happier to be able to bring you…
The Second Annual Festy Awards!
The Second Annual Festy Awards, as with everything in 2020, will look a little different.
Instead of the Best Festival, you’ll find the Best Virtual Music Festival and the Best Drive-In Concert. In lieu of our favorite Live Music Moments, you’ll see the Best Live Streams. We also included our favorite Web Series, Best Artist/Fan Collaboration, Best Tour, Best New Albums, and many more!
We also asked you to look way back and share the last “normal” event you attended. All that, and more!
So, without further ado, here are the 2020 FESTY AWARDS:
BEST FESTIVAL THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED:
Winter WonderGrass – Steamboat
This has been such a crazy, long year that it’s pretty easy to forget that it didn’t start that way.
Back in the early Winter months of 2020, we were all doing what we always do, and in Colorado, that means dancing our asses off in the cold and snow at Winter WonderGrass in Steamboat Springs!
Greensky Bluegrass, Billy Strings, Margo Price, The Travelin’ McCourys, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades and many more kept people warm and dancing, and anyone lucky enough to attend the late-February party went into the quarantine with a nice warm fuzzy feeling.
After a long summer of partial concerts, virtual gatherings, and drive-ins, all of which were great considering the circumstances, we were nonetheless ecstatic to learn of a real festival – in Colorado – with Leftover Salmon!
Salmon threw a Fall MASKerade on the lawn of the Surf Hotel in Buena Vista. Three days of socially distanced music and revelry fell on a cold and snowy weekend, but the weather wasn’t going to keep down the spirits of the several hundred in attendance who, for one weekend at least, got to experience some sort of “normalcy” in the form of Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass music by the best in the business!
BEST NEW ALBUMS OF 2020
The Silver Linings of 2020 were plentiful if you were open to them.
One of the positive things that came out of this year was the amount of time that some of our favorite artists had to work on new material.
The result was a year full of new releases – some coming as complete surprises to the fans (and often the labels!).
Here are some of our favorite Best New Albums of 2020:
Sturgill Simpson Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1
In the Spring of 2020, Sturgill Simpson had just come out of his own battle with COVID and presented his fans with a fundraising challenge, which they happily took on.
The reward – Sturgill recruited Sierra Hull, Stuart Duncan, Tim O’Brien, Scott Vestal, Mike Bub, Mark Howard, and Miles Miller to record a bluegrass album of 20 previously recorded Sturgill songs spanning his catalog.
The best part? This was only Volume 1!
Danny Barnes Man on Fire
Banjo legend and general all-around badass, Danny Barnes, teamed up with a slew of friends to create Man on Fire.
Produced by Dave Matthews, the album, along with Matthews, also features legends like Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, jazz pioneer Bill Frisell, and drummer Matt Chamberlain (Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie).
Jon Stickley Trio Scripting The Flip
In a year that certainly was flipped in more ways than we can count, Scripting The Flip quickly became our favorite theme music.
Released in early April when we had plenty of time to fully digest it, the fifth album by Jon Stickley Trio (the first with drummer Hunter Deacon) found us dancing along in our onesies at a time when we truly needed it.
We caught up with the Jon Stickley Trio – Jon Stickley, Lyndsay Pruett, and Hunter DeaconJ- via Zoom in early May. It was the first time the Trio had “seen” one another in quite a while! The interview was included as part of Festy From The Futon: Episode 4.
BEST ARTIST/FAN COLLABORATION
As artists looked for creative ways to connect with their fans in a troubling time when we all needed one another, the Artist/Fan Collaboration Videos made waves.
Many involved the fans submitting a video to a pre-chosen song, and clips were arranged alongside the artists and often their families and friends as well.
The results were fun and uplifting. Here are our favorites:
Long Way To Go
The Hobos sang, played, danced, picked, hooped, laughed, cried, and showed why they are such an amazing family!
Do It Alone: A Togetherness Project
From Greensky Bluegrass: “Thanks to everyone who participated in this project! We truly couldn’t do it alone. It brings us joy when the music unites us. We are so grateful that we all have found each other. We love you and we eagerly await being together again!”
I Wanna Dance Challenge
While all the participants in this are artists or industry professionals, nothing blurred the lines between fans and artists more than 2020 did. We were truly all in it together, as Frasco showed us with this collaboration.
BEST LIVE STREAMING VENUE:
Andy Thorn’s TINY DECK
Andy Thorn of Leftover Salmon had his Tiny Deck built for his wedding, but he has since used it as one of the most beautiful settings for a concert we have ever seen.
While Andy could often be seen pickin’ at sunrise with a fox, filling bongs with snow, or skiing with his wife, it was the Tiny Deck Concerts that really delighted the fans.
The view from the deck in the mountains looks across the Front Range and down on Boulder and beyond. Online viewers were ecstatic to see an artist performing from somewhere other than their basement or kitchen table. The Colorado weather sometimes presented challenges, but more often than not, afternoon showers led to sunset rainbows.
Thorn paid close attention to the important details, and the sound quality and video production were both on point.
And then, of course, were the lineups.
Tyler Grant, The Sweet Lillies, Banshee Tree, and Daniel Rodriguez all sounded fantastic on the deck.
Thorn also called upon his talented group of friends in the region and put together some of the best collaborations we have seen.
The Band of Andys featured Andy Hall, Andy Frasco, Vince “Andy” Herman and Jeremy “Andy” Salken. The Almost Broke Mountain Jam had Anders Beck, Robin Davis and Jimi Giles join Andy. Jeremy Garrett and Adam Aijala made an incredible trio with Thorn. And the list went on all summer long!
While these were online-only events (with the exception of a few socially-distanced neighbors), hopes are that the Tiny Deck will one day host live audiences!
Worst Music Festival Story from 2019 that doesn’t sound so bad now: STD Breakout at Coachella
Now, in a year no one could have predicted, it’s just kind of sad.
I guess the good news is that Coachella was canceled, and didn’t have the chance to do more damage than a herpes outbreak.
🚙 BEST DRIVE-IN CONCERT:
Greensky Bluegrass – Blue Ridge Falls, NC – Halloween Weekend
Add Drive-In-Concert to the list of 2020 creations.
When COVID reared its ugly head and shutdown the majority of concerts and festivals, the community did what it does best and got creative.
Thus, the Drive-in Concert was born!
Fans gathered in fields around their cars, appropriately spaced, of course, and got to do something they had missed all year – dance to LIVE music!
Many artists and organizations deserve a TON of credit for making these special events a reality. We give the BEST DRIVE-IN CONCERT AWARD to Greensky Bluegrass for their creativity and unique ways of connecting with their fans, along with their ability to adjust on-the-fly and continue to deliver!
Greensky Bluegrass wasn’t going to let a global pandemic stop them from an epic Halloween throwdown!
They planned a 3-Night run at the Blue Ridge Falls drive-in. When an epic deluge shut them out of night one, they moved the production indoors to the Asheville Music Hall and played a live-streaming show for their fans around the world! Nights 2 and 3 returned to the outdoor venue as planned.
The band was also celebrating 20 years together and used the drive-in shows as a historical journey through their impressive catalog.
For never under-doing it, Greensky Bluegrass AND THEIR FANS get the Best Drive-In Concert Award!
Photos by Corie O’Malley
BEST MUSICAL WEB SERIES
Face it, we all spent a bit more time in front of screens this year than normal!
When we weren’t binging Tiger King or watching our favorite Live Streams, we were being entertained with content produced by artists in the form of a Web Series.
Here are a few of our favorite Web Series from 2020:
We’ve shared our love for the music of Tenth Mountain Division in the past, and the rise of this amazing band from Colorado has been a treat to watch.
Now they’ve turned themselves into a variety show.
Think, The Monkees, but somehow weirder?
The 5-Episode Web Series is extremely well done and features music, comedy, guest appearances, and more!
We’re HUGE fans of The White Buffalo AKA Jake Smith, as we’ve reported in the past.
The Web Series, In The Garage, first aired long before COVID forced artists to rethink their content and connections to their audiences, but 2020 gave Jake Smith plenty of time to build on the series with 13 new episodes in 2020.
Each episode features a beer review and a song, but it’s the moments between that really make the series, as viewers get a real look into the personality of the prolific songwriter.
OK, this is obvious self-promotion, but why not?
When 2020 put the brakes on music festivals, Festy GoNuts had to adapt. So, we made a web series and called it Festy From The Futon!
We called some of our friends and booked them as guests, we reported on the latest news, had a dance party and shared some items from our kitchen. Mostly, we had fun!
In the end, we created 4 Episodes of Season 1, plus an additional “At Home With” series. We featured Jeff Daugherty, Emily Yates, Andrew Cooney (Tenth Mountain Division), Andy Thorn (Leftover Salmon) and his wife, Cecelia, Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon), Adam Greuel (Horseshoes and Hand Grenades) and the Jon Stickley Trio!
We also kicked off Season 2 with Larry and Jenny Keel. Sadly, we replaced the Futon, so we’re rebranding as Festy From Home!
THE LEMONADE AWARD:
The Sweet Lillies
When life hands you lemons… you smash the shit out of them like the Queen that you are!
Nothing taught us that lesson better than the collective shitshow of 2020. And no one embraced that better than The Sweet Lillies, the recipients of the inaugural Lemonade Award.
While every artist had to deal with cancellations and rescheduling throughout this crazy year, The Sweet Lillies met each setback with a smile and a plan.
When a night at the Mishawaka Amphitheater was canceled due to a crazy forest fire (yeah, it wasn’t just COVID wreaking havoc on 2020), The Sweet Lillies threw a private mini-festival. When new distancing measures threw a wrench in some of the Halloween plans, another mini-festival was held, and fans and friends donned costumes and danced in the Colorado sunshine!
A Thanksgiving show at Denver’s Globe Hall was moved to March, and when an intimate evening at the Boulder Theater in January had to be moved to May, it became the official Album Release Party for the forthcoming new album “Common Ground”!
Way to stay on your toes, Lillies! Congrats!
BEST ARCHIVAL STREAMS
One of the coolest things to come out of 2020 was the music that some artists made available to their fans.
As a way to stay connected and help keep everyone’s spirits high, some artists released footage that hadn’t been seen before, or offered up for free shows that were previously pay-per-view.
Here are some of the Best Archival offerings of 2020:
Few bands have played as many live shows as Phish, and even fewer are as creative at surprising and delighting their fans, often when they need it the most.
Phish announced their Dinner and a Movie series to commence on Tuesday, March 24 (in typical Phish fashion, the announcement came on that Monday!), starting with a show from August 31, 2012, at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado.
Phish phans around the world rejoiced, as they now had a weekly shared activity to help them fill the void that the summer tour cancellations had left in their lives, as well as a reason to again break out the donut dresses.
For the dinner part, the band offered a different recipe each week to accompany the show.
Phish also selected a different charity each week for which to direct donations to its Water Wheel Foundation.
For 30 weeks in a row, Colorado icons The String Cheese Incident gave back to their fans with a different free show from the archives!
The band curated some rare and classic performances from their long career, featuring special guests and incredible jams.
The free streams helped provide donations to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.
After the conclusion of the regular series, the band continued to reward fans with special editions of Friday Night Cheese for Thanksgiving and New Years.
Greensky Bluegrass dug into their extensive archives to entertain their fans and stay connected throughout the musical shutdown of 2020.
The Live From The Archive shows featured full shows and rare unreleased footage.
During the streams, Paul Hoffman interacted with the Facebook chat, keeping the spirit of a Greensky show alive… virtually.
“Telluride” Tom Heidger is a fixture at the world-famous Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Of course, along with everything else this year, Telluride Bluegrass was canceled.
That didn’t stop Tom, famous for his festival-commencing Rum Balls, from spreading the Telluride vibes!
Each Thursday, Tom dug deep into the archives and shared a special Telluride set on Mixlr.
Thanks for keeping Telluride Bluegrass alive all year, Tom!
BUSIEST UNEMPLOYED ARTIST AWARD:
When many artists used the 2020 shutdown to catch up on some much-needed R&R, Andy Frasco seemed to actually step things up.
And things were already up for Frasco!
In 2020 we saw Andy Frasco hosting dance parties, creating collaborative videos, hosting his World Saving Podcast and his World Saving Shitshow, headlining Red Rocks Amphitheatre (!!!), playing on Andy Thorn’s Tiny Deck, performing interactive Live Streaming concerts, actually going on tour, AND releasing a NEW album, Keep On Keeping On!
We probably missed a few things.
Can’t wait to see what you’ve got for us in 2021, Andy!
BEST 2020 TOUR:
Holly Bowling – The Wilderness Sessions
“I decided if the only option right now is to play to empty spaces, then I wanted to do that in a giant canyon or on a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere. If people can’t be a part of the equation for the time being, let’s lean into that and take it further – get really far out there away from everyone and play there. It’s one of those things that would never have worked in normal times.”
When COVID pretty much shut down all summer tours in 2020, Holly Bowling got creative.
The lack of musical touring opportunities combined with the lack of crowds in the Nation’s parks presented Bowling with an incredible opportunity.
She hit the road and set up in some of the most beautiful and iconic locations in our country – Yosemite, CA; Badlands, SD; Moab, UT – to name a few.
The result? Hauntingly beautiful music in surreal settings and videos that will surely outlive the memory of Summer 2020!
BEST VIRTUAL FESTIVALS
There were quite a few Virtual Festivals in 2020, since that was pretty much the only way to safely “gather” and share in music.
Props to all of the festivals that adapted and kept the music alive despite the challenges of 2020.
Here are a few Virtual Music Festivals that really stood out in 2020:
The effects of this pandemic on the music festival world were felt in full with the cancellation of the Memorial Day Weekend staple, DelFest.
Not a group used to quiting, the McCoury Family and the DelFest Crew were among the first to attempt a full-on Virtual Music Festival.
Without knowing exactly what to expect, fans were treated to a full 4-day weekend of amazing performances from the DelFest Archives, including Trey Anastasio Band, Hot Rize, Sam Bush, Greensky Bluegrass, Leftover Salmon, and many more.
The virtual festival was closed with the 2017 Late-night performance from the Travelin’ McCourys’ Grateful Ball featuring Jeff Austin. Fans around the country tuned in together and shared in the special virtual set, shedding more than a few real tears.
Donations collected throughout the weekend supported the DelFest Foundation.
It’s just not summer without Northwest String Summit!
When the festival cancellations started upending the music world, Northwest String Summit did what they do best – they adapted and kicked ass!
NWSS curated a full weekend of online entertainment, combining pro-shot live footage with remote performances and special sets from the archive.
While nothing will replace the feel of a real, live music festival, Strummit got about as close as possible in a 2020 virtual format!
This would have been the 35th Annual Grey Fox Music Festival with music stretching across 6 stages at the amazing Catskills, NY location. Like most of 2020, Grey Fox was cancelled this year.
The folks at Grey Fox went on with The Spirit of Grey Fox Virtual Music Festival and kept the music alive for their amazingly supportive fans and community.
The free stream was hosted by Jerry Douglas, Sierra Hull, Ron Thomason and Joe Newberry, and raised funds for the IBMA Trust Fund.
BEST LATE-NIGHT SHOW:
Jeff Austin Band – Schmiggity’s Steamboat Springs 2019
Since we didn’t see ANY late-night shows in 2020, the Award for Best Late-Night Show remains with the Jeff Austin Band!
It was one of the best sets of music we have ever seen, made even more special by its rareness.
Jeff was with us in various ways throughout 2020, most notably during a Zoom dance party we hosted while streaming a JAB set.
2020 Festy Awards: THE BEST LIVE STREAMS of 2020!
The LIVE STREAM took on an entirely new life, meaning and purpose in 2020.
In a year pretty much devoid of actual live interactions and performances, the Live Stream was a saving grace for many. For musicians, a musical outlet and potential new income stream. For fans, a way to stay connected to the music, the artists and the community.
While not a replacement for the real thing, Live Streams were a blessing to us all this year. Watching your favorite artists perform from their living room while interacting with your friends in the comments, friends who were home doing the same thing as you – well, this truly kept many of us going when we needed it most.
This is a list that could go on and on – there were so many incredibly offerings on a daily basis for music lovers – but we’ve included some of the ones that really stood out for us and our readers.
So, here are the BEST LIVE STREAMS OF 2020:
Tenth Mountain Division: Camera Jams
May 28, 2020
After a springtime filled with some really fun and intimate performances by artists with videography and sound quality sometimes given a pass, it was extremely refreshing to see a high-quality professional show.
Take Cover with Dave Bruzza and Allie Kral
June 10, 2020
The Take Cover Series by Dave Bruzza, produced by 201 Productions, provided 4 weeks of quality solo acoustic performances by the Greensky Bluegrass guitarist.
Often the quietest member when onstage with Greensky (can you really compete with Anders’ banter!?) it was a treat for fans to get a close and personal look at Bruzza.
For the final week of the series, Bruzza was joined by Yonder Mountain String Band’s Allie Kral for an unforgettable set of music.
Tips for the show were donated to the NAACP: bit.ly/TakeCover-Donate
Josh Daniel’s Quarantine Sessions
Back in mid-March, North Carolina’s Josh Daniel started a daily live stream on Facebook, and has kept it going ever since!
His “Quarantine Sessions” are now his “Winter Couch Tour,” and he has managed to not only bring reliable quality music to his fans but also help to support his family through this difficult time and raise thousands of dollars for the Charlotte-based Craniofacial Children Foundation!
Way to go, Josh!
Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn – Banjo House Lockdown!
When the ultimately talented Béla Fleck and his equally gifted wife, Abigail Washburn started a weekly stream during the early days of the quarantine, it turned into pure entertainment gold!
Featuring songs from the living room, antics from the kids, performances in the shower, goofiness, and all-around fun – the live videos reminded us just how much we were all united in this together! Seeing the pair of Fleck and Washburn, in their pajamas, balancing their children and their audience, was truly a touching experience. And to top it off, the streams raised money for the MusiCares COVID Relief Fund!
Fleck and Washburn (and their family!) reminded us that we are all humans together in this journey, and it truly gave us hope in a time when it was so needed.
Cris Jacobs’ The Basement Sessions
Like so many of us in the Spring of 2020, Cris Jacobs was stuck at home and had to adapt. He started the weekly Basement Sessions Live Streams back in March and has kept up the weekly performances ever since.
Featuring a mix of covers and originals, each Session delivers around 2 hours of amazing music. Jacobs has also used the platform to benefit a ton of worthy causes, often donating all of his tips to a different organization each week.
Billy Strings Live From Red Rocks
September 26, 2020
Billy wasn’t going to let a pandemic keep him from getting back to that stage this year, apparently! He performed 3 powerful sets from the iconic venue and made them available on Nugs.TV.
Here’s a taste…
What was the last “normal” show you saw?
In a year that was anything but normal, we asked our readers to reach way back in their memories and share with us the last pre-COVID “normal” music experience they had.
These are some of the last shows that you all saw, before masks and social distancing:
OYSTERHEAD • Broomfield, CO • 2/14 -15
Stickley Trio, Cris Jacobs, Della Mae, Lyndsay Lou • Cervantes Other Side – Denver, CO • 2/20
Phish • Maya Riviera, Mexico • 2/20 – 23
Sam Bush • Boulder Theater – Boulder, CO • 3/1
Leftover Salmon and ALO • Warfield – San Francisco, CA • 3/7
Andy Thorn and Friends • Patagonia Store – Boulder, CO • 3/10
Allman Brothers • MSG – New York, NY • 3/10
Phab 4 • Washingtons – Fort Collins, CO • 3/11
And the last tours that many of you caught, in various locations:
Kitchen Dwellers • Sticks n’ Thorns • Railroad Earth • Drew Emmitt & Vince Herman • Tool • Tedeschi Trucks Band • Infamous Stringdusters
And the very last “normal” show that anyone reported seeing before shit got weird…
Yonder Mountain String Band • Mars Music Hall – Huntsville, AL • 3/12
Whew! That’s a wrap on 2020! WE MADE IT!!!
It wasn’t all bad, was it?
Sure, we missed out on a ton of concerts and festivals, but we can tell our grandkids about Drive-In Concerts, Zoom Parties and Virtual Festivals!
Thanks for reading, and THANK YOU SO MUCH for all of your support.
Festy GoNuts is very much a labor of love, and when you read our articles and comment on our posts and share our content, it means more to us than you could imagine.
We’re all here for the same reason – we love LIVE music.
We are forever grateful to get to experience it with you – even when it’s mostly virtual!
Here’s to an unbelievably NORMAL 2021!
Jason and Kelly Law
Support Festy GoNuts!
If you enjoy content like this, please consider helping to support Festy GoNuts. This is very much a passion project and labor of love. Unfortunately, love doesn’t always pay the bills!
By supporting Festy GoNuts, you are, in effect, supporting the artists and festivals that we all love so dearly!
Thank you for supporting Festy GoNuts!
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