Sleepy Creek SpringDig 2019: Bringing it home
Our rental car crested yet another hill, winding through valley after green valley, through western Maryland and finally into West Virginia. As we crossed over the Potomac, swelling from the abundance of spring rains, I heard a giddy snort from the back seat.
“Yes, Neil,” I assured the excited pink unicorn staring anxiously out of the window, “We’re home.”
You see, Neil – Corneilius the Unicorn was conceived at Sleepy Creek 3 long years ago, as was Festy GoNuts.
A Little Festy History…
Festy GoNuts was launched in the early Spring of 2016. To kick off our newest project – a music festival website that was to focus on music, culture, and adventure – we planned a 5 Festivals in 5 Weeks road trip. With family on the East Coast and a visit overdue, we started planning around a handful of East Coast music festivals.
Aiken Bluegrass was on the radar from the get-go, as was the iconic Delfest. The road trip began to take shape, and Festy GoNuts started adding content to the site and producing swag to give out as we spread the word about our new venture.
At some point, one of us stumbled upon a little known (to us) festy outside of the also little known town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. With one of our favorites, Larry Keel Experience, on the roster, Sleepy Creek SpringDig had our attention. While we knew very little about the rest of the artists on the lineup, the more we learned about SpringDig, the more we realized it needed to be added to the itinerary.
So it was that Festy GoNuts was officially launched with a 6 Festivals in 6 Weeks road trip that kicked off at Sleepy Creek SpringDig 2016!
A Unicorn is Born: Spring Dig 2016
As Kelly and I headed out on our journey back in 2016, we felt something was missing. We needed a third in our party. Fate brought him to us in the form of a diminutive pink unicorn with a large attitude and a penchant for partying. He needed a name.
We checked into Sleepy Creek Campground on Thursday, opting for the extra night. As we put the finishing touches on our tent and hung our Festy GoNuts banner, we were approached by a friendly security guard who informed us that we had inadvertently set up in an area that was technically not for camping. He told us it was no big deal, and we would probably be ok, and no, we shouldn’t bother to move. He was so nice, we asked him his name. Neil, he said. Short for Cornelius.
As Neil left, we chatted about how friendly he was, and how we had never known that the name “Neil” is short for “Cornelius.” Then it hit us. Cornelius. Unicornelius. NEIL!
Thus the third in the GoNuts family was officially named and ready for his first festival adventure!
Sleepy Creek SpringDig 2016 was nothing short of magical.
We made friends, danced in the rain, took pictures and notes, handed out stickers, and excitedly told people about Festy GoNuts.
After an amazing weekend, we packed up and started heading immediately towards Aiken Bluegrass Festival.
From the road, we edited pictures, quickly learned to add a watermark, and penned our very first festival review:
“We were non-stop impressed by the onslaught of musical talent and the family-friendly vibe that resonated throughout the rain and sunshine all weekend long.”
Sleepy Creek SpringDig 2019
When, once again, a visit to the East Coast loomed and Spring was on the horizon, Sleepy Creek SpringDig immediately entered the conversation. A chance to return to the start of it all – to revisit the beginnings of Festy GoNuts 3 years later, and take stock in where we’ve been – it was too good to pass up!
We arrived at Sleepy Creek Campground on Friday morning, just as beautiful blue skies began to darken and the expected rain first graced us with its presence. But we are now older, wiser and experienced with how to prepare for a rainy music festival. No big deal this time around!
The good folks behind SpringDig are also more experienced, and this year, for the first time, Sleepy Creek offered up rain insurance as a ticket add-on. Alas, the total rainfall fell just short of the amounts needed for the insurance policy to kick in – which would have refunded the ticket price to those who purchased it. Nonetheless, it is a great idea, and we hope to see Sleepy Creek keep the insurance policy around in the future.
As folks arrived and set up camp, music was already underway and the day was in full swing for those who chose to arrive the night before, always an option at SpringDig.
I immediately took note in all the differences in SpringDig since 2016. We could tell from the get-go that this festival had grown since our last visit. More tents and more people did not in any way mean more crowds though, as this laid-back festival has plenty of room for everyone.
A new playground is part of the landscape at Sleepy Creek, and it was in full use all weekend, rain or shine. One of the best family-friendly fests around, Sleepy Creek has plenty to keep the kiddos occupied while mom and dad are getting down.
The stage area has seen some improvements, as well. The entire area in front of the stage is now a giant sandbox, keeping back the mud pits that normally would form with the inevitable spring rains. The stage is also now topped by a giant replica of the front end of a locomotive, perfectly complimenting the frequent passing train, and serving as a backdrop for the light shows that kicked in when the sun went down.
Taking this all in, we grabbed our chairs and relaxed on the beach, enjoying our first music of the weekend.
Friday’s festivities were kicked off by the Sleepy Creek Family Jam and the Sweet Maple Singers. The last of the day’s sunshine was gone by the time The Fly Birds took the stage, but no one seemed to mind. Rain is a part of this festival, and there is nothing to do but embrace and enjoy it.
Despite a small lightning delay, The Fly Birds, new to us, were extremely impressive and set a tone that we are now used to at SpringDig – get ready to be blown away by the talent that you may have never heard of!
As night came in earnest, Rumpke Mountain Boys took the stage, with Andy Thorn of Leftover Salmon filling in for Jason Wolf on banjo. Drew Emmitt was also in attendance and sat in for a few numbers as well. The result was incredibly tight jams that had all of Sleepy Creek up and getting down (gotta get up to get down) and reveling in the first day of amazing music on the Potomac.
One of the most unique aspects of Sleepy Creek’s SpringDig is the bonfire jam. Folkfaces from Buffalo, NY hosted the Friday night jam, which now is played from a smaller stage adjacent to the legendary Sleepy Creek bonfire.
Flames dance into the clouds as the remaining late-night crowd keeps the party going until the wee hours.
Saturday at Sleepy Creek SpringDig
Saturday graced us with a dry start to the day, and the Sleepy Creek crowd soaked up every bit of sunshine they could!
Mateo Monk kicked things off, followed by the uniquely soulful sounds of The Gypsy Ramblers. One of the biggest surprises (to us!) of the weekend came in the form of Joe Keyes and the Late Bloomer Band. Filling up the Sleepy Creek stage with percussion, horns, keys, and guitars – along with the extremely animated Joe Keyes – this funk party is one you don’t want to miss!
After kicking our energy up a notch with the Joe Keyes show, we marched right into the annual Sleepy Creek SpringDig parade!
We’re normally used to costumes at music festivals, it’s par for the course for Festy GoNuts. Sleepy Creek tends to see more utilitarian garb, however, based partly on the usual wet weather of SpringDig. Whatever the reason, jeans and flannel are more prominent at this West Virginia festival than sparkles and glitter. Or so you might assume if you were not around for the parade!
Hundreds of Spring Diggers came out in their best fest gear to follow a Wacky-Wavy-Arm-Guy and the Joe Keyes and the Late Bloomers horn section around the campground.
Just about all the attendees of the fest came to bear witness as we let our freak flags fly and truly celebrated this FESTIVAAAALLLL!
The rains, as if stirred awake by the revelry of the parade, came back to join us in time for Stephen Lewis and the Big Band of Fun. No worries, by now everyone is used to it, and the warm temperatures at times made us even forget we were wet!
Jon Stickley Trio took the stage in the early evening, and definitely got the attention of everyone there. An intricate set of music by 3 of the most talented artists at the festival, the Stickley Trio performance got us all ready for the epic throwdown we were all about to be part of.
It’s no secret that Festy GoNuts are big fans and supporters of Leftover Salmon. In fact, during our inaugural 6 Festivals in 6 Weeks road trip in 2016, we had the honor of interviewing Leftover Salmon as our very first artist interview. (Talk about trial by fire! Check out the Leftover Salmon interview here)
Needless to say, we were excited for the special Andy Thorn and Drew Emmitt set on Saturday night at Sleepy Creek.
Drew and Andy took the stage as a duo (informally called “Growing Bone”) and brought the majority of the SpringDig crowd out of their tents and into the rain to see these incredible musicians.
To our delight, they were quickly joined by Jon Stickley and Lyndsay Pruett (Jon Stickley Trio) for the remainder of their set. Jon and Andy have played together for ages – both were in the legendary super-group Broke Mountain Bluegrass – and their chemistry onstage is truly special.
Jeff Austin Band at Sleepy Creek SpringDig
After a full set of amazing music from the Emmitt/Thorn duo, we got ready for what we knew was going to be another epic throw down – the Jeff Austin Band.
We recently were able to interview Jeff and have been catching his band as much as possible (read the Jeff Austin Story). With Kyle Tuttle bending space and time on his banjo, the incredibly talented Jean-Luc Davis on bass, and the latest addition, guitar prodigy Julian Davis, who will subtlety melt your face right off your head, this foursome is one of the hottest around!
As expected, Jeff Austin Band crushed Sleepy Creek.
Just the right amount of weirdness was brought to the banks of the Potomac as Jeff and his crew journeyed through classic Jeff Austin tunes and covers, including the always amazingly awkward John Hartford tune “Boogie.” Lyndsay Pruett (Jon Stickley Trio) joined for an incredible Death Trip, and she and Julian Davis traded licks as if they’d practiced for years!
Sleepy Creek Super Jam
When the dust settled and we regained our breath, the potential of the next performance to hit Sleepy Creek stage started to hit home. I caught a glimpse of Andy Thorn and Kyle Tuttle together backstage, and then realized that Julian Davis and Jon Stickley were both warming up as well.
The Sleepy Creek Super Jam packed more talent onto one stage than should be legal. The entire Jeff Austin Band was joined by Drew Emmitt, Andy Thorn, Jon Sitckley, Lyndsay Pruett, Jody Mosser (The Plate Scrapers) and an unidentified trombone player!
The interplay of these musicians – all the best of the best at their instruments – was beyond comprehension. To see Jon Stickley going head-to-head with Julian Davis on one side of the stage, while simultaneously realizing that Andy Thorn and Kyle Tuttle are trading licks as Jeff Austin and Drew Emmitt jam out…
Mind = Blown.
The Super Jam concluded with the entire band and audience singing together on Country Roads, “Almost heaven, West Virginia!”
“Misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye.”
As the night rolled on and the remaining crowd was treated to another Bonfire Jam with The Plate Scrapers, the magic of the Potomac River and its banks at Sleepy Creek took hold.
Our return to this wonderful fest was better than we ever thought.
Things have come full circle. Festy GoNuts is in our 4th year now, and ever so grateful for the festivals like SpringDig that helped us to gain an audience and find our voice in the festival world.
Looking back at Sleepy Creek 2016, we can’t help but reflect on the lessons we learned from that very first festival, and the 5 that followed as we brought Festy GoNuts into the world:
Lessons Learned From Sleepy Creek Spring Dig:
- Sometimes, forget your plans
- Go out of your way. Often.
- Follow your instincts and your heart.
- Always bring rain gear. Especially boots.
- Go see bands you never heard of.
- You can always figure out a way to squeeze in more music!
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