By Ginny Wray
Thousands of fans are expected for Rooster Walk 11 Music & Arts Festival, which will feature first-time performers along with familiar favorites and family fun over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
The festival will be held May 23-26 at Pop’s Farm, 675 Hobson Road, Martinsville.
Among the entertainment newcomers at the event will be Galactic, a New Orleans band that admits its music defies labels. It will perform on Saturday, May 25.
“It’s not that we’re always trying to push boundaries,” said Robert Mercurio of the band on its website, “but we definitely take influence from our hometown and try to do something new with it. We tour all around the world and we’re exposed to tons of elements that filter their way into our consciousness and come out through our music.”
“We’re excited to have them. They have a strong, dedicated fan base. Some of them will be first-time attendees at Rooster Walk,” said Johnny Buck, executive director of Rooster Walk. He and William Baptist, now chief operating officer, co-founded Rooster Walk.
Shovels & Rope of Charleston, S.C., also will be new to Rooster Walk this year. “They have toured nationally and internationally. A lot of our fans who come every year know and love that band,” Buck said.
The Sam Bush Band played at Rooster Walk 8 and will return this year, he said. The Marcus King Band, a Southern rock band from Greenville, S.C., will appear for the third consecutive year, and bluegrass band Billy Strings will make its fourth consecutive appearance.
Marcus King and Billy Strings also will revive their King and Strings band, Buck said. He explained that the only other time they have performed together was at Rooster Walk 10, generating an excited response on social media response, Buck said.
Yarn, which has a huge following among Rooster Walk faithful, will return with its “roots rock,” Buck said, and Prosperity’s Folly, which is popular among local fans, also will be back.
Among the other groups scheduled to perform over the festival’s four days are the Patrick Henry Community College Jazz Band and the Martinsville High School Praise Band, as well as magician Hunter Rhodes.
Also, for the first time this year, “Sunday is kind of bluegrass Sunday. We always have some bluegrass bands throughout the weekend, but this year for the first time we have a lot of really good bluegrass bands playing on Sunday. For bluegrass fans who want to come for one day, they should come Sunday,” Buck said.
Rooster Walk 11 will offer six stages hosting live music. One of them will be in the general admission campground where Aric Lawrence, son of Richie and Mary Lawrence, has constructed a permanent stage for his Eagle Scout community service project.
Aric raised the money for the project and worked with an architect to design it, Henry County officials to get the needed permits and local custom woodworker Burr Fox to build it, Buck said, adding that he had help from his family, friends and local Boy Scout Troop 326 of Broad Street Christian Church.
In the past, the “Eye Level Series” of performances was held in the campground and become more popular over the past few years, Buck said. Now, with a full sound system on the stage, the series can continue and expand, he said.
So far, ticket sales for the festival are slightly ahead of last year, Buck said recently. In 2018, the event drew about 6,000 people, though he said that includes bands, their guests, vendors, volunteers and others. The number of tickets sold was not available.
Rooster Walk has been named one of the Top 5 festivals in the state by the Richmond-Times Dispatch. It also has been voted the region’s Most Creative Charitable Event by readers of Virginia Living Magazine, according to a press release.
While Rooster Walk may be known largely for music, it is more than that.
“Rooster Walk is a family friendly event that has a lot of things going on,” Buck said. In addition to the music, there is a “kids area, kayak float on the Smith River, disc golf course” and more.
For those who have not been to Rooster Walk and want to go for one day mainly for the music, Buck suggests checking the festival’s website, roosterwalk.com, for a lineup of the bands. (That lineup also is featured at the end of this article.) Ticket information also is available on that website.
Rooster Walk was created in memory of two childhood friends who passed away in their 20s. Edwin “the Rooster” Penn died in a dirt bike accident in November 2007, and Walker Shank died in his sleep from heart trouble in December 2008. Close friends decided a music festival would be a fitting tribute, with proceeds to go to a college scholarship fund at their alma mater, Martinsville High School, according to the Rooster Walk website.
“The first year we put it together with less than five months of planning. We had fewer than 1,000 people” in attendance at what basically was a one-day event,” Buck said.
Since then, Rooster Walk Inc. has donated more than $175,000 to local and regional charities. In 2018, it donated more than $30,000 to local and regional charities, according to its website.
The scholarship is $1,000 a year for four years of undergraduate study, for a total of $4,000.
“The whole point of the last eight years has been to growth the endowment fund of the scholarship to the level that it will be self-supporting and interest on the fund will cover the cost of the scholarship every year, even if there is no Rooster Walk,” Buck said.
The fund currently has $98,000 and Buck said with about two more “good years” of the festivals it will be sufficient to support $4,000 a year.
Rooster Walk also accepts donations for and supports a Music Instrument Program, created in honor of the late Todd Eure, who also was a classmate of Buck, Baptist, Penn and Shank. That money is used to refurbish musical instruments that are given to entry-level local band students.
Buck said no “earth-shattering” changes to the festival are planned in the future, although he said it someday it could get to the point where ticket sales would be capped because the festival was at maximum capacity. The goal is not to grow the festival larger and larger, he said, but to “grow to the maximum level where it’s comfortable for patrons.”
“I’m surprised not only that it (Rooster Walk) made it this far but that it turned into an event with the feel and scope that it has,” Buck added.
And thoughts of Penn and Shank never are far away for Buck.
“I think about them every day,” he said. For instance, when he sees Scouts involved in the festival, it reminds him of Penn’s involvement in Scouts and with Burr Fox’s troop. And Shank went to many music festivals, Buck said.
“He saw Galactica. I know what he thought of it,” Buck said, making the band’s performance this year especially relevant to Rooster Walk.
According to the Rooster Walk 11 website, the band lineup is:
Thursday, May 23: Yarn, Black Lillies and Prosperity’s Folly.
Friday, May 24: Sam Bush Band, Shovels & Rope, Turkuaz, Big Something, John Cowan & Ed Toth (of The Doobie Brothers), Kendall Street Co., South Hill Banks, Fireside Collective x 2; Palmpalm; C2 & The Brothers Reed; Disco Risque x 2; Kate Ruby x 2; Abar; Chamomile & Whiskey; Prosperity’s Folly.
Saturday, May 25: Galactic; The Marcus King Band; Ghost Light; The Lil Smokies x 2; The Steel Wheels; Roosevelt Collier Band; John Cowan & Ed Toth (of The Doobie Brothers); Runaway Gin; Kendall Street Co.; The Trongone Band; South Hill Banks; Fireside Collective; The Vagabonds; Palmpalm; Sanctum Sully x 2.
Sunday, May 26: Billy Strings; Steep Canyon Rangers; King & Strings (Marcus King & Billy Strings); Sierra Hull; Mountain Heart; “Yarn Morrison” (Yarn’s tribute to Van Morrison); John Cowan & Ed Toth (of The Doobie Brothers); The Vagabonds; State Birds; Adar; The Folly; Chamomile & Whiskey; After Jack; Prosperity’s Folly.