Beer Festivals, Brew Pubs

It’s the Festy for the Resty

The Festy crowd basks in the musical glow over Columbus Day weekend.

“Let’s just go tonight,” Neighbor chirped over the phone.

I cringed.  This was totally against my plans to be an old lady.  It was Friday afternoon and I had just gotten home from work.  I was thinking sweatpants, some light cross stitching, a glass of wine, and a geeky sci fi show that I don’t like to admit that I watch.  Neighbor’s plans were for the two of us to quickly pack up my Subaru with a tent and sleeping bags, make a pit stop for gas and Cheez-its and drive to Nelson County for the first ever Festy Experience, a two day music and beer concert at Devil’s Backbone Brewery.

It’s not that I don’t like to be spontaneous.  It was just a really long week and I didn’t think we’d leave until Saturday and we’d have to set up the tent in the dark and it’s been super cold this Fall and now that I’m getting older I don’t like to sleep on the ground and if we’re camping I’ll have to walk to the porta-potties at least three times in one night and porta-potties are dirty and I’m also having my period and what if I have to go number two and what if they run out of toilet paper and and and maybe I’m not so spontaneous anymore.

But Neighbor has this way of talking me into things.  She makes very logical arguments all with a chipper Minnesota accent.  She is just that badass good adventure friend who refuses to allow me to become a hermit.  Which is why she talked me into going to The Festy in the first place.

“What is there to think about?” she had said two months ago, “Two days of bluegrass music and camping.  At a brewery.  In the mountains.”

It was Devil’s Backbone Brewery no less, a brewery I had been dying to visit!  Especially since DBB just brought back 5 medals, two of which were Gold, from the 2010 Great American Beer Festival in Colorado.  And the music line up was looking pretty sweet:  Infamous Stringdusters were hosting and Josh Ritter would be there.  Neighbor and I heart Josh Ritter.  You need to listen to him if you haven’t… immediately.  I really was looking forward to Festy, but found my resolve weakening by the lure of a good rest in my own bed.

Back on the phone Neighbor sighed dramatically and said “Lame.”

There is no good way to argue lame.  I was in.  Husband gave me a tutorial on proper tent set up and cautions to not step on the tent and to place said tent over a tarp because it has a weak bottom.  To which Neighbor replied that Husband had a weak bottom.  Burn.  Husband did not appear sad to see us go.  I packed extra t.p., several bottles of water and a queen size blow up mattress. Yes I know the last item reeked 0f princess.   We left Harrisonburg ready for adventure.

So leaving Friday night turned out to be the best idea ever.  True we had to set up in the dark, but getting there the night before gave us a good campsite and a chance to meet our camping neighbors.  On one side were the Locals, newlyweds from Staunton who were fans of DBB and members of the DBB Mug Club.  Turned out Local Wife knew Husband from work and we had some other mutual friends.  On the other side were the Yankees, who had randomly stumbled upon Nelson County a few weeks prior when their hiking plans had been ruined by rain and cold.  Wet and miserable the two had found DBB gleaming like a beacon in the night.  The food was good, the beer was better and their kindly waitress assisted them in finding a B&B were they slept in room that had formerly been a horse manger.  After such a religious experience, it’s no wonder they decided to drive back down from Ithaca, NY to attend the Festy and coincidentally celebrate their anniversary.  The six of us got along swimmingly and Neighbor quickly dubbed our group Awesometown.

The night was young and Awesometown made our way to DBB restaurant.  Just under two years old the building is a high ceilinged structure with a rustic feel.  Giant antlered beasties are mounted on the wall and the cozy fireplaces give you that ski lodge feeling. The brewery opens up right behind the bar for all to see.  They have a collection of screw top growlers and you can bring your own to fill, trade for a DBB screw top growler or buy one.  The brewery was even prettier the next day.  Surrounded by beautiful Virginia mountains, the brewery faces a large open field with a nice stage all prepped for music.  The Fall leaves were just coming out, lots of yellow and red.  DBB’s had  a special concert brunch that was so good that we broke our fast there both days.  Plus they had a build your own Bloody Mary bar.

If Awesometown had a favorite beer it would be the Baltic Coffee, which brought home a gold medal from GABF.   Neighbor summed it up nicely by stating that coffee beer, as a category, is really easy to get wrong.  Either it’s over done or just tastes wrong: not coffee and not beer.  But the Baltic Coffee was spot on.  The flavor was really clear and cold like an iced coffee without the cream, not too heavy n’ sweet and not too bitter.   My personal favorite was their Gold Leaf Lager.  Maybe it was the joy of being outside surrounded by mountains on a perfect Fall day, but it was just a really good beer.  Clean and refreshing, it was the definition of a lager.  And I don’t think I’m alone on loving it, because the Gold Leaf was DBB’s other GABT gold medalist.  Neighbor thought the bronze medal Wintergreen Weiss was so nice that she tried it twice.  Local Husband was a supporter of the Eight Point IPA, but at 5.9% ABV I decided to not to push it.  A fan of malty brews, I also enjoyed the Ale of Fergus, their toasty flavored Scottish that took home a bronze in that category.  And DBB even had a beer made especially for the headliners of Festy: The Stringduster.  This was a harvest style, amber colored ale that was perfect for the setting.

The music was GREAT and mostly local!  I definitely would like to see more of Morwenna Lasko & Jay Pun, Old School Freight Train,and  Larry Keel and the Natural Bridge.  Infamous Stringdusters were there all day, hyping the bands and when they went on they held the crowd’s attention. Neighbor and I particularly liked the Love Cannon String Band, who played with Josh Ritter.  Josh Ritter was of course adorable sporting a mustache and a gold wedding band.  Neighbor and I did not know he was married.  Sigh.  He was amazing anyway.

I bumped elbows with brewer Jason Oliver and assistant brewer Aaron Riley, who used to be a neighbor to Neighbor and I.  Both seemed ecstatic about the way the Festy had come together and about their recent success at GABF.  And they should be proud of their accomplishments.  I thought Festy was very well organized.  There was a good variety of food vendors with local, vegetarian and organic options.  Also: ice cream!  In addition to the vendors, there were several free workshops on musical instruments, yoga and sustainability efforts.  The porta-potties in the concert area were kept immaculate though out the two days.  Unfortunately that was not the case for the campsite portas.  Let’s just say I was right to bring extra toilet paper.  Still nothing too terrible considering the two day concert factor, you hear much worse from people who go to Bonnaroo.  The tickets were $54 with camping and supposedly if we’d bought them early bird they would’ve been $44.  RVing was also an option.  Single days were $39 and weekend passes without camping were $64.  All in all pretty reasonable.

Festy ended up being an example of what I love about Virginia: great culture, friendly people, delicious eats and sweet mountain music.  See you next year Awesometown!

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