Music Festivals Galore in Small Town Floyd, Virginia

an old red dodge pickup on a lazy main street

Photograph by Nathan

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On this blissfully blue sky of a day we’re but a handful of travelers adding to to the under-500 population of Floyd, Virginia.

The town isn’t necessarily sleeping, more like dozing in and out of a conversation where one person is talking in their sleep and the other is mumbling to himself. Despite signs that request we limit our parking to 30 minutes or less, we seem to be the only vehicle that’s bothered to roll into town. Well, us and an old red pickup truck, which by the looks of it may call its spot on West Main Street home permanently. That there even is a West and East division of Main Street is a bit laughable, given its total length of exactly one mile as it makes its way from one side of Floyd to the other.

But a population that amounts to what some towns consider a senior class will soon see an influx of music-lovers arriving as the annual FloydFest meets and greets over 12,000 fans and the people they’ve come to see: everyone from Levon Helms to Ani DiFranco, the Lumineers to Blues Traveler, Jackson Browne to Michael Franti. We see signs touting, aside from FloydFest itself, modern hippie mainstays like Leftover Salmon coming to town. Not to mention nearly nightly jam sessions and open mic nights.

At that moment, a shop keeper who’s store could easily appear on some History Channel reality series (perhaps titled The Kitsch and Sing?) opens the door to his ice cream / nostalgia store. Our toddler and tween roll through his door and practically begin to shake at the thought of not touching each and every one of the old metal soap box derby cars, the smell of ice cream in the air. The owner can see we’re not looking to make a purchase, and is completely fine with that.

“You didn’t want any frozen yogurt did you?” he asks, almost hoping we’re just looking as he covers the speaker of his cell phone.

Shaking my head, “No, just looking,” he smiles back at us in such a way that makes it clear he’s here for the show as much as the sale.

Around the corner, two women are sitting at a worn old table in the second story coffee shop that watches over town morning through afternoon. They’re waiting for their lattes, or as the not-quite-ready-for-primetime barista calls them, “specialty drinks”. After a somewhat long battle where my debit card and the only ATM in town went back and forth over whether or not they’d be willing to work together, I was finally able to scrounge up enough cash in quarters from the glove box of our big green conversion van to afford an iced coffee or two, and so as we walked in and the place was nearly empty I expected the cool, refreshing taste of bitter and ice in no time.

A local guy, slightly grey and lanky, leaned over the bar, sipping his own cup of hot coffee. Chatting with the woman behind the espresso machine, he and the two afore mentioned women were the only other people in the place, save for my little family and one other, much younger, girl who sat reading a magazine at the corner of the bar, also with her own beverage already in hand.

A mural that read something about how the children are the spirit of tomorrow and we should cherish them like hippies in mid hug contrasted a painting of a punk rocker, mohawk and all, and the gaps between the two were filled with an assortment of interesting randomness. Couches longing for patrons to plant themselves sat momentarily useless and a tiny table in the corner seemed positioned precisely to remind me of my deceased grandmother and the way she decorated her own house.

“It’ll be just a minute, I’ve got three drinks ahead of you,” said the woman behind the counter, dressed somewhere between Mennonite and ballroom dancer. My Lady and I looked at one another, given that there were a total of four other people in the place and two of them already had drinks, we were wondering how there could be three beverages ahead of us.

Ten minutes later she had finished two lattes, announced them by name, “Medium Caramel No Whip Skim Latte, Medium Whole Milk Mocha.” The women allowed a pause in their conversation, to which I was not privy and, unusual for myself, hadn’t bothered to listen in on anyway. They gathered their milky coffee beverages and exited the establishment. Minutes later another man appeared through the door and walked up to the bar. “Almost Fred.” He was apparently the unknown third in line. The young girl sitting at the bar asked, to the barista, “Want me to come back and help?”

“No, I’ve got it,” was the reply.

Another fifteen minutes and I was the proud owner of an iced coffee myself.

“Thanks for your patience,” she said, not exactly smiling but certainly friendly, “Things are a little slower here in Floyd.” Truly, I thought, then considered the idea that she might purposely work slowly to teach outsiders some type of local lesson.

It’s a hot day, and I’ve consumed my 16 ounces of iced coffee in less time than it took us to descend the two stories worth of stairs, pass the tiny local book store and cross the street. We dip into a tiny–minuscule really–market and are immediately hit with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. A baby with a broken arm could throw a stone across the store, it’s that small, but it is strategically packed to perfection with seemingly every item that I have come to crave.

Exotic hot sauces from around the nation burn bright orange, purple and yellow on a back wall, flanked on one side by gourmet chocolates promising bitter Mexican spice and bags of locally roasted coffees on the other. More than half of the small store, however, is occupied by craft brews from around the Blue Ridge Mountains and all across America. I immediately snag a bag of the coffee, in love with drinking anything that’s been roasted where I’ll wake up tomorrow. Then I see that, in addition to the vast selection of beers, they play the “build your own 6 pack” game and the Lady and I have at it.

“Can you grind this for us?” we ask the clerk behind the counter, an older, still beautiful woman who studies the bag of coffee and then looks over her shoulder at a coffee grinder covered in stacks of various random papers, doilies, and oddities. It’s clear from the ensuing look on her face that we’re perhaps the first customers ever to request the machine’s services and she, quite politely, looks past us at an elderly woman holding the position of next in line.

“I certainly can,” she assures us with a smile, but then looking back at the coffee grinder decides to renege on her guarantee in favor of the more cautionary “I think so anyway. Let me take care of her first since it might take a moment.”

We’ve already learned our lesson. Things are a little slower in Floyd. Which is fine with me, and after about ten minutes of the clerk and customer she was now waiting on chatting, I took it upon myself to clean off the coffee grinder, neatly stack the variety of whatnots from its top into a pile on the table beside, plug it in and grind my own beans.

She finishes with the old woman and walks back over to me, “You figured it out.” Another smile as she looks the machine up and down in a way that would make even a catcalling construction worker feel used.

“I hope I didn’t overstep my boundaries,” I relent, folding the bag full of now-ground coffee grinds.

“Not at all,” she said, and then again, it was declared. “I would have taken awhile to figure it out. I hope you weren’t in a rush,” and I knew it was coming, “things are just a little slower here in Floyd.”

Photograph by Nathan