Funhouse Fest returns, reflects Hornsby musical interests

Jonathan Black
Contact Reporterjoblack@dailypress.com

When speaking, Bruce Hornsby can touch upon subjects ranging from country musician Dwight Yoakam to weddings to "Beowulf." He's a man of many interests, and that reflects in the Funhouse Fest.

Returning to Williamsburg for the second straight year, Funhouse Fest is a three-day music festival put on by the Virginia Arts Festival and Hornsby, a Williamsburg native who curates the music.

Hornsby rose to national fame with the single and album "The Way It Is" in 1986. Since then, he's done everything from perform with the Grateful Dead to solo work to composing scores for filmmaker Spike Lee.

"My life has had a broad range musically," he said at a news conference Wednesday. "Funhouse is a fun range stylistically, musically. From Sheryl Crow to (composer Dmitri Shostakovich). It doesn't get much broader than that."

Like last year, Hornsby will perform each day of the festival with different themes. The Friday night set, performed with his band the Noisemakers, will feature Hornsby songs that have appeared on the Billboard charts. Saturday night, he'll perform Grateful Dead music with the Noisemakers and other acts of the festival.

Sunday will feature Hornsby with drummer Sonny Emory. He says that's the set he's looking forward to the most.

"It's the most virtuosic set I will play at the festival," Hornsby said.

Artists at Funhouse include Crow, folk singer Rhiannon Giddens, rock-pop group Lake Street Dive and folk rock sisters The Staves. The prominence of female artists had Hornsby joke this year's concert was like Lilith Fair, an all-female music festival that ran in the late 1990s.

Funhouse's genre depends much on what Hornsby has been playing and listening to in the past year. He said this year's festival is modeled after the indie music festival Eaux Claires in Wisconsin. Last year's Funhouse was more bluegrass-oriented.

"This is about new and old friends. I call people I'm really interested in," Hornsby said. "I'm more interested in the complex music I've written, so this year, it reflects that. This reflects how I evolve and change."

More than 6,000 people attended last year's festival and the city of Williamsburg expects an even greater number this year, according to city spokeswoman Lee Ann Hartmann.

"This is an exciting addition to our tourism season, not to mention that the locals love having their hometown musician in town for a weekend of music," she said via email.

A couple of changes have been made to better the fan experience. The main stage will be a few feet higher for better visuals, and the festival has added a second stage that Hornsby calls "the quiet zone." Acoustic music will be featured there.

"There will be entertainment going on all the time once the festival starts," said Virginia Arts Festival spokeswoman Cynthia Carter West.

Food trucks have doubled from three a day to six. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation also will have a food stall each day, West said.

Hornsby describes the Funhouse Fest as a higher-pressure performance gig with it being in his hometown. But there still is some emotional payoff for the veteran.

"It hits me when people say, 'Thank you for doing this in Williamsburg,'" he said.

Black can be reached by phone at 757-247-4607.

Want to go?

When: June 23-25.

Where: On the lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg (326 Francis St., Williamsburg).

Cost: Tickets start at $29.25 for single-day admission and $96.98 for a three-day pass. They can be purchased at funhousefest.com or by calling the Virginia Arts Festival Box office at 757-282-2822.

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