Bruce Hornsby brought the experience of a massive outdoor music event to Williamsburg with the debut of Funhouse Fest last summer. This year's follow-up features more artists and more variety, and interest is outpacing last year's launch thus far.
"Ticket sales are going extremely well," said Cynthia Carter West, the public relations director for the Virginia Arts Festival, which helps organize the event. She said they are waiting to release more detailed figures, but ticket sales increased compared to the same period in 2016.
Three-day Gold Elite Experience and Gold VIP passes are sold out, as are the same levels for June 23, the first day of the festival featuring Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers and Sheryl Crow. Others tickets remain available.
A combination of positive word of mouth, returning fans and new artists such as Crow appear to be driving interest.
New bands this year include blues-jazz-roots band Lake Street Dive, which West said is "definitely getting a lot of buzz." She said the same is true of the English folk rock trio the Staves.
"It's kind of across the board," West said. "It's a great lineup. There's definitely something for everybody."
In anticipation of greater crowds, organizers are moving things around to allow for more room. The festival will feature additional lawn space and a pit in front of the main stage. The site will feature more food vendors, including fare from Food-A-Tude and Colonial Williamsburg taverns.
"It was such a great event last year and you can't find a better spot than Colonial Williamsburg," West said.
Her organization has been collaborating with Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the city of Williamsburg for the event.
"They are great partners," West said. "They've been extremely supportive."
The Virginia Arts Festival has held weekly telephone conversations with the Greater Williamsburg Tourism and Chamber Alliance, which is helping market the event with a street team and social media efforts.
Jill Pongonis, the chamber's director of tourism events, said she's pleased with the response thus far. She's confident that it will continue to grow and evolve.
"I think it's definitely something that's here to stay for many years to come," Pongonis said. "It's a really cool, eclectic group of performers."
Sampling the sounds
yMusic is another new addition to this year's lineup, and the ensemble's modern take on classical music adds another fresh layer to the festival. The group has collaborated with the likes of Ben Folds and Bon Iver in the past.
The group's violinist, Rob Moose, said that sort of collaboration across different styles is inherent to their mission. Evidently, Bruce Hornsby was interested in the same thing, having asked them to perform at this year's Funhouse Fest after witnessing a performance at the Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin.
They will perform three sets on the second day of the festival, including one with the Staves, marking their second time working together.
"I love that, that someone like (Hornsby) feels comfortable with that," Moose said. "It feels like a natural fit."
The two bands sent excerpts of songs back and forth in an effort to create a unique setlist, an approach that Moose compared to a hip hop collaboration.
"Hopefully it's something really new and compelling," he said. He's eager to see how festival attendees respond.
The band will appear as a standalone act on the acoustic stage, which is a new addition this year.
"Festivals like this are such a wonderful opportunity to see a lot of music and particularly stuff that's outside of one's experience or one's comfort zone," Moose said.
The band is grateful for the opportunity, aware that their style of complex classical music is an unexpected inclusion at an event like Funhouse Fest.
"An outdoor festival is not typically where you would see a band like us," Moose said. But he's confident people can enjoy yMusic and the rest of the diverse lineup.
"There is no barrier for entry."
Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.
Want to go?
Funhouse Fest runs June 23-25 on the lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. For tickets and more information, visit funhousefest.com.