Musicians talk Funhouse Fest

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

You never know what's going to happen at a music festival.

Andrew Altman, bassist of Railroad Earth, described one of his favorite performance memories during a set at YarmonyGrass Festival in Colorado. As the band played its eponymous song "Railroad Earth," a train happened to chug past.

With the Colorado River nearby, the moon and stars shining bright, "it was just one of those moments like everything comes together," Altman said. "You're just kind of happy to be alive on the planet at that time."

Railroad Earth joins the lineup for Williamsburg's Funhouse Fest, a three-day outdoor festival curated by Grammy-winning musician and Williamsburg native Bruce Hornsby.

One by one, they'll take to a stage on the lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg – Grammy-winner Ricky Skaggs, blues legends Taj Mahal Trio, jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette with Ravi Coltrane and Matt Garrison, singer-songwriters Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin, vocalist Aoife O'Donovan, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Chessboxer and, of course, Hornsby and The Noisemakers.

Audiences and artists alike aren't sure what to expect. But, as musicians and moments converge, it's likely to be something the likes of which Williamsburg has never seen.

"I think we are going to shake things up a little bit, in a good way," said Rob Cross, Virginia Arts Festival director.

Funhouse Fest refreshes the Festival Williamsburg concept of the past several years, housing performances in the Virginia Room of Williamsburg Lodge. This year, for Virginia Arts Festival's 20th anniversary, Cross wanted to think bigger.

Originally, Cross had contacted Hornsby about performing a set. Hornsby later pitched curating the entire festival.

"I think it really represents the kind of amazing facets of his interest in music and career, and the artists that he's worked with over the years," Cross said.

That was Hornsby's goal. A stylistically varied program featuring friends and colleagues, Hornsby told the Gazette in an April interview.

Country and bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs met Hornsby in the '80s, later collaborating with him on two bluegrass recordings. Skaggs said it's been a few years since the pair performed together, and they'll have some surprises in store as they share the stage on Funhouse Fest's opening night, along with Skaggs' band Kentucky Thunder.

"We'll have probably two or three new songs that fans haven't heard us do," Skaggs said.

Matt Menefee is as much looking forward to sitting back and listening as he is stepping on stage. Menefee plays banjo in ChessBoxer, a three-piece bluegrass band that weaves classical, jazz and rock influences into a fresh sound. The musician identified as a Hornsby fan, and he's also excited to see vocalist Aoife O'Donovan and the Taj Mahal Trio perform.

"It's kind of like a family reunion," Menefee said. "You kind of get to catch up with your friends."

For the musicians, that's the fun of festivals.

"That's when you get to see other bands," said Paul Hoffman, vocalist and mandolinist in bluegrass quintet Greensky Bluegrass.

Oftentimes when playing festivals, Altman said, the lineup centers around the band's own scene and sound.

"This is nice," he said of Funhouse Fest's sonic variety. "I'm looking forward to seeing some stuff that's different."

On Saturday night, Hornsby and The Noisemakers will perform his oldest and newest albums in their entirety: both "The Way It Is," now 30 years old, and "Rehab Reunion," released June 17. Hornsby composed "Rehab Reunion" on dulcimer.

"It is clearly different from any other record I've made, but is reminiscent or tangentially related stylistically to two others – the Skaggs-Hornsby bluegrass records of 2007 and 2013, and my first record of 1986," Hornsby wrote in an email.

For many of the bands, Funhouse Fest is their first performance in Williamsburg. Williamsburg will likely witness some firsts, too.

"I'd be really surprised if we didn't see some of the other musicians popping up in each other's configurations," Cross said.

As unpredictable as festivals are, Funhouse Fest does guarantee something: spontaneity.

"That's the name of the game with this band and Bruce," Skaggs said. "It's everybody keep your eyes on Bruce, because he may just decide to go somewhere else."

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

Coming Wednesday

Tips and tricks on navigating Funhouse Fest.

Funhouse Fest Lineup

Friday (Gates open at 6 p.m.)

7:15-8 p.m. – Greensky Bluegrass

8:45-10:15 p.m. – Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby

Saturday (Gates at 1 p.m.)

4-4:45 p.m. – Dejohnette/Coltrane/Garrison

5:15-6:30 p.m. – Railroad Earth

7-8:15 p.m. – Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle

8:45-10:30 p.m. – Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers

Sunday (Gates at 1 p.m.)

3-3:45 p.m. – Chessboxer

4:15-5 p.m. – Aoife O'Donovan

5:30-6:45 p.m. – The Taj Mahal Trio

7:15-9:15 p.m. – Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers

Tickets

Purchase single-day passes in person with no service fees at Williamsburg Municipal Building (Finance Dept.), 401 Lafayette St, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday, until 3 p.m., June 23.

Purchase single-day passes on site, June 24-26, at the Funhouse Festival Box Office on the lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

Single-day, three-day passes and Elite Experience packages are still available online at vafest.org, by phone at 282-2822 or in person at the festival box office, 440 Bank St., Norfolk, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday.

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