Final day of Funhouse Fest brings sunny weather, energetic crowd

Rivers Crawford, 2, bounced atop his dad’s shoulders as the two of them, both barefoot, moved to the music of Taj Mahal Trio on the last day of Funhouse Fest.

Fielding Crawford, his dad, recalled the time his own parents took him to see Bruce Hornsby in 1986 at the College of William and Mary.

Crawford said the ’86 performance was probably his first concert, and this weekend, Funhouse Fest was Rivers’ first real concert experience, too.

The final day of the Hornsby-curated Funhouse Fest, presented by Virginia Arts Festival, was graced with fair weather and an enthusiastic crowd.

And according to Ross Holmes, fiddle player from Nashville-based bluegrass trio ChessBoxer, Sunday attracted a younger crowd to Funhouse Fest. Though not all were quite as young as Rivers.

Megan Sloggie-Moats, 36, danced in the grass as blues legends Taj Mahal Trio took the stage Sunday. She said she’s a big Hornsby and Grateful Dead fan, and when she heard Taj Mahal Trio was part of the Funhouse lineup, she knew she had to go.

Sloggie-Moats, a musician herself, currently lives in Hampton. She’s from Williamsburg, though, and was confused when people tried explaining to her where Funhouse Fest was taking place.

“I couldn’t picture it,” she said.

Most probably couldn’t picture the festival before it happened, but it ended up a nice surprise.

Virginia Arts Festival director Rob Cross said the lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, framed by buildings and trees, “makes it feel intimate, although there’s a lot of space.”  

According to Mary Cottrill, manager of the Hennage Auditorium for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the inaugural festival has been a hit with both locals and visitors. Cottrill said she worked the festival Friday and Saturday, but was able to attend while off-duty on Sunday.

"Bruce really brought diversity with these groups," Cottrill said. "It all works together. We've seen everyone from 15 years old to 75 plus." 

Holmes, who is also a member of Hornsby's band, believes that the many showcased styles are a testament to Hornsby's wide musical interests.

Sunday’s lineup included ChessBoxer, singer Aoife O’Donovan, Taj Mahal Trio and Bruce Hornsby and The Noisemakers.

Virginia Beach resident Karen Senora, wearing a Bruce Hornsby and The Range shirt, came to the fest as a big Hornsby fan, but said she’s been exposed to a lot of music she hadn’t heard before.

“I would come back if there were more of these,” Senora said of the festival.

Though the performances throughout the weekend ranged from bluegrass to jazz, to other progressive styles, all of the acts had a few things in common.

ChessBoxer's upright bass player, Royal Masat, said that bluegrass and jazz are similar in composition and mindset -- meaning improvisation is key.

"I'd say improv is at least 50-50 of our performance," Holmes said. "We leave gaps so when we get on stage and play, we can have a conversation with each other and the audience."

"Those free-form moments are by far the most fulfilling for us on stage," Masat said. 

Virginia Arts Festival spokesperson Cynthia West said that Hornsby would surprise the crowd Sunday evening with the content of his performance.

"There was a great crowd last night because he played two full albums," West said. "Tonight is going to be a jam session -- we don't know what he's planning on playing."

Three songs into Hornsby’s set with The Noisemakers, he called his brother Bobby to the stage for the 1998 song “Funhouse,” the namesake of the festival.

Though crowds weren’t quite as large as the night before, they were no less enthusiastic.

Robert Ellis, who waited by the railing at the front of the stage for Hornsby’s set, said he has attended all three days of the festival.

“It’s an awesome little deal,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll do it again.”

Fearing can be reached at 757-298-5838; Bridges can be reached at 757-345-2342.

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