Travis Book is a busy man this week. As bass player for The Infamous Stringdusters and head groundskeeper for Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company, Travis is putting the finishing touches on a year’s worth of work in preparation for this weekend’s Festy Experience, a celebration of music, local food and beer, and outdoor living.
Simply known as “The Festy” to fans, this year’s festival boasts a proud line up. Joining the ‘Dusters will be, among others, Railroad Earth, JJ Grey & Mofro, Chris Thile & Michael Daves, Marco Benevento, and Lake Street Dive.
Now in its fourth year, the Festy, which takes place on the grounds of Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company in Roseland, Virginia, continues to solidify itself as the premier fall festival in the Mid-Atlantic. No other festival showcases fine fermented beverages, local eats, outdoor sports, conscious living, and killer tunes like the Festy.
I recently caught up with Travis to chat about writing tunes with Benny “Burle” Galloway, the upcoming Festy Experience, and his new solo project.
BRO – Lots of folks know about Benny Galloway from his work with Yonder Mountain String Band. Tell me about writing songs with him.
TB – Burle always says, “The most important tool, when writing a song, is your eraser.” He’s really open minded and has been making up tunes for so long, so he isn’t afraid to make changes or take suggestions, and he still gets really excited when somebody else latches on to an idea. We have a really good flow when we get together.
BRO – We are featuring “Tennessee Side of Things” on this month’s Trail Mix. Tell me about the tune.
TB – Burle and I were getting together periodically when I was still living in Nashville and he was living down near Atlanta. He had come up to my place for the weekend and Sarah, my wife, was out of town, so we were just hanging out and playing guitar. His songwriting really changed when he spent some time in the South and this was a little melodic idea and turn of phrase – the Tennessee side of things – that he had in his head, so we started working on the tune. The song is ultimately about the Cumberland River, which is a strange river, because it flows south through Tennessee into Georgia and Alabama and then heads back north towards Kentucky. The tune turned into a sort of riverboat thing and was driven by these two Colorado mountain men finding ourselves in the heart of this southern culture.
BRO – You guys are heading into your fourth Festy this weekend. How has the festival evolved since year one?
TB – When we first started as a band, we talked about how awesome it would be to throw our own festival. We were in this enviable position of being able to go to so many great festivals. Also, before we were ever in the band, all of us went to lots of festivals. The festival lifestyle was crucial to our world, so we thought we had a good idea of what would make a good festival. From year one, our guiding principal was what would make an idea fall weekend for us? Where would we be? What kind of people would we want around? What kind of music would we want to listen to? We continue to ask ourselves how we can continue to take all of that further. We also want to expose people to different ways of experiencing things. For example, we aren’t doing a lot of music on our workshop stage this year. Instead, there are workshops on building planter boxes for garlic, sustainability, and backcountry camping and cooking. Those kind of things. We want to take the ideal weekend and make it even better. Like last year, introducing the Kleen Kanteen steel pint cups was a revelation. We weren’t sure that not giving people a disposable option and forcing them to use these metal cups would even work. It was almost universally accepted and we kept 30,000 plastic cups out of the waste stream. Whenever there is a question about what we should do, we just continue to hone in our vision. The Festy is just an extension of our world view.
BRO – What new stuff can Festy attendees anticipate?
TB – There are a couple new things that I am really excited about. Last year, we just had a little music on our workshop stage on Thursday night. This year, we have partnered with Bold Rock Cidery, which is just down the road, and they are setting up a lounge at our Southern Stage, which is our second stage, inside the main festival area. We are going to open up the main festival grounds on Thursday, the Stringdusters are going to do a soundcheck for about an hour and a half, and then our good friends Della Mae are going to play a full set on the Southern Stage. We’ll have the lounge open, the bar will be going, and the ‘Dusters will sit in with Della Mae. We also just found out that Larry and Jenny Keel will be dropping by and getting in on that jam. It wasn’t part of the original program that we were selling to people, but we really wanted to reward the people that are coming in on Thursday and setting the vibe for the whole weekend by adding another night of unique music. Another thing I am excited about is bringing the Blue Ridge Burn, a race we sponsor with Blue Ridge Outdoors, to the Festy grounds. Historically, the race has been held on another property about two miles away, so we have to shuttle people over the gap or people have to drive to another location. Immediately after last year’s Festy, I began working on a 5K mixed single track course right here on the grounds. This year, instead of feeling like the race is a separate event, people are going to wake up on Saturday morning and find people with their numbers pinned on running through the campground. And those trails will be open for people to run, bike, and hike on all weekend. We’ve made a lot of small changes here and there, but these two things are really going to make a big difference.
BRO – Most folks know you are often out on the road with either the ‘Dusters or your wife, Sarah, but I have been reading about the Travis Book Trio. Tell me about this new project.
TB – I used to play in a bluegrass trio with Andy Falco and Chris Pandolfi when they were both still living in Charlottesville. Now that they are gone – Falco is now in Long Island and Panda is in Denver – I realized I missed that. I love small ensemble bluegrass. It is really challenging. It is really clean. It can be really dynamic when you are listening to just two other people instead of four or five. I have always had a thing for guitar, mandolin, and bass. One of my favorite ensembles is Phillips, Flinner, & Grier. When I was starting to play upright bass, their records were so inspiring. I loved that sound. I have been doing some of my own solo shows on guitar, but I got to thinking about of what else I could do. Playing with a guitar player and a mandolin player is something I have always wanted to do. Fortunately, there are a couple great musicians here in town, Landon Fishburne and Andy Thacker, and the three of us are getting together to do a show and see how it feels. Our first show will be in December.
BRO – Can we guest list all the readers of this blog?
TB – Yeah. Absolutely. Anyone who wants in, just let us know.
The Travis Book Trio’s first show – at Fardowners in Crozet, Virginia on December 19th – is absolutely free, so you are all on the guest list. This weekend’s big show, the fourth annual Festy Experience, is not free, however . . . . but we want to make sure YOU can get in for free. Take a shot at the trivia question below and email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org. A winner of two Saturday tickets and a parking pass will be chosen from all of the correct answers received by tomorrow – Thursday, October 10th – at noon.
Question – “Tennesee Side of Things” is not the first Benny Galloway track that Travis has recorded. What other Galloway tune did Travis and his mates in the ‘Dusters record on their first record, Fork In The Road?