Small music festivals cultivate community. People don’t just coming for the music — often played by bands that are on the fringes of the pop music genres — but they come for the atmosphere, for the camaraderie and the interaction.
Culturefest, which marks its 11th year this weekend in Mercer County, strives to have the fun, otherworldly flavor of a big music festival, even if it doesn’t have giant rock star bands coming to play.
“It’s a festival,” Culturefest founder Lori McKinney said. “It’s a fun and festive time, but it’s a place where all these creative people converge. They have these wonderful conversations. Relationships are formed, and the audience gets to have a pretty up close and personal interaction with the artists.”
Started in 2004, the festival is in its ninth year being held in the wide open space of the Appalachian Folklife Center, which is about 25 miles from Princeton and not far from Pipestem State Park.
“It’s just a beautiful special place,” McKinney said. “The facilities are perfect. It’s a big open space. We have a whole area that’s the kids village and four different stage locations, including the main stage area at the amphitheater.”
There’s also room set aside for workshops, yoga classes, vendors and a fire and drum circle.
“But you still have a lot of space for yourself,” McKinney added. “That’s what a lot of people like about it. You can set up with a blanket in the field and not feel like you’re crowded.”
Bands perform throughout the day and deep into the night. Some of them, such as The Contrarians, The Company Stores and Option 22 are familiar names around the state, but Culturefest also has a few performers from out of the state, like Songs of Water and Big Something from North Carolina.
“Songs of Water is a beautiful world music group,” McKinney said. “They’re really pretty accomplished. They’ve toured Europe and performed at South by Southwest.”
The band has earned acclaim from bluegrass star Ricky Skaggs and Fiona Ritchie, the host of NPR’s “The Thistle and The Shamrock.”
“Big Something has more of a rock sound,” McKinney said. “We first heard them at Floydfest, and they’re just really good.”
For the festival, there are also dance troupes, roving performers on stilts, puppets and fire artists.
“We really wanted to fill out the site with interactive performers,” McKinney said. “Even if you’re not at a particular stage, you’re going to experience some interaction with a dragon or fairies or a juggler or something.”
McKinney said the festival attracts about a thousand people during the weekend. Some people come just for the fun. Others come to teach, learn or talk.
“People are always having these conversations about what inspires them and what they think the world should be,” McKinney said. “We formalized that into Conversations at Culturefest to facilitate discussions about permaculture, community resilience and super foods.
“That’s for people who want to get down to talking about how to really make a difference in the world.”
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter.