Sixteen years ago, a Richmond tradition was born.
Each July, months of planning, passion and elbow grease transform Brandon Crowe‘s Richmond area backyard into Crowefest, a community music event named after the humble homeowner and music industry vet.
Crowe, co-founder of Lights Out Management alongside Tyler Williams of the Head and the Heart, represents Lucy Dacus, The Trillions and Minor Poet. So its no surprised that Crowefest 2017, its biggest incarnation yet, hit Richmond this past Saturday with an awesome afternoon of great people, great food, great drinks, and of course, great music.
The event started in 2001, a year after Crowe moved from Alabama to his current home in Richmond. He knew the city had a thriving local punk and metal scene, but he was neither a punk nor a metalhead. He quickly grew to love Prabir and The Substitutes (who’s members ended up in Goldrush and The Trillions) and Duchess of York (who became Sleepwalkers), though he felt those bands weren’t getting nearly as much attention as they deserved from local audiences.
But Crowe had an idea: he’d host a potluck at his house, invite bands to play, introduce friends he’d met across the city and try to foster a different kind of community in Richmond. Over the years, those relationships turned his backyard bar-b-q into one of the most anticipated shows of the year and acted as a catalyst for Richmond’s now-thriving rock and indie scenes.
Community members named the recurring event after him and, according to Crowe, won’t budge on that. Austin York of Sleepwalkers creates art and posters to promote the event, Drew Gillihan from Rikki Shay builds the stage every year and local businesses such as Sugar Shack, Belle Isle Craft Spirits and King of Pops treat attendees to their delicious food and drinks.
This year Erica Jacobs and Molly Dvorak of The Big Fancy Party Series helped plan the event, set up decorations and turned Crowefest into a fundraiser for the first time. Gracious and excited attendees were happy to throw in money to raise a total of about $1,000 dollars for Art 180.
To celebrate the 16th year of the event, the lineup boasted some new faces alongside some longtime favorites. The evening began with a killer set from Minor Poet, featuring singer/guitarist and songwriter Andrew Carter formerly of The Mad Extras. Their set ran through some really catchy and interesting psychedelic spins while maintaining the feeling of a band that has a specific direction; after seeing their set I’m really excited for their album release show next month!
Next up was a set from long time Richmond hip hop act, Photosynthesizers. Their super tight performance got people moving as the crowd started to fill in. Vocalist Maurice “BarCodez” Jackson laid out some killer thought provoking lyrics while the rest of the band locked into their signature funky grooves underneath him.
Harrisonburg natives Illiterate Light were next, taking the stage as it was finally starting to cool off. I’ve written about and played with them at Everybody’s Birthday, but this set from magical duo ensured they’ll continue to be a favorite of mine. Rolling through tour tight old songs with a little extra Crowefest and poison ivy themed spoken word (one of the members was covered in ivy rashes), they finished the set with new tunes that got me really ready for their next EP.
Following Illiterate Light is a tough job, but the big, boisterous sounds from local indie rock mainstays Rikki Shay were up for the challenge. The group grooved through hook filled tracks with harmonies and falsetto vocals and further raised the bar for Camp Howard.
Taking the place of The Trillions, who unfortunately had to drop off the lineup when guitarist Charlie Glenn was invited to play with The Head and The Heart in London, the boys in Camp Howard blazed through their second set of the day (they performed at The Wimps album release show earlier in the evening, covered here) including a song they’d finished writing earlier that day!
After Camp Howard, Sleepwalkers bassist and singer Austin York took the opportunity to jump on stage to propose to his partner, Rachel White, as part of the event at which they’d met years earlier. She said yes, and they were met with a massive round of cheering and applause.
There was a lot of good feelings and positivity in the air when Sleepwalkers took the stage near sundown. They pumped up the volume and had the packed backyard rocking like no one had a care in the world. At the end of their set, they were joined by vocalist of the secret headliner of the night, Rod from J Roddy Walston and The Business, for a fantastic cover of The Eagle’s “Hotel California!”
Everything was rolling along fine as J Roddy Walston and The Business finished loading their equipment for the final set of the night. Then we noticed police lights outside.
It wasn’t long before Rod and Brandon got on the mic to sadly relay the police’s message: No more music, and everyone had to go home. This was a bit of a disappointing ending for a lot of us, but Crowefest was such a a genuinely positive and amazing time centered around not only creating and growing community, but giving back as well.
Fortunately, no police interference can break the spirit of Crowefest. And according to Crowe, he’s going to do everything in his power to make sure that spirit culminates in another event next year.
Check out photos from Crowefest by Joey Wharton below: