Marc Millman Photography

Sometimes, something good comes out of something bad.

Born from friendship and tragedy, a music festival near Martinsville, Va., will bring joy to thousands on Memorial Day weekend for the 11th year. And it doesn’t stop there, as the Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival continues to give back to the community through worthy projects.

Johnny Buck and William Baptist founded the festival in memory of two close high school friends who lost their lives way too soon: Martinsville natives Edwin “The Rooster” Penn, who was killed in a dirt bike accident, and Walker Shank, who died from a heart ailment. Both were in their twenties.

According to organizers, “this festival celebrates life and the notion that you shouldn’t waste a moment of it.”

Over the years, the nonprofit festival has donated $180,000 to local and regional charitable causes, including college scholarships, a music instrument program and music-related grants.

Meanwhile, this year’s festival, known informally as Rooster Walk 11, presents a lineup of 50 bands over a four-day period, May 23-26. The bands, mostly national touring groups, will play a variety of roots music, including rock, funk, blues, bluegrass, folk, reggae and country.

Galactic, a New Orleans-based band that annually sells out back-to-back shows at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., will be the headliner.

Among other groups performing on the three main stages will be Turkuaz, BIG Something, The Lil Smokies, The Black Lillies, The Roosevelt Collier Band, Fireside Collective, South Hill Banks, The Vegabonds, Palm Palm and After Jack.


Roger Gupta

The fun takes place at Pop’s Farm, a 151-acre property in the rolling Piedmont foothills of Southside Virginia, about a five-hour drive from Washington, D.C. The property is at 675 Hobson Road, 5 miles outside of Martinsville, which is an hour’s drive south from Roanoke near the North Carolina line.

A pond is the centerpiece of festival grounds, and night-time light shows reflect in the water and trees.

Last year’s event drew about 5,000 spectators from 30 states and three countries, according to Buck.

Lots of extras

Arts and crafts are another component of the festival, with vendors offering handmade clothing, jewelry, paintings and pottery. You also can participate in art workshops, yoga, disc golf, kayak tours, hiking or mountain biking in the surrounding terrain.

Food vendors will serve up full meals, including Mexican, pizza, seafood, and vegetarian options, plus as specialty foods, like ice cream. Craft and other beers will be available, as well as wine, hard cider and soft drinks.

Feedback from visitors rates The Kids’ Coop “one of the most positive aspects of the festival,” said Buck. Children have access to their own stage, with fun and educational activities, such as open mic, drum circles, storytelling, and arts and crafts.

Tent and RV camping are available on-site, or visitors can take shuttles from partner hotels. Details, including band bios and ticket information, are found on the festival website,

Buck said there are many reasons to make the drive to Rooster Walk, which has been named one of the Top 5 festivals in the state by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“It’s a really pretty part of the state,” he said, an easy drive via Interstate 81.

Beyond that, the festival is “user-friendly,” Buck said, in the sense that everything is centrally located with little walking required and no long lines.

“It’s a family-friendly event with a real sense of community — even if you’re not from the area,” he said.

The festival

What: Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival

When: May 23-26

Where: Pop’s Farm, Martinsville, Va.


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