- Associated Press - Sunday, July 20, 2014

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - Historic rains last year at FloydFest exposed a number of logistical problems for the event, swamping the festival grounds and off-site parking and camping lots. About three inches of rain on July 27, 2013, left vehicles stuck in the mud and festivalgoers tromping ankle deep on muddy paths.

But a series of logistical changes this year will make the experience a better and smoother one for the thousands who come out July 23-27 for FloydFest 13, organizers say.

Kris Hodges, who with his longtime partner Erika Johnson founded the event, said the changes - including parking at a Meadows of Dan airstrip, a fleet of motor coach charter buses, more camping options on flat ground and a decrease of about 3,500 people allowed on the grounds - have him confident that the festival can handle “whatever is thrown at us, no doubt about it.”

Hodges will be heading up the festival on his own, as Johnson has taken a sabbatical from running festival logistics. Johnson, who remains a major shareholder and chief financial officer, will still be on-site, heading up a fashion show featuring items on sale at kiosks. She will also be running a juice bar featuring locally grown organic fruits and vegetables with vitamin mixes.

Meanwhile, she has been taking leadership and organizational business project management classes online through Northern Virginia Community College, which she said have given her great perspective on the event.

“After 12 years of coordinating the logistics of something like FloydFest, which culminated in the kind of busting at the seams of 2013’s events, it totally seemed best for the whole that I take a step back and recuperate and get a more objective view of things,” Johnson said recently.

She added: “One huge benefit of having a partner, both in life and business, is that when you most need it, you can tap out and catch your breath. It’s been good for me to give up control and let other people exercise their own talents and initiatives.

“Kris and the rest of the team have done a fantastic job with both the logistics and the nuances of FloydFest this year, and I, for one, am super excited about attending in a more participatory way.”

Logistical differences begin with getting on-site. Last year, after a falling out with nearby Chateau Morrisette, FloydFest had to put its “Alpha” parking elsewhere. The spot was ill-suited, and with a new gear-check system, long waits to get onto the grounds had customers complaining from the beginning.

The airstrip off U.S. 58, with room for 800 cars, is the new Alpha lot and check-in for on-site campers and commuters who are staying somewhere off-site. They can make their one-time parking payment there, and leave their cars on a strip that was built over bedrock, where their cars won’t be stuck in the mud should another three inches of rain fall, Hodges said.

Campers can load their gear onto the luxury coaches at one of three loading zones on a road that rings the airstrip, then ride in the air-conditioned vehicle while they watch video of what to expect at the festival on DVD players. This is the same bus fleet that services the Coachella Festival in California, and they negate last year’s gear-check system, which Hodges called “an epic fail.”

Also gone from the Alpha lot are the school buses trailing wagons, which had a difficult time negotiating the road to the festival grounds last year. The school buses will be relegated to the lots holding park-and-camp and RV campers. They will run continuously from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. each festival day.

For the first time, no RVs will be allowed on the festival grounds themselves. RV drivers will have to park in an off-site location.

It is a change that has turned off some long-time patrons, but Hodges said the change was necessary. The area where the RVs traditionally have parked is relatively flat land in a place where flat land is at a premium. The 2013 downpour washed out too many campers who had set up on slopes.

“Whenever there’s a constriction, you have to find breathability,” Hodges said. “So in an attempt to relieve that constriction, make it more breathable, it was only natural to remove those RVs, which congested that whole area there.

“I want this experience to be breathable for people. And tent camping right there is such a natural, obvious direction, without the RVs. . It kind of takes away from the natural element of why you go to the mountains. You don’t want to see a parking lot. I’m excited to see how beautiful and breathable it’s going to be without those RVs there.”

Some RV campers won’t be returning, but the festival’s Delta lot, off Helms Road, has space for 350 of the vehicles, and they have sold 250 of the spots, including all of the powered RV spots. By contrast, the festival was parking about 100 RVs on the grounds in years past, Hodges said.

In another FloydFest first, campers are required to pay $50 for tent tags, which give them a designated 15-by-15-foot camping area. Car campers in the Bravo lot will have a 10-by-10-foot space by their cars.

“We know that’s a little challenging for people to understand: ‘Why am I having to pay a tent tag price?’ Well, it’s because we’re trying to control the amount of tents on-site,” Hodges said, noting that most other outdoor music festivals charge for camping.

Fewer tents on-site goes along with the idea of fewer people on-site, he said.

Before the gear-check snafus and the torrential rains, last year’s event was looking like FloydFest’s greatest success. At least 17,000 paid to get in, and with 2,000 complimentary tickets issued to partners, guests and others it turned out to be the event’s most crowded.

This year, FloydFest has decreased its ticket sales by 1,500. And it has lopped off the 2,000 comp passes.

Johnson, in an interview earlier this year, said that change was spurred by customer feedback.

“We’re embracing the reality that we are a smaller festival, a small-big festival,” she said. “We want to be a small festival with a big festival lineup. So all the changes we’re making are geared toward that.”

To be sure, the musical lineup this year is as impressive as ever, if not more so. Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Lauryn Hill, Ray LaMontagne, Thievery Corporation, Ziggy Marley, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph & The Family Band and more ensure an impressive musical experience.

Hodges said this year’s logistical changes are as geared to patrons as are the musical offerings.

“We’re trying to make this an exclusive event for the patrons that are committed to coming,” Hodges said. “We know that some of these changes are hard for some of the people, at the same time we know that we are providing the best festival experience in the country, if not competing on a world level for one of the best festival experiences.”

To learn more, visit www.floydfest.com .

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Information from: The Roanoke Times, http://www.roanoke.com

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