PreddyFest: A Music Pilgrimage for Many
A sense of community brings festival goers back year after yearBy Donna Campbell Smith
Tucked away on the banks of the Tar River in Franklin County, well off the beaten path, is a winding, two-lane country road that squeezes down to one lane across a bridge. Every August, thousands come to this spot and turn off to find 130 acres of rolling fields and woodlands. They are coming to PreddyFest.
Folks have made this annual pilgrimage for 20 years. They have come from all over America, as well as from other countries including England and Australia. Many arrive with campers and tents a week before the three-day bluegrass festival. (Camping is free with the weekend concert tickets.) Camp jammings and singings waft into the nighttime summer air with songs about Jesus, moonshine, mama and better times a-coming accompanied by banjo picking, guitar strumming, fiddling and bass playing.
While the music is the glue that holds this event together, it is more than music that draws these repeat visitors to PreddyFest year after year. Friendships are made and nourished at PreddyFest.
As the masses arrive, little neighborhoods are created. Some choose to settle down by the riverbank, others create compounds under the shade of wooded acres, and those with fancy campers and generators to fuel air conditioning camp comfortably in the open areas. You’ll find folks driving around on their golf carts seeking out people they haven’t seen since the previous year.
Rodney Preddy, creator of PreddyFest, gives his guests the royal treatment, making sure everyone has everything they need. Ask anyone, and they will tell you this Franklinton resident is the ultimate host.
“Rodney and April are such good people. It just keeps getting better every year,” says Lucille Howard. She and her husband, Johnny, have been travelling to PreddyFest from Virginia since it started in 1997. “We go because it’s such a beautiful place, and to see friends.”
Preddy’s explanation for why he created the festival so many years ago is about as straightforward as they come: “I had been having camp and picks at my house for about two years and somebody said, ‘why don’t you have a real festival?’ So, I did.”
While it has been a lot of hard work, Preddy says the pay-off is he and his family have met a lot of really nice people. He agrees that in addition to the great music, what brings folks back year after year is being with family and friends, as well as making new friends.
His daughter, Casey Preddy, doesn’t really remember a time before PreddyFest.
“Even though the festival grows each year, it always has the same small-town get-together feeling. It’s so great to see people who share common interests come together at the same time every year to enjoy the festival and each other’s company,” she says. “Even though there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes on prior to the festival, it’s worth every bit of work. I look forward to the PreddyFest tradition continuing on for many years to come.”
A family tradition
Some people make PreddyFest a family affair, coming together for a summer vacation with parents, children, and grandchildren camping, eating, playing music together and sometimes even taking a dip in the river. Children enjoy a unique freedom they don’t enjoy other places.
Dineane Whitaker, Julia Smith and Deborah Brown are sisters who look forward to their yearly reunion with family and friends at PreddyFest.
“The music being the obvious, it really isn’t all that makes PreddyFest,” says Brown, who comes from Bluffton, South Carolina. “It’s the people ... the special group of people that we only see at PreddyFest that feels like a strange kind of family with Rodney and April at the top — the greatest folks on earth. That’s why it takes a week. It’s driving down the hill on the golf carts, and telling stupid stories about the years before ... it’s playing music with our Daddy while sitting next to Momma. It’s watching the kids become a part of it.”
Whitaker admits that at first, they came just for the music. “Rodney always has a great lineup,” she explains. “But we got hooked on the party and pickin’ in the campgrounds after the stage closes for the night. Eventually it evolved into a family reunion. It’s been our primary summer vacation for over 15 years, and we love it.”
Smith agrees the music is great, on stage and in the campground.
“Cooling off in the river is nice as well, when it’s hot,” she adds.
Comforts of home
Billy Hobbs is a PreddyFest fan who has been attending for 17 years. “I look forward to seeing people who I only see once a year,” he says. “Oh, and I love to cook outside. And there is always someone to play music with.”
On Thursday, the first day of the concert, food vendors arrive with ice cream, soft drinks, hot dogs, nachos, burgers and a Thai food stand. PreddyFest T-shirts, hats, and other souvenirs are a hot commodity once the actual concert days commence.
The grassy slope in front of the outdoor stage fills with music lovers sitting in chairs, on blankets and in a section of their own — the golf cart folks. Trees offer shaded relief from the heat. There are concerts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Any other time on a hot August weekend, folks would seek the comfort of air conditioning, running water and toilets that flush, but not during Franklin County’s PreddyFest week. The last song is played on stage, but the music goes on till daylight.
The hardest part of PreddyFest is leaving.
Aerial footage of 2017 PreddyFest. Video courtesy of Grow Aerial.
Held annually, first weekend in August
2284 Green Hill Road, Franklinton
919-494-7471 | preddyfest.com
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