Scythian performs at Appaloosa Festival 2018. (Photo by Chester Simpson/ Chestersimpson.com)
Dan Fedoryka of Scythian is pure joy in conversation. With the success of his Celtic-roots band, the laidback vocalist, guitarist, and accordionist is often busy planning a tour or a festival. But Dan remains generous with his time, and he is as pleasant on the phone as he is in person.
Parklife DC caught up with Dan to chat about the ever-growing Appaloosa Festival, occurring on Aug. 30-Sept. 1, and Scythian’s plans for the celebration of bluegrass, roots, and Americana. The fifth annual Appaloosa Festival will take place on Aug. 30 through Sept. 1 at the Skyline Ranch Resort in Front Royal, Virginia.
Check out the Appaloosa Festival website for tickets and info. (After all, Appaloosa Festival won Best DC Music Festival in the inaugural Parklife DC Thrushie Awards for a reason last year!)
Mickey McCarter: Thanks, Dan, for making the time to chat! What we can expect from the Appaloosa Festival this year?
Dan Fedoryka: Well, it’s our fifth anniversary, and we are super pumped about that. To celebrate that, we’re aiming for three full days of music. Up until now, it’s been two full days. This year, we have Steep Canyon Rangers as our headliner, which for us is a huge score because they’re one of my favorite bands, personally.
The whole idea behind Appaloosa was that Scythian was out there touring, all the time. So, we now do the Irish circuit, bluegrass circuit, and the Americana circuit. And we see rising stars as they come, and we book them. We also have a couple of the headliners that everyone would recognize, and it’s really fun to get those acts that maybe will really blow up in a few years. They’re going to be famous. And since we’re basically full-time touring, we’re on the ground and we kind of have good insights on who that is.
For instance, two years ago, Billy Strings played at our festival for pennies and now he’s like the biggest headliner on the Americana circuit. So, it’s fascinating to see the headliners and then to be blown away by young hungry talent.
MM: That’s great.
Stream Out in the Open by Steep Canyon Rangers on Spotify:
DF: Dustbowl Revival is another Friday night headliner and then Sunday, Steel Canyon Rangers and Yarn and then Saturday, we’re going close out with Aztec Sun. We saw Aztec Sun at GroveFest and they’re just dynamite. Right away, we knew, ok, they need to close out our Saturday night. They have a ton of personality and they play all around DC.
MM: What makes Appaloosa Festival such a great destination? I mean, it’s out by the mountains, right, but still close to DC?
DF: It’s just over an hour from the DC area as you’re coming out West, maybe just 20 minutes away from us, and you’re in the mountains. There’s just rolling hills and the whole drive becomes therapy. You’re letting go of your DC traffic, and you’re letting go of stress, and it’s kind of like a pilgrimage. We have an iconic mountain called Signal Mountain. It’s part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And right underneath Signal Knob is our campground, and it’s like a mini-city. Our mainstage is massive, but it looks like a reclaimed barn. It’s made from bricks and lumber. And then we have craft beer, Virginia beer, and Virginia wine.
And we’re going to have a vender village. We will have craft venders on the inside and a lot of food trucks. So, we have food truck options and craft venders and then Eno Hammocks is sponsoring so they’re setting up hammocks all around the grounds, so people can swing and listen to music. You put aside your worries and all your cares, leave them behind in the city. Come out and just basically let nature and music just wash over you.
MM: That sounds fantastic.
DF: Oh yeah, and then at night, the stars are unbelievable.
MM: Are you surprised at all at how much the festival has grown in five years?
DF: To be honest, not at all! It was funny, as I was just sitting there one morning having coffee with my buddy, and at that point, we’d only been touring for ten years, and for ten years, we’ve always had to leave the DC area to find any work for festivals. There is a massive void in one of the biggest cities when it comes to roots music and Celtic music. I just know that if we throw the festival it’s gonna blow up. And so, the first year, we were like okay, we’ll do it one year and that will prove if my hunch is right. For the first-year festival, we didn’t get our permit until the week before. But we had 3,200 people show up, and we were like, okay yeah! Let’s do this again.
And in the ‘70s, this area was a bluegrass mecca. It was hopping. You had Country Gentlemen, Seldom Scene, and Bill Harrell from DC, and it just kind of died out. So, I knew that all those people were still there. They just needed something to bring them out again. I’m really pleased, and it kind of makes me happy my hunch was correct.
Stream Dance All Night: The Best of Scythian on Spotify:
MM: That is terrific. You know of all the bands to be able to do what you just described, Scythian, in my opinion, was the band to do it. You have this huge sense of community, right? It’s part of the band!
DF: Our unofficial motto is music among friends. That’s how we started. We were just a bunch of buddies playing music, and it’s also that all of our fans are kind of our friends. We do a trip to Ireland every year. We’re on the same buses; we tour with them; we get to know them better for eight days on the same bus. We do three shows in that trip, and we’ve taken at least 800 people in the last five years to Ireland.
So, we’ve always put such a huge premium on connecting with the audience. We also had the confidence to produce a festival because our last six albums had been completely crowdfunded by our fans. And that’s community. You have hundreds of our fans supporting our albums, and we have a way to communicate with them and supply packages or do music lessons or make birthday calls to their kids.
So, I feel like we were called to do this because it was really like a slow process of connecting in a very intentional way to all of our fans. That’s what a lot of people sense when they come to a Scythian show. There’s something unique and fresh about the interaction. There’s something about roots music… it’s called roots for a reason. It gets down to people’s core, and if you meet someone at a roots music show, there’s already a lot in common. We’ve also enjoyed seeing a lot of people that’s come out to the shows and develop friendships. It’s just like people bumping into each other in crowds.
That was definitely the bedrock of Appaloosa and that’s been the model for the whole festival. We really wanted to create an environment where people could hang out. And their kids are very well taken care of — we have a huge kid zone sponsored by Exceed Home Loans, one of the companies in town. They pulled together a bunch of cash to get bouncy houses, and we fenced in the whole perimeter. And the parents love that because they’re watching their kids, but they’re having a beer and listening to music. And we just go around striking up conversations with strangers, and it’s really awesome. A lot of people from our community said that they had an incredible weekend just seeing people from DC. One of my buddies said that he was camping, and he woke up in the morning and his kids were playing with someone else’s kids, and they’re from Georgia so now they go down to Georgia to visit them and they come up. They’ve become best friends. That’s the kind of place you find at Appaloosa Festival.
Stream Dance at the Crossroads by Scythian on Spotify:
MM: Hey, you know what, I saw Scythian in the early days quite a few times when you had your residency at Fado Irish Pub.
DF: Oh no way?!
MM: Yeah, I got over there several times for the regular gig on Thursdays. And you know, everybody in that room when you guys played, everyone knew they were seeing something special. It was like “Man, these guys are going to do something,” you could feel it in the room. People were so excited.
DF: I have to admit, this year is our 15th anniversary, and have a lot of awesome shows touring, but there just really is nothing that can compare to those early days at Fado. We were crammed in shoulder to shoulder, covered in sweat. At that time, there was smoking in DC bars, so people were smoking and singing. Those were special days for sure.
MM: Does it still feel the same for you when you perform? Do you still have that level of excitement personally?
DF: Yes! This last weekend, we were playing, and everyone was like, “You guys just look so happy,” and we are. The road will catch up to you, and we’ve probably done a million miles of touring and in 15 years over 2,000 shows. And sometimes you’re bummed out because of it. I miss another wedding, or I miss another birthday or anniversary. Those are some of the down sides. But going on stage, my brother and I talk about how it doesn’t feel like work. It’s just because when we look out there, into the audience, we love to see the people in the audience, and it’s “boom!” And that hasn’t changed since the early days.
That’s why we were made for this. In a sense, when I’m on stage, I’m all right. If I ever have a fever and I’ve been in bed, and it’s showtime, I get out of bed and I’m the best I can be. I may have a fever, but by the end of the show the fever’s gone. I just sweat it out, and there’s something about, for me, and I’ve always been this way. I just love people. I was a history major in college because I love people’s stories, and I love connecting with people just even for a short moment. To me, that’s what life is about, so I get extremely energized by playing for people.
In the early days, we weren’t writing much of our own music, but now we have 15 albums and two kids albums. And it’s really surreal when you look out in the crowd and people are singing the words to a song you wrote. Somehow, your music has become the fabric of their lives. And that’s what they love about Appaloosa too. We have so many families coming with kids, and it’s now part of their lives. This festival is going to be part of their memories for the rest of their lives. And it’s a memory they can connect to year after year. To me, that is really neat. History is just a fabric that’s being woven.
MM: When you’re looking at Scythian over the next couple of years, and you’re looking at the festival, what are your ambitions? What haven’t you done yet that you want to do?
DF: We are going to a little cabin in Iowa, and we’re writing music all week. So, we’re going to be going into the studio this fall for our next album. That’s the plan.
This will be the first album where we actually are going to try to chart on the Bluegrass charts. Our fans have been our record label; we’ve never actually tried to do a pre-release or maybe music videos for the album. We’ve never had a music video, and our fans have always been asking for them for years. We love to tell stories! And we want to do a real record release. We’ve recorded albums and released it on a specific date, but it’s never been a campaign for the actual release. For most of our friends in bands, they don’t release their records until seven months after they record the songs because they do all the things that you have to do for a record release. So, it will be a fun thing for us to do, and to see if we can chart.
Then, for Appaloosa, my goal is to grow it to where it can basically start running itself. You know, it’s Labor Day weekend, and the family reunion is at Appaloosa. You go there and get incredible music. My brother and I agree that we should never lose that easygoing, family vibe. So, it’s never going to become one of these corporate festivals. But it’s going to be as big as possible without losing that family, homegrown feel. And to do that, we want a lot of people there because those people have the energy.
So, in the next two years, Appaloosa should reach that point, and then we can afford bigger headliners. We want people to say, “I love that there’s so many bands, but man, I’ve been a fan or your headliner my whole life.” And it would be kind of cool to do that.
MM: Parklife DC is looking forward to covering a cool Appaloosa Festival this year for your fifth anniversary, Dan. Thanks for the chat, and we will see you there!
DF: See you there!
Don’t miss Scythian and all of the other great bands at Appaloosa Festival!
featuring Scythian, Aztec Sun, Dustbowl Revival, Steep Canyon Rangers
Skyline Ranch Resort
Front Royal, Virginia
Friday, Aug. 30 through Sunday, Sept. 1
Doors @ 10am
$120 GA/$280 VIP for weekend (single day/family/more also available)