Rooster Walk's new location taking shape

Rooster Walk used a Harvest Foundation grant to purchase this stage for its music and arts festival and other events. Above, Rooster Walk co-founder William Baptist (in green shirt) shows the stage to some members of Harvest's staff and board.

May 8, 2015

    About 150 acres in Axton are being transformed from Pop's Farm into a music venue that could host about 4,000 fans in two weeks.
    That is the crowd expected for Rooster Walk 7, to be held May 21-24 at the farm at 675 Hobson Road that once belonged to the late textile executive William F. Franck, according to Johnny Buck of Martinsville.
    Buck and William Baptist are co-founders of Rooster Walk Music and Arts Festival, whose mission is to promote music, arts and education in Martinsville and Henry County.
    Buck and Baptist "are true innovators and they understand what real, engaged, genuine partnerships mean," said Allyson Rothrock, president of The Harvest Foundation, which provided a grant late last year for Rooster Walk to buy a stage for the festival and other events. "They share their knowledge and help others grow while constantly learning. It is so evident out there that it is working and growing, and they are giving back to the place they love."
    Previously, the festival was held at Blue Mountain Festival Grounds in Franklin County. That 100-acre site had 10-15 useable acres, Buck said.
    In contrast, Pop's Farm has 151 acres and 75-80 that are useable, he added.
    It was Franck's playground, Buck said. Franck built roads, ponds and buildings, and in doing so he laid the groundwork for the farm's new use.
    Jay Frith of Martinsville now owns the property, and he rented it to Rooster Walk for 20 years. In the last 18 months it has undergone significant changes to accommodate the festival that has a roots rock lineup featuring genres from bluegrass to blues and rock.
    "One of the most surreal things," Buck said, is for the last several months, a staff of more than 100 paid and unpaid workers from Martinsville and elsewhere have worked to ready the farm for the festival, complete with shaded general admission campgrounds, plenty of parking and two stages.
    The main projects that have been done on the property, according to Buck, include building one road and grading and placing gravel on others; grading to create amphitheaters in front of the two primary stage areas; and building up the main stage pad with 18 feet of fill dirt to create a level surface for a stage and vehicles.
    Larger transformers were installed along the road into the property and then power was run underground to the two stage areas and the general admission camping ridge, he said.
    A  VIP recreational vehicle (RV) parking area was created near a VIP hospitality area that will include entertainment, food, games and more, and a children's area was created with swings, a chalk board fence, small stage and playground.
    A capital campaign raised money for infrastructure improvements, and volunteers have done much of the labor to create the children's area, landscaping and other projects, Buck said. Some of the volunteers "earned" festival tickets, he added.
    There are two stage areas on the farm — one in front of a large pond and the other within walking distance of the first. When one of the festival's 41 bands and/or individual performers is on one stage, none will perform on the other so the music will not compete, Buck said.
    One stage was purchased with the $146,450 grant from The Harvest Foundation. It was built in Montreal and hauled to Martinsville by Baptist and his father, Dan, and it can be set up in an hour by an experienced crew, Buck said.
    In the past, stages were rented for some Rooster Walk events, which reduced the amount of money it could contribute to charity, Buck has said.
    So far, the stage has been rented twice, once for the Vinton Dogwood Festival and the second for an event in Northern Virginia, Buck said. Partnering nonprofits can rent it, if available, at cost, he said. New revenue will be generated if nonpartnering groups from outside the area were to rent it, he has said.
    The stage is about 24 by 28 feet, and the organization bought extensions for it, Buck said.
    The other stage, which is the main stage, will be a portable one this year, but Buck said they hope to build a permanent one after the festival.
    Several local businesses and residents have donated materials to enhance the property, Buck said. For instance, Baptist said George Barker of Henry County contributed materials for a fence, and Skip Ressel and Ronbuilt donated old pallets for another fence.
    Rooster Walk also has developed partnerships with area businesses, other festivals and groups to help stage the event. That is essential for its success, Buck and Baptist said, adding that they especially enjoy hearing festival-goers compliment local vendors.
    Last year, 3,500 people attended the festival, and Buck said attendance has grown by 10 to 15 percent each year. That means about 4,000 people are expected this year, he said.
    As with any outdoor event, weather is a concern. Actually, Buck said, the forecast is more important than the actual weather. That is because people from outside the area often decided five days before an event if they will travel to it, not the day it is held.
    But the organizers poll Rooster Walk guests, and each year they see more and more people from outside the area, Buck said. Also, more local residents attend each year, and more want to become involved in the production, he said.
    "We hope when people learn about the area, they will want to come back," possibly to float on the Smith River or visit Fairy Stone State Park, Buck said.
     Using a formula provided by the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. and data from a survey of patrons at Rooster Walk 6, the annual economic impact of the festival was estimated at half a million dollars, Buck said in December when the Harvest grant was announced.
    Rooster Walk is a nonprofit that has raised and donated about $40,000 for the Penn-Shank Memorial Scholarship Fund at Martinsville High School and about $30,000 for other charities, including Wounded Warriors, Boy Scouts and the Speedway Children's Foundation. It also has created a new program to repair band instruments in the schools.


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