Interview by Thomas Hendricks
Issue 43 • September 2016 • Roseland

By tapping into the collective passions of its employees, this brewery is hosting an all-inclusive festival experience that doesn’t quite fit the standard mold.

Above: Devils Backbone Basecamp Brewpub & Meadows | Photo by Heidi Crandall

It’s got beer, but don’t call it a beer festival. It’s got music, but don’t call it a music festival. For their inaugural rendition of Hoopla, the organizers at Devils Backbone Brewing Company had their sights set on the whole package. “I’m quite sure that, despite our best efforts, a lot of people do not understand exactly what’s going to happen during the three day festival,” said Hayes Humphreys, COO at Devils Backbone. And with over 50 adventures planned in and around their 100-acre basecamp, the weekend is set to prove as dizzying as it is delightful.

Hayes Humphreys | Photo by Jessica Humphreys

The process for developing these adventures was democratic to say the least. During the brainstorming phase, the halls and walls of Devils Backbone headquarters were lined with whiteboards and sticky notes. The entire staff was invited to jot down any idea that came to mind and place it under one of the seven corresponding principles that guide the company. “We’ve been able to tap into all this awesome side potential that so many of our folks have, the things they do when they’re not making, selling, or designing beer,” explained Humphreys. “We’re able to leverage so many cool passions and hobbies that we have in the company.”

Now a key question to ask here is how can a staff that works full-time producing beer also find the time to plan a major festival? “That’s what happens when you plan a festival around what you enjoy doing anyways,” answered Humphreys. For him and his team, this synergy between work and play speaks to a larger trend happening nationwide.

“What makes something like this not just possible, but really essential, is that people care so much more about who makes their stuff, where their stuff comes from, and the values of the companies that make their stuff.” As Humphreys pointed out, the country’s beer market has undergone a paradigm shift. Once favoring homogenous products pushed by big brand companies, consumers are placing more and more emphasis on unique, customized, and increasingly local options when choosing their beer of choice. Humphreys explained, “There are 4,500 breweries in the country now. Virginia alone has 140, so what makes you more likely to choose one or the other?” For Devils Backbone, events like Hoopla are a way to go beyond mere slogans and demonstrate their values in action, to think beyond market share and instead prioritize their community’s collective experience.

In addition to the bevy of events at the Devils Backbone Basecamp, there are a number of planned excursions to sites throughout Nelson County. As Humphreys explained, the idea isn’t to keep attendees contained in one space, but to experience all that the area has to offer. “The adventures piece, the getting-off-campus piece, that was the first and easiest idea to come up with.” With such beautiful surroundings, who could blame them? Festival goers will have the opportunity to go on hikes, mountain bike rides, and tour the Blue Ridge Parkway. They can even take guided tours of other neighboring beverage makers including Bold Rock Cidery, Silverback Distillery, and the Virginia Distillery Company.

It might seem odd that a company would not just allow, but encourage, the promotion of competing brands at their event. For example, Saturday’s Rare Beer Fest Pop-up will feature free tastings from a number of breweries in the area. This counterintuitive approach is just common sense for Humphreys and his team. The message they want to convey is all about beer positivity: the more the industry can encourage a love for craft beer, the more likely it is that craft breweries will succeed. As Humphreys summed up, they hope “that people appreciate good beer, regardless of who makes it.”

Despite this being the inaugural Hoopla, the team is not lacking in experience hosting events of this size. Justin Billcheck, founder of Justin Billcheck Productions and the main force behind Hoopla’s music lineup, works with massive festivals like Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, and Festy to secure big name acts. Though his expertise has been invaluable, of course it wasn’t a solo effort selecting the lineup. The Devils Backbone team relied once again on their trusty whiteboards and sticky notes, building a list of nearly 200 desired performers. Humphreys joked, “Some suggestions were completely unrealistic, but well intentioned.”

The Revivalists | Photo by Travis Shinn

Not all suggestions were so farfetched, though. In fact, there was a surprising amount of common interest surrounding a few acts, notably The Revivalists. This New Orleans-based 7-piece was recently named by Rolling Stone as one of the “10 Bands You Need to Know.” They’ll be headlining at Hoopla, taking over Basecamp with their high-energy brand of jam band jubilee.

The other headliner is the Old 97’s, an alt country-rock band hailing from Dallas. Their sound is inspired by both power pop and cowpunk alike. For Humphreys, they were a total shoe-in. Brewmaster Jason Oliver is a huge fan, so the Old 97’s receive nearly constant play in the brewery, earning a steady stream of devotees from the rest of the staff.

There will also be an appearance by a newer high-energy band named — wait for it — Rainbow Kitten Surprise. Hoopla will be their first festival show beyond their hometown of Boone, North Carolina, but as Humphreys will attest, this band lives up to the expectations set by such a quirky name. Securing up-and-comers like them is a key part of the formula for the Hoopla lineup. “We wanted to have some names you would recognize, but there’s also the hope that you discover bands that you’ve never heard before,” Humphreys explained. “That’s the exciting part.” If you want to catch them before the festival, Rainbow Kitten Surprise will be performing with Major and the Monbacks on Thursday, September 1 at The Southern in Charlottesville.

With so many pieces up in the air, the whole team at Devils Backbone is excited for the moment when it all just clicks. Situated in one of the most beautiful camping locations in the state, the goal is that attendees go on a few adventures, meet like-minded people, hear some great music, and yes, maybe a grab a beer or two.

Rainbow Kitten Squad | Photo by Ansley Cohen

Hoopla will be held from September 29 to October 2 at Devils Backbone Basecamp Brewpub & Meadows (200 Mosbys Run, Roseland). Full schedule and tickets available at devilsbackbonehoopla.com.

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