Family-friendly festival doesn’t shy away from Catholic roots

As a guitarist in the Washington, D.C.-based Celtic rock band Scythian, Dan Fedoryka has spent more than 10 years performing before lively crowds in bars, concert halls and music festivals across the country. Along the way, he has heard great music, met new friends and hatched an idea with his bandmates: a music festival that would blend their love of music with their devoutly Catholic lifestyle. 

“We travel to music festivals for a living, and we know what our favorite elements are at each one,” Fedoryka said. “I wanted to have a camping festival that is actually about the music and the families. I believe that if you have the majority of people with that spirit, it will set a different tone.”

Whereas many music festivals cater to hard-partying crowds, Fedoryka and his friends wanted something different: an event focused on things that are “wholesome and true.” By offering uplifting music in a beautiful rural setting, he hoped the festival would be a place where people could strengthen their relationships and, more subtly, their faith.

Over the course of several months last year, the band worked to secure a location and find fellow musicians to join them on stage. The result was the inaugural Appaloosa Music Festival, held over Labor Day weekend last summer. Featuring performances by 25 bands on three stages, the festival took place at Skyline Ranch Resort, an active horse farm at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Front Royal, Virginia. It was attended by more than 3,200 people.

Helping them organize the festival was friend Brian Lohmann, who took on the role of media manager. 

“There was a real sense when we went into it the first year of not knowing how it was going to go and just prayerfully approaching it,” Lohmann said. “We showed up and it was beyond what we could have imagined.”

In its second year, Appaloosa has continued to grow, with more sponsors, two additional stages and nearly double the performers. This year’s festival, which will be held Sept. 3-4, will include performances by more than 40 bands playing bluegrass, Celtic, Americana, country, folk and more. Many of the artists performing are mainstream musicians who have been featured in Billboard, NPR and the New York Times, or have performed at the South by Southwest music festival.

Though few play overtly Christian music, several are open about their Catholic faith. Fedoryka believes it’s that fact, combined with Mass being offered onstage on Sunday, that contributes to the festival’s subtly Catholic atmosphere. Also, as was the case last year, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“If people want to complain, we’re just going to say that this is our festival; we’re showing you who we are, and we’re Catholic,” Fedoryka said. “This festival is a reflection of who we are.”

Fedoryka wants the festival to be a place for families to enjoy music together. Included in the schedule are children’s performers. A separate “kids zone” will offer room to play. 

Growing up as one of 10 children in Front Royal, Fedoryka and his siblings rarely could go to concerts. To encourage families to attend, they decided Appaloosa would be free for those under 13.

Fedoryka, who started Scythian with his brother, Alex, hopes that the festival will provide “gentle evangelization” for concertgoers. “We’re a band in the mainstream, we’re respected, and we’re not preaching,” Fedoryka said. “We wanted this festival to have the same vibe, so that anyone coming in from the outside will see its top-notch musicians, but they’ll also be experiencing a joy that will touch them.”

Fedoryka also hopes performers, vendors and those who attend walk away from the festival inspired and with a new appreciation for God’s beauty in music, nature and each other.

“Every person involved, I’m confident that they will walk away moved,” he said. “Some people will be able to put their finger right on it, others won’t, but even if they get a sense of yearning for something more, the festival has done its job of showing them something true, something beautiful and wholesome.

“Our whole goal is for people to put aside their worries or cares just for a day so they can be replenished by true, beautiful music.”

To purchase tickets or to see the full lineup of the 43 bands scheduled to perform at the event over Labor Day weekend, go to appaloosafestival.com.

Katie Bahr writes from Washington, D.C.