The Walking Roots Band performs at the 2016 Sing Me High Festival in Harrisonburg. The group, comprised mainly of Eastern Mennonite University alumni, sponsors and headlines the festival. (Courtesy photo)

Music meets faith at the Aug. 25-26 Sing Me High Festival

A celebration of music and the Brethren-Mennonite faith tradition are the hallmark of the Sing Me High Music Festival, which enters its second year Aug. 25-26.

Taking place at Valley Brethren Mennonite Heritage Center, or CrossRoads as it’s commonly called, 10 bands will perform along with The Walking Roots Band, the sponsor and headliner of the festival. The event also features children’s activities, games, food trucks, raffles and auctions to benefit the Heritage Center, located at 1921 Heritage Center Way off Garbers Church Road.

“Last year, when we started thinking about doing the first one, we were thinking about two things: one was our fundraising needs, and [the other was] what kind of event would bring lots of people to our campus,” said Beryl Brubaker, president of the Heritage Center’s board of directors. “We thought of a music festival.”

The board teamed up with The Walking Roots Band to make it happen. Greg Yoder, the mandolinist and lead songwriter of The Walking Roots Band, is also the executive director of the Heritage Center.

“It’s an event to connect this organization with the broader community to share and celebrate the strong tradition of music and faith that has been a part of both Brethren and Mennonite faith traditions,” Yoder said.

Attendance at the first Sing Me High Music Festival was around 750-800 people. Things went smoothly on the first run, so they decided to make it an annual event.

The Walking Roots Band formed in 2007, although they played under a different name until rebranding in 2013. The six-piece band was founded by students at Eastern Mennonite University, playing a mix of Americana roots music and reclaimed hymns.

The rest of the Sing Me High lineup is Bittersweet Gospel Band, Southern Grace, Good Company, Valerie and Taylor Bess, Sadie Gustafson Zook and Ethan Setiawan, Tide Spring, The Clymer Kurtz Band, Lightning Lucas, Brother Chicory and Blue Ridge Mountain Dulcimer Players.

The bands represent the sounds of Americana, roots, folk, bluegrass, southern gospel, folk rock and a cappella.

“I think this year we have a little bit broader range of styles represented, which is exciting,” Yoder said. “Last year, there was a lot of folk music, singer-songwriter stuff. We had one a capella group. This year, we’ve got a couple bands that will be plugged in with a drum kit and there’s just going to be more diversity of sound.”

Most of the bands are local, except Bittersweet Gospel, which has one member from Staunton and the rest are flying in from California, Yoder said, and Sadie Gustafson Zook and Ethan Setiawan, who are from Goshen, Ind.

Yoder is particularly looking forward to Southern Grace’s performance.

“They’re a southern gospel band,” he said. “They have a decent following in the Valley and get a lot of play on WBTX [radio station] out in Broadway.”

Valerie and Taylor Bess, a wife and husband team who split from their previous rock band Port Harbour, are also an expected standout.

“They’re trying a new sound and they’re just incredible musicians,” Yoder said. “Their voices are stunning.”

The performances will take place on two stages, either under the tent that sits on top of a hill, or the woods stage.

“We have a natural amphitheater if you go up the hill and into the woods. And down over the hill, we have a natural bowl there and a stage,” Yoder said. “The woods stage is just an incredible place to listen to live music. That was my favorite place to listen last year. It’s got a really nice vibe to it.”

The festival kicks off on Friday, Aug. 25, from 5-8 p.m. The performances on Friday will be all on one stage, starting with The Walking Roots Band. The music will then take a 20-minute break for the pie auction, with proceeds going to the Heritage Center.

Saturday morning will start off with Harvest Day activities at 10 a.m.

“We’ve got people in period dress in the different buildings showing kids different games and activities from the 1800s,” Yoder said. “That’ll start in the morning, and then in the afternoon it’s standard music festival.”

Harvest Day activities also include a cornhole tournament, a bounce house, a slip and slide, craft vendors, a quilt raffle and other games for kids. The first band then takes the stage at 1 p.m., although the Harvest Day activities will continue until 3 p.m.

A Bowl of Good, Grilled Cheese Mania and Deer Horn Ice Cream are among the food options, as well as Snow Mountain Ice Cream and Kettle Corn. The Heritage Center will also be providing food, including pulled pork.

The festival asks that guests bring their own chairs and blankets. Parking is recommended at Harrisonburg High School. A shuttle service will be available.

To purchase tickets and view the full festival schedule, visit singmehigh.com.

This article was published in the Aug. 3, 2017, Daily News-Record.

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