After 10 years of blood, sweat and beers, the organizers of Best Friends Day are preparing for their graduation. That's the latest theme for the expanded, four-day extravaganza that heralds the inevitable end of summer in Richmond.
But could this be the final festival?
"We wanted to hint around that this could be our last one," says organizer Tony Foresta, before admitting that they say that every year. Graduation also can signal a major change in the status quo, he says. "We wanted to bring a new level to friendship," Foresta says.
The bar's clearly been raised, with internationally known bands Against Me, Corrosion of Conformity, Baroness, 7 Seconds, Converge and Strike Anywhere booked at venues across the city. While there's been a corresponding increase in ticket prices, the shows remain cheap compared with other festivals of this caliber, and at least two shows will be free.
"We still don't have corporate sponsors," organizer Curtis Grimstead notes. Monetary support comes solely from local businesses that purchase ads in the festival guidebook. "Some of the bands took a huge pay cut to do Best Friends Day," Foresta says, "because they understand what it's about."
What it's about is community, and interaction with people from other backgrounds. It's a spirit that's snowballed during the last decade. "It's grown into something that's gone beyond the organizers," Foresta says. "People from all over take it in as their own special thing."
Indeed. Walk around Hadad's Lake on Saturday and you're bound to see flags from New York, Florida, Ohio and beyond, groups of folks who will go home, tell their friends, and bring them along next summer. Last year's event at Hadad's drew 3,700 people, the largest number ever.
Spreading out the entertainment for 2011, including a stage in the parking lot, has created a less crowded atmosphere. The staff at Hadad's Lake is extremely supportive, especially President Ron Hadad, who has a history with Richmond music as the booker for the old Jester Club on Broad Street. "Ron was showing me around the lake," Foresta recalls. "He said, 'Me and Kenny Loggins chilled there one time.'"
Loggins has never showed up at Best Friends Day, but there are always a slew of ridiculous moments, usually having to do with bicycles. Like the time BMX champion Matt Hoffman and his best friend, who is blind, judged the BMX competition. Or when Gwar's Oderus Urungus held a giant nachos bike jump. "Everyone was supposed to eat the nachos afterward, but nobody did," Grimstead says.
This year, the main event might be the Slaughterama-meets-Double-Dare field day competition on Friday. But don't worry. Best Friends Day normally lives up to its designation as the second Best Local Music Festival, according to voters of Style Weekly's Best of Richmond issue earlier this year.
Foresta and Grimstead acknowledge that the Richmond Folk Festival, which one-upped them in the issue, is a wonderful thing for the city, but add this caveat: "Did Asshole Parade play the Folk Fest?" S
Best Friends Day will happen at Hadad's Lake, and other Richmond venues Aug. 18-21. For a complete lineup and information, go to bestfriendsdayrva.com.