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Music Preview: The Three-Day Funhouse Fest in Williamsburg Returns With Bruce Hornsby, Sheryl Crow and the Staves 

click to enlarge Grammy-winning songwriter Bruce Hornsby is curating the Funhouse Festival for the second year, an event the city of Williamsburg hopes to keep as an ongoing annual festival.

Kat Fisher

Grammy-winning songwriter Bruce Hornsby is curating the Funhouse Festival for the second year, an event the city of Williamsburg hopes to keep as an ongoing annual festival.

You might think that a festival called Funhouse would at least have some scary clowns. But sadly, no — the name for this summer music festival comes from the 1998 song, “Funhouse,” written by Grammy-winning pianist, singer and songwriter Bruce Hornsby. Way less scary.

But Hornsby, a native of Williamsburg, best known for his radio hits “Mandolin Rain” and “The Way It Is,” as well occasionally touring with the Grateful Dead, deserves kudos for giving back to his hometown. For the second year, he’s teaming with the Virginia Arts Festival to curate the three-day Funhouse Festival on the lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg from June 23 through June 25, with a diverse slate of acts.

Artists include Sheryl Crow, funky jazz roots ensemble Lake Street Dive, genre-bending singer Rhiannon Giddens, acclaimed British female trio the Staves, Durham-based folk project Hiss Golden Messenger, adventurous chamber ensemble yMusic from New York and jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett — plus Hornsby himself, who plans numerous sets from all aspects of his career. One thread that runs through the festival lineup is each artist’s ability to mix and transcend genres.

Last year the festival drew 7,000 people, but organizers say ticket sales are exceeding that pace this year.

“Bruce is totally invested in this artistically,” says Rob Cross, executive director of the Virginia Arts Festival, who has been working closely with Hornsby on the festival. “Several of these bands, he’s performed with, and others such as Rhiannon Giddens, he’s wanted to perform with.”

Cross says that this year they’re adding a second stage so there will never be downtime, and more thought was put into the food trucks and craft beer element. Center of the Universe Brewing Co., Devils Backbone Brewing Co., Williamsburg’s Alewerks Brewing Co. are expected.

He adds that the city is pushing for this to be an annual event, and Hornsby maintains that as long as it’s fun, he’ll remain on-board.

Here’s what to expect: The event starts Friday, June 23, with gates opening at 6 p.m. Hornsby and the Noisemakers will play ‘90s hits on the main stage at 7, and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra String Quartet takes the acoustic stage at 8:30. Last, all nine-time Grammy winner Sheryl Crow will want to do is have some fun on the main stage at 9:15.

The big Saturday, June 24, lineup — the day to go if you only have one — begins at 4:30 with jazz from Kenny Garrett on the main stage. The New York chamber group yMusic is pulling heavy duty performing four times, the first at 5:30 on the acoustic stage, with two more sets there at 6:45 and 8:15. Hornsby clearly likes it. A pick for the uninitiated, the Staves from Watford, England, a gorgeous vocal group, begin at 6 on the main stage, accompanied by yMusic.
You won’t want to miss the always exciting and crowd-friendly Lake Street Dive getting funky at 7:15 on the main stage. The band might even drop one of its brilliant covers such as the slowed down and soulful, “I Want You Back,” by the Jackson Five. Hornsby and the Noisemakers close out the day at 8:45 on the main stage with a set featuring the music of the Grateful Dead. He’ll be joined by the Staves and other guests, so this is when unique collaborations will likely happen.

On Sunday, June 25, gates open at 3 p.m. with a 4 p.m. set by thoughtful folk outfit Hiss Golden Messenger, the project of Durham’s M.C. Taylor, on the main stage. The Staves return for an encore performance at 5:45 on the main stage, while Hornsby performs with longtime friend and drummer Sonny Emory and his duo at 6:45 on the acoustic stage.

The whole weekend finishes off with a fire-and-brimstone set by the genre-bending Rhiannon Giddens, co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, at 8 on the main stage. Her recent album, “Freedom Highway,” features original songs alongside civil rights-era classics such as the title track by the Staples Singers. A banjo and fiddle player, Giddens can do it all with a powerful voice that only seems to inspire fawning praise everywhere. S

The Funhouse Fest is held on the lawn of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, June 23 through June 25. Single day or weekend passes are available at funhousefest.com.

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