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Rooster Walk 6
Organizers hope for record crowd at annual festival
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A crowd gathers to watch a show at Rooster Walk 5 in 2013. The annual festival, now in its sixth year, will be held May 23-25. Organizers said they expect up to 4,000 people to attend the event at Blue Mountain Festival Grounds. (Contributed photo by Siobhan Cline)
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Rooster Walk is growing every year, and organizers Johnny Buck and William Baptist credit the support of the Martinsville/Henry County community.

Rooster Walk, now in its sixth year, is an annual music festival held at Blue Mountain Festival Grounds at 1920 Coopers Mountain Road, just across the county line in Franklin County.

This year, the event will run from May 22-25.

Buck and Baptist created Rooster Walk in memory of Edwin “The Rooster” Penn IV and Walker Shank, their late childhood friends and members of Martinsville High School’s class of 2000. Proceeds from the festival go to the Penn-Shank Memorial Scholarship Fund at Martinsville High School.

Although Rooster Walk 6 is shaping up to be the biggest one yet — as many as 4,000 people could attend, Buck estimated — Baptist said this year has not been quite as stressful as previous years.

“A lot of that has to do with the fact that we’re finally able to spend full-time hours working on this stuff,” he said. “Experience also plays a factor. You know a little bit better what to expect. Although as soon as you know what to expect, it changes. You’re basically building a small city, every year, from the ground up. You’ve got to get the people there and then you’ve got to make sure the people are taken care of.”

“When people ask me about it,” Buck added, “I tell them, imagine planning a four-day wedding for 4,000 of your closest friends and 40 different bands. There are so many details that you don’t really think about.”

Although Buck and Baptist are the co-founders of Rooster Walk and work all year to plan the event, Baptist stressed that they have “a small army” that assembles each year to help make sure the festival goes off without a hitch.

“We’ll have probably 40 folks who are staff at the festival and then another 200 who are volunteers,” Buck said. “To be technically listed as a volunteer, that’s 12 hours of time worked at the festival.”

Volunteers are able to attend the festival for only $20 as opposed to paying full ticket price, Buck said. However, a substantial number of volunteers buy a weekend pass anyway.

“When you have folks who work the full volunteer shift,” he said, “and still pay you face value for a ticket because it’s going for a good cause, that means a lot to me.”

Originally, Buck said, Rooster Walk was intended to be a one-off event. At that point, every cent of the proceeds were to go to the scholarship fund. However, because the first year went so well, Buck and Baptist were faced with a choice.

“We could donate everything and not do another festival,” Buck said, “or we could hold some (funds) back to be the nest egg for Rooster Walk 2, and still donate to the scholarship fund, but not donate every penny. We decided to roll the dice.”

That was in 2009. Today, Buck said, the nonprofit organization Rooster Walk Inc. has donated $31,000 to the scholarship fund and an additional $28,000 to local and regional charities.

“It’s safe to say that after year one, we didn’t have $59,000 that would have been donated if we’d never done another festival,” Buck said.

With each subsequent year, he said, Rooster Walk’s attendance has grown by roughly 15-20 percent, and it has snowballed in “the best possible way.”

Rooster Walk has become more than just an event for the locals; it’s become a tourism draw for Henry County and Martinsville.

Baptist said he has heard from people who aren’t familiar with Martinsville but have heard of Rooster Walk and want to know more. Last year, Buck said, a family with no connection at all to Henry County/Martinsville traveled from Michigan to attend the event.

“There are a lot of folks who are buying tickets this year for the first time who don’t realize we’re a nonprofit, who don’t realize we’re donating money to local charities. They just see the band list and have a friend or a friend of a friend who’s saying good things, and that’s enough,” Buck said.

The local support, however, is a key reason that the event has remained successful.

“Folks from Martinsville and Henry County have been supporting us from day one, and we couldn’t ask for any more,” Buck said. “A lot of the feedback we get is that (Rooster Walk) is incredibly family-friendly. There’s a palpable vibe of community and family, and I think a lot of that stems from the fact that the folks who were coming to Rooster Walks 1 and 2 and 3 ... they’re still coming. ... There’s this kind of nucleus of the crowd that’s been there since day one and knows that it’s a charitable cause and knows the origins behind the festival.”

“When people leave Rooster Walk, they’re leaving with a good feeling, that everything was organized but laid-back,” Baptist added. “The music is how you grab people’s attention. You keep them coming back by the setting and the vibes that are created. ... The people of this community and the people from surrounding communities that have supported us, they bring that vibe. We provide the setting, a little bit of that laid-back feel, but they’re the ones that make it what it is.”

Rooster Walk 6 will feature two headlining bands, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and The Infamous Stringdusters.

“Both of those are well-traveled, very well-respected bands across the nation,” Baptist said. “Anytime you can put something like that in your backyard is fun.”

The event also will feature more than 30 other bands from a variety of genres, roughly 10 of which include members from the Henry County/Martinsville area.

“From the get-go, we have always wanted Rooster Walk to be lots of different genres of music brought together,” Buck said. “It’s not a bluegrass festival; it’s not a rock ’n’ roll festival; it’s not a blues festival.”

In addition to the music, Rooster Walk 6 will feature kids’ activities, educational activities, nature hikes, arts and crafts, vendors, disc golf, the Sunday morning Tuff Strutter 5K and more.

Rooster Walk 6 tickets are available at Woodall’s Music and Sound in Collinsville and Binding Time Café in the city, and at The general admission weekend pass is $110 in advance. The individual day passes are $35 for Friday, $55 for Saturday and $30 for Sunday.

At the gate, the weekend pass will cost $125, while the single-day tickets each will increase in price by $5. Children younger than 12 are admitted free of charge.

A shuttle service to the festival will be available at Wild Magnolia Bar and Grill and the Dutch Inn.

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