grin and beer it: rocktown beer and music festival 2014.

rocktown beer fest wooAfter having attended the Rocktown Beer and Music Festival all four years, and having documented it on this site for three of those four, I’ve come to understand that the Beer Fest — now a beloved Harrisonburg tradition — is really just a large family reunion, minus the awkwardness. Beer is the ultimate social lubricant, after all.

You won’t run into eccentric relatives, like your Aunt Norma who always asks, “When are you ever going to have a baby?” Or your great Aunt Phyllis who’s determined to tell you about all twenty-three of her cats. Your teenage niece, who was so cute and fun at the last reunion but is now all brooding and angst-y and Snapchat-y. Or that relative you don’t know at all, who’s parked himself at the chips and dip. And Aunt Norma’s new hubby, who sneaks out to hide in his car until it’s all over.

You won’t run into that relative who constantly brags/complains about his all-important job, or the one who constantly brags/complains about his corns, bunions, sciatica, and that punk who moved in down the street. And the reunion ambles along a path that eventually arrives at the collective question: WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO??

Nope. You won’t find any of that at the Rocktown Beer and Music Festival. But here’s what you will find.

1. Your buddies. You’ll see people you haven’t seen since last year’s Fest, and people you just saw yesterday. I run into my old friend Melissa every single year. I worked with her ages ago at Clayborne’s, and I never, ever see her anywhere… except the Beer Fest.

rocktown beer fest group2. Music. This year, Rocktown Beer and Music Festival welcomed three bands: Harrisonburg favorites The Deadmen out of DC; the mood-elevating Bronze Radio Returnfrom Connecticut; and the versatile jam-band out of Baltimore, the Kelly Bell Band.

rocktown beer fest bronze radio rocktown beer fest deadmenrocktown beer fest dance3. Food. Patrons enjoyed delectables from ClementineJack Brown’s, the Local Chop and Grill House, and Union Station. This is some of the best food in the city, making the Beer Fest way classier than your family reunion at picnic shelter #4, no offense.

4. And finally, duh, the beer. More than thirty breweries to sample, including seven from Virginia: Blue Mountain BreweryBold Rock CiderChampion BrewingDevil’s Backbone Brewing Co.St. George Brewing Co., Three Notch’d Brewing Co. (who just opened at tap room here in Harrisonburg, in the Urban Exchange building!!), and our hometown heroesThree Brothers Brewing Co. I’ve been thinking about those small mugs the Beer Fest gives to its guests, and I’m just gonna put this suggestion out there for what it’s worth. Some people like a wide variety of beer and like having ten 4-oz samples. However, I’m an IPA fan, and I would appreciate being able to get an 8-oz mug filled five times, since I know I’m sticking to IPA. Maybe in the future, we can select our preferred mug size when we order tickets?

rocktown beer fest  couple1 rocktown beer fest couple2 rocktown beer fest couples rocktown beer fest crowd collage5. The staff. You get friends, music, food, beer, and people who will help you. The Beer Fest’s more than 150 volunteers keep the lines moving, the music playing, and the place clean and safe.

rocktown beer fest staff 1 rocktown beer fest staff2And now here is something exciting: Rocktown Beer and Music Festival Fall Edition!! Yep! September 20, 2014, come on down to the Turner Pavilion for another festival. So far they’ve lined up thirty breweries; the band lineup will be announced by June 1st, and tickets go on sale July 1st. And hey, maybe Harrisonburg’s newest brewery, Pale Fire Brewing, will ready by then! If you ask me, I think it would be wise to just go ahead and have your family reunion here. Everyone will get along much better, trust me.

rocktown beer fest crowd collage2 rocktown beer fest loungerocktown beer fest hugCopyright © 2012-14 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

a wine-wine situation: rocktown wine and dine festival 2013. yow!

rocktown wine and dine crowdHarrisonburg’s getting pretty good at this festival thing. Between film festivals, music festivals, beer festivals, various heritage and diversity festivals, and wine festivals, you can be festive every month of the year in this town. I LOVE IT. The key to any great festival is inclusivity. Variety. Public interaction. The spirit of welcome. Makes sense that you’d find such qualities in full force on a Saturday afternoon in Harrisonburg.

Because of the awesome collaboration of our local businesses and organizations like Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, Bluestone Vineyard, and Downtown Wine and Gourmet, plus a host of local restaurants, and our always-reliable army of cheerful volunteers, citizens of and visitors to our city were able to enjoy a day where people, wines, and foods of all types engaged in merry mingling.

rocktown wine and dine tasting 1If you were there, you know the weather was absolutely perfect. Brandy, Michael, and I arrived promptly at 2:30, moved swiftly through the entrance line, and in a flash, had our stemless glasses in hand. We threw our stuff under the big tree and headed for the Turner Pavilion. There would be time for sitting later!

We headed for the nearest table, which happened to be number 6. There we found Bluestone Vineyard’s 2011 Rose paired with ( I know it sounds strange) Local Chop and Grill‘s Duck Fat Laced Local Watermelon cubes filled with Feta-Olive Mousse. I was a little wary at first… but then I ate like three cubes. Yes, watermelon and feta sounds like some kind of accidental spill, but those people know how to put flavors together! See? Integration. IT WAS DELICIOUS. We were off to a great start.

rocktown wine and dine watermelonWe got excited when we got to table 4 and saw the word “sriracha.” It’s getting to the point where I need it every day. Billy Jack’s offered a house-made crab cake with sriracha mayonnaise, paired with Don Manuel Chardonnay from William Harrison Wines. The fruity tones of the wine with the spicy crab cake were, again, luscious, and I started feeling a bit fancy.

rocktown wine and dine crab cakes 3Table 2 featured two of our favorites: Crosskeys Vineyards and Beyond Restaurant and Lounge. And I’m pretty sure as I approached the table, I let loose with a “Where are the meatballs?!” Cy kindly informed me that they were at the table across the way. “Beyond has two tables? Ohmygolly.” So we gladly ate the Crispy Vegetable Dumplings with house-made garlic and ginger soy sauce, paired with Crosskeys’ super-crisp and summery Joy White.

Next we got to sample my favorite meatballs in the universe, Beyond’s Teriyaki and Pineapple meatballs. The Tinto Negro Mendoza Malbec from Vineyard Brands was a soft, mild wine that didn’t compete with the meatballs, but complemented them. Which was probably wise because those meatballs kick butt. I remember that we lingered at that table for some time… til a plate of cheeseburgers went by.

rocktown wine and dine wontonrocktown wine and dine meatballsAt table 3, burgers sizzled on Jack Brown’s flat top grill while volunteers poured Edgebaston “The Pepper Pot” Red from Southern Starz Wines. Talk about a seamless integration…  succulent beef with spicy, peppery wine… it was warm as an electric Snuggie. I also liked their Nugan Third Generation Shiraz from Australia.

rocktown wine and dine burgersTable 5 should have sported a map of France. Albert Bichot Wines offered the Chateau Boussargues Cotes du Rhone Rouge (“house…sompn sompn sompn sompn… red”), which was tres délicieux, avec Cotes du Rhone Cured Duck Breast, Red Wine Salt, and Poached Local Apple-Fennel-Raisin Preserve from our Local Grill and Chop House. The combination was… how do you say? Sublime. Ah oui!

rocktown wine and dine crackerContinuing with the multi-cultural flair, because Harrisonburg is so good at integration, we left France and tried Union Station‘s Smoked Jamaican Jerk Chicken Breast with Pineapple Salsa, paired with the Cottonwood Creek Organic White from Bronco Wine Co. This wine was like line-dried linen; it was one of my favorites of the day. Clean and fresh and smooth and beachy. They also offered a Truck Red Blend, which of course we had to try.

Union Station also set up shop at table 8, where we tried their Smoked Pulled Pork Sliders and House BBQ Sauce. THOSE were excellent!! And they’re so cute and little, you can eat like six of them so fast there’s no time to feel guilty. We washed those suckers down with what I think wins the award for the most creatively described wine at the festival, the Senda 66 Tempranillo, offered by Frontier Imports. Here’s what the program said: “An exotic wine with aromas of graham cracker, blueberry, violet petal, and pastry. It feels lush, grabby, chewy, and slightly tannic with heavy flavors of clove, black licorice, savory berry, and baked plum.” Okay, they managed to get fruits, herbs, baked goods, flowers, and a touch of candy all in one bottle. I-N-T-E-G-R-A-T-I-O-N!

rocktown wine and dine pork 2The final two tables were hosted by Blue Nile. At table 9, we tried their Whole Lentils, Green Peppers, Chopped Lentils, and Bits of Injera tossed in Vinegar, Olive Oil, and Mustard. This dish had quite a kick, complemented nicely by the fresh, lemony Domaine de Ballade Blanc offered by Bourgeouis Family Wines (love that name!). We finished up with Small Vineyard’s Palama Arcangelo Negroamaro, a spicy Italian wine served with Blue Nile’s Collard Green, Stewed Onions, Garlic, and Ginger. The combination was lovely, and I thought it was cool to drink an Italian wine with my Ethiopian food.

rocktown wine and dine tasting 3Suddenly, it was 5pm, and we were ready to head to the lawn to hear the jazzy musings of the Rick Olivarez Trio, a band out of Charlottesville influenced by eastern European and French musicians, among others. Once out there in the sunshine, we saw more evidence of inclusivity. Chefs Alex and Jon were conducting cooking demonstrations. Their two dishes were Charleston Style Shrimp served on a Pan-Seared Grit Cake with Watercress and a Pomegranate-Thyme BBQ Glaze; and, Grilled Poundcake with Balsamic Marinated Strawberries. Well, I wasn’t going to miss that! Dozens of people stood around watching the demo, asking questions, and then being treated to a generous sampling. AND, Grilled Cheese Mania was there, too, in case you had a serious craving!

rocktown wine and dine musicrocktown wine and dine chef rocktown wine and dine chef 2rocktown wine and dine salad rocktown wine and dine skillet rocktown wine and dine strawberryrocktown wine and dine GCMAnother new thing this year? A beer garden. What?? Yes, a beer garden at the Wine Festival, provided by Specialty Beverage. This was a nice gesture to the companions of wine lovers who wanted to enjoy the festival together. Inclusivity! I love the idea of a beer garden. As if you can plant seeds and little taps will sprout up in your yard. Someone please invent that. So… why not? It was warm, I was thirsty, and there was corn hole. Beer and corn hole go hand in hand. Since we were a party of three, I teamed up with a total stranger to take on Michael and Brandy. And that’s how we spent the rest of our evening: playing corn hole, listening to great music, and making friends with strangers. Just another day in our friendly city.

rocktown wine and dine BEERrocktown wine and dine corn hole1rocktown wine and dine tasting 2 rocktown wine and dine tasting 5Thanks, Burg, for a beautiful day. Thanks to the volunteers, the vendors, the sponsors, and the organizers. You are very much appreciated, and very much a part of what makes our home special. A la vôtre!

rocktown wine and dine goofballsCopyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

luxury sweets: 3rd annual chocolate walk.

Copyright © 2012 – 2013 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers.This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

terminally harrisonburg no. 11: union station.

Katie and Jen

You know how it is when winter starts to lift. You’ve finally taken down the Christmas decorations, just in time for St. Patty’s day; daylight streams into your house at a different slant and intensity; your kids have been bickering for weeks, having been cooped up with each other since October; and you’re going crazy. That’s how it was a couple of weeks ago for Brandy, Jen, Danielle, and me. When I drove away from the sitter’s house on that chilly but bright afternoon, I breathed a sigh of relief that stretched across the entire city. An evening with the girls–finally! Even if only til 7pm. Even better, it happened to be Harrisonburg’s Taste of Downtown week. This glorious event in Harrisonburg provides an opportunity to try local cuisine–lunch and/or dinner–for seven days in a row and snag some really good deals. Right now, while you’re thinking about it and before you read any further, mark your calendar for August 12 – 18–the next Taste of Downtown week.

We decided on Union Station. They were offering a specialty burger (a different one each night of the week) served on a frisbee plus four 4-ounce draft beers, all for $12.    $12!!!   (They offer this special every Monday, by the way, but I can’t guarantee which burger they’ll feature.) The specialty burger this night had Girls’ Night Out written all over it: a patty topped with spinach, feta, and tomato. And we got to choose which four beers we sampled. That evening they offered Stella Artois, Dogfish IPA, Hoegaarden, Weeping Radish, Jefferson Reserve, Brooklyn Lager, and Legend Lager.
The beers were served on cute wooden paddles, which took me back to my elementary school days. Ah, public school in South Carolina. My second grade teacher–yes, YOU, Mrs. Ross–paddled me one day for sharpening my pencil without asking permission. In my defense, it was my FIRST DAY of school in South Carolina, having recently moved from New Jersey, and I didn’t know the pencil sharpening policies. Nor had I ever seen a paddle in my life. You can imagine my surprise when she came up behind me and hit me with that thing–I scraped my forehead on the pencil sharpener, screamed “STOP KILLING ME!” and ran like some kind of wild animal up and down the hall, just trying to get OUT OF THAT CRAZY PLACE. My dad had to pick me up early… it was a mess. Years later, Mrs. Ross moved into my neighborhood. I bet there’s STILL toilet paper hanging from her trees. Nevertheless, I went back to school the day after that fiasco, and here I am today. Ta-da! Anyway, that memory faded as the beer glasses emptied and our conversation turned to other topics. Girl topics. Like that show The Biggest Loser. How much Jillian Michaels scares us, how no one liked that one blonde trainer (Kim Lyons), and how Bob is just awesome.
At this point my memory gets blurry and my notes sparse… apparently I said a few embarrassing things you won’t read here. That’s the advantage of being the writer, see? When I say something stupid, it doesn’t get recorded. I vaguely remember Brandy saying something like, “I wish I was writin’ this crap!” Sorry. Heh heh! But when I got home, I found spinach in my teeth. Ah, karma.

Then “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac came on, and I thought of my dad, and then there were some tears. And Jen nearly broke her glass. Finally Cassie Baker–owner of Union Station–came over and organized our conversation.

Katie, Danielle, Jen, and Cassie
(Brandy's behind the lens)

When Cassie bought the property, she spent some time researching its history and wanted to do all she could to preserve that history for her clientele. She certainly succeeded there. Not only is the building beautifully renovated with many architectural details of the 1930s and 40s, but the servers at the restaurant provide brief lessons about certain historical landmarks around the city. Union Station was the name of a train depot built by B&O in 1911. It was actually located where the jail now stands. The Wetsel Seed Company purchased the property in 1944 and retained ownership of it until eminent domain rendered it city property in 1991. If you’ve not been there, it’s truly a beautiful restaurant, with a large dining area, an ample bar, a cute backroom, and a new banquet room that can seat 65.

dining room

We couldn’t leave without asking about the big math error in that back room.

1991 - 1911 does not = 89.

Cassie told us it was just a joke left by the painters, long ago.

It was nearing seven o’clock and we all had to get back to our real lives. We were so silly that evening we knew we had tons of ridiculous photos to share with you all. That reminded us of the photo of Brandy and me at Beyond in which Brandy thinks she looks like a man (puh-lease!), and I feel I have too much flesh between my sternum and my chin. What is it with my excessive neck-y-ness?? Ugh! Jen sternly told me, “Oh, Katie, that’s just your throat!” Well, that doesn’t make it any better, friend. So, thanks for reading and not looking (click here and scroll all the way down). And for the rest of this week, we’ll feature more photos we wish didn’t exist.

Union Station is located on the corner of Liberty and Market Street (Rt. 33) in downtown Harrisonburg. See you there soon!