Music fest at Avon Hall in May, council hears

Americana music is coming to the town of Washington in May, Harris Hollow residents Ben Jones and Alma Viator confirmed at the Washington Town Council’s monthly meeting Monday night (March 10).

Jones, who has long been a fan of the Americana genre, explained that he wanted to host a festival that “fits in with a community devoted to the arts.” Originally proposed to the council in October, Jones said the May 17 festival would be “just about the music” and would be much smaller than his and wife Viator’s annual “Dukes of Hazzard” summer festivals, which have drawn as many as 15,000 people.

“Nobody wants to see Woodstock around here,” said Jones, the actor, writer and musician best known for playing Cooter in the 1980s “Dukes” sitcom — and for serving a term in Congress from Georgia. “We want to work with country sensibilities.”

Americana, Jones explained, is a diverse musical genre that “has been called many things . . . and is influenced by many things.” It can include many different styles of music, Jones said, including country, folk, rockabilly and even some R&B touches.

“The name covers a lot of really good music,” Jones said, proudly.

The festival will contain two venues, Jones said: The first will be outside, on the Avon Hall property, from 1 to 6 p.m., before moving into the Theatre at Washington at 8. The Theater will only hold about 200 people, Jones said, but he and Viator were hoping for anywhere between 300 and 500 people at the outdoor portion — a smaller number, Viator pointed out, than the town’s annual Christmas Parade.

A music festival is nothing without the music, and while Jones said there were still a few spots left to fill, the afternoon session will include local favorites the Gold Top County Ramblers, Big Buster and His Dirty Dogs, members of the Red Clay Ramblers, Nashville’s Irene Kelly, Robin and Linda Williams and more.

The festival would also be employing a “directional sound system,” Jones said, which would both enhance the quality of the music and ensure it’s not heard in Flint Hill.

Viator assured the council that the festival wouldn’t interfere with any of the developments at Avon Hall, such as the butterfly trail and pond restoration. Certain areas of the property will be roped off, she added, and no one will be allowed inside Avon Hall. “We want it to enhance all the wonderful things going on at Avon,” Viator said.

The outdoor portion of the festival is contingent on the weather, Viator said. If it rains that day, the outdoor portion will be cancelled, though the evening portion in the theater won’t be affected. There is no make-up day scheduled, Viator said, as it’s just too hard to reschedule all the bands.

Though the council took no official action Monday night, Patrick O’Connell called the festival “a charming idea,” and jokingly suggested renting out the front porch of Avon Hall — at $500 a head — for a VIP section. Back when the town still held a fireworks display on the property, former owner William Carrigan used to offer the porch as a VIP section to watch the display.

“It was a long wait to get on that list,” O’Connell laughed.

Viator also asked the council’s suggestions on possible local vendors to sell products at the festival, and said she and Jones were considering placing a band in some of the town’s local shops to encourage people to explore in between sessions.

“We want to come and see the beauty of this town, but we also want them to leave after they’ve spent a little money,” Viator joked.

Tickets for the festival are $25 per session ($40 for both) and are available from Wendy Weinberg at the Theatre, and online at rappahannockamericana.com.

Restaurant redefined, tax rate unchanged

The council also approved changing the definition of a restaurant in the town’s ordinance to match the one used by the county and state. As a result of the change, the council also repealed — and then immediately reinstated — the town’s meals and lodging tax.

In a short public hearing, Mayor John Fox Sullivan explained that there was no change to the tax percentage, which remains at 2.5 percent. The council had considered raising the tax — easily among the lowest in the state — at its December meeting; Sullivan and the rest of the council decided such a change should be part of a larger discussion “that we need to have before we get into the next budget cycle.”

Included in the factors to be considered, Sullivan pointed out in December, is the impending increase in available lodging — after the six-room White Moose Inn hotel opens this winter on Main Street, and The Inn at Little Washington completes a renovation of Clopton House into four more luxury suites by spring.

“We’re looking at room availability in this town increasing by about 40 percent,” he said. “And that’s not even counting an enhanced restaurant on the way [a reference to Thornton River Grille’s plan to convert Tula’s off Main from a cafe to a full-service restaurant]. There’s all these pieces to be considered.”

There being no comments on the matter, the council approved the change, 6-0. (Council member Alice Butler was absent due to a broken collarbone.) “That was a matter we’ve spent a fair bit of time on and dispensed with in two minutes,” remarked an amused Sullivan.