Martinsville, Virginia


The 10th Annual Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival

When Memorial Day weekend arrives this May, nearly 6,000 people are expected at the 10th annual Rooster Walk Music & Arts Festival, located in the rolling countryside just outside of Martinsville. The nonprofit event will span four days (May 24-27) and feature more than 50 bands, plus food, arts and crafts vendors, on-site camping and outdoors activities. The music fans will join together around the festival’s motto, “Appreciate the Present.” It’s a slogan inspired by a tragic loss of two lives, and the desire of those left behind to create something positive in the wake of that loss. 

Rooster Walk was created in memory of two Martinsville natives who passed away while still in their 20s: Edwin Penn and Walker Shank.

When Penn died in a dirt-bike accident in November 2007 and Shank passed from heart trouble while asleep in his apartment in December 2008, close childhood friends William Baptist and Johnny Buck decided a music festival was a fitting way to pay tribute.

While in high school, Penn often strutted around the dance floor like a chicken in order to get laughs from his friends. Accordingly, he earned the nickname “Rooster.”

Thus, when searching for a name to the festival, Buck and Baptist combined Rooster with Walker’s given name to create “Rooster Walk.”

“This festival celebrates life and the notion that you shouldn’t waste a moment of it,” said Baptist.

“It’s about gathering with the folks you love – your friends and family,” added Buck, “and appreciating the moment. Not taking anything for granted.”

What’s transpired in the years since Rooster Walk 1 (2009) has exceeded all dreams and expectations. In 2017, Rooster Walk 9 drew more than 5,500 people over the course of the four-day weekend. The event has raised more than $80,000 for the Penn-Shank Memorial Scholarship Fund at Martinsville High School, as well as more than $20,000 for the Rooster Walk Music Instrument Program for local high school and middle school bands in the public school system.  What’s more, the festival has become one of the area’s biggest tourism draws, having an estimated economic impact of $1.4 million on the local economy last spring.            

This year’s band lineup is headlined by roots/rock trio The Wood Brothers, southern rock band JJ Grey & Mofro, and renowned pedal-steel act Robert Randolph & The Family. Other bands on the bill include Marcus King Band, Billy Strings, King & Strings (Marcus King w/ Billy Strings), Jerry Douglas Band, TAUK, Zach Deputy, Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, Colter Wall, Yarn, The Mantras, The Dustbowl Revival, Town Mountain, Dangermuffin, Cris Jacobs, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, The Southern Belles, The Grass is Dead, Ron Holloway, Jeff Sipe, Josh Shilling, Front Country, Victor Wainwright & The Train, The Trongone Band, Kat Wright, Wild Ponies, The Commonheart, Fireside Collective, Erin & The Wildfire, Porch 40, Kendall Street Co., Songs From The Road Band, Sanctum Sully, Jay Starling, Wallace Mullinax, Violet Bell, Half Moon, After Jack, Jason Springs, PHCC Jazz Band, Gunchux, Prosperity’s Folly, Juliana MacDowell, The Fernandez Sisters, The Wildmans and the MHC Praise Band.

“We’re thrilled to be able to host so many wonderful bands at Rooster Walk this year,’ said Buck. “From top to bottom, I think this is the strongest lineup in our 10-year history.”

Presented by title sponsor Bassett Furniture, Rooster Walk has been named one of the top five festivals in Virginia by the Richmond-Times Dispatch.

The ‘King & Strings’ set is a first; Marcus King and Billy Strings have never met, let alone played together. Each is a fan of the other, however, and this genre-bending set will blend progressive bluegrass with southern rock/blues. World-renowned drummer Jeff Sipe will also take part, sitting in on drums for the latter portion of the set.

In addition to four days of amazing music on five stages, the family-friendly Rooster Walk will offer a wide variety of kids’ activities, craft beer, food/arts vendors and beautiful on-site camping.