Beer and music enthusiasts flocked to Sweetland Amphitheatre in LaGrange, Ga., on Saturday for the inaugural Craft Beer & Music Festival. The $35 ticket included unlimited beer samples, a souvenir sampling glass, and the opportunity to enjoy live music performed by the Grant Garland Trio, Jontavious Willis, Pine Hill Haints and Little Tybee. With 18 local and 22 national breweries, guests had the opportunity to sample over one hundred different craft beers.
The festival opted to use an alternate stage in the amphitheatre’s upper grassy area with lounge chairs available for seating, though most of the crowd chose to stand and continue making the rounds sampling beer.
It would be easy to assume only those 21 years and older would enjoy the festival, but Sweetland also offered a music-only ticket for $15 and had multiple sets of corn hole boards, creating a welcoming, family-friendly environment. Local food vendors Mare Sol, 505 Eats, Bo’s Bacon Boiled Peanuts and Holloway Pork Rinds were on site with dishes available for purchase, some of which were created exclusively for the festival to pair with a specific craft beer based on flavor profiles.
The festival did more than just highlight good brews and tunes; two dollars from every ticket sold benefited the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s Floating Classroom Program, which takes local classes out on the river to give them firsthand experience and knowledge about the effects of pollution on local wildlife. Chattahoochee Riverkeeper had a booth and representatives at the festival ready to talk about their programs.
Gates opened at 3 p.m. and immediately people were in line ready to sample. Some breweries crafted limited edition drafts available only at the festival, such as Abide Brewing Company’s Red Rye IPA. The Newnan based brewery opened in 2013 and currently has six beers, half of which were available for tasting at Sweetland in addition to the Red Rye. Omaha Brewing Co. also unveiled their second-ever canned beer at the festival, the Hannahatchee Creek IPA, following the Nada Banana Ale which was released earlier this year.
The first band to take the stage was the Grant Garland Trio out of Nashville, Tenn. Despite the absence of their usual bassist, stand-in Emanuel Cole meshed well with the band and the soft rock covers provided a perfect start to the afternoon.
Next up, Georgia’s own blues prodigy Jontavious Willis rocked the stage with Nick Mayfield on bass and Henry Jacobs, who also happens to be Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s Middle Chattahoochee Outreach Manager, on drums. Willis’ blues background snuck through almost every song, and with his strong voice and natural presence as a performer, he dominated the stage.
With a more unconventional style described as “Alabama ghost music,” The Pine Hill Haints followed. The band uses a variety of instruments throughout their set including a washboard, washtub bass, musical saw, violin, accordion and trombone in addition to the traditional guitar and drums to create their distinct sound. Front man James Barrier also uses a 1950’s style microphone with a wooden post sporting the band’s name, adding another level of uniqueness. For the first few songs, Barrier’s toddler-aged son joined the band on stage with his own ukulele, strumming alongside his father. The hauntingly individual style of music and performance drew the biggest crowds away from the beer tables and closer to the stage.
Little Tybee closed the night, with lead singer and guitarist Brock Scott dedicating their set to all those displaced by Hurricane Matthew and asking the audience to keep them in their thoughts. Even starting off on this more serious note, the upbeat indie folk music quickly returned the festival to its easygoing atmosphere. The light, experimental sound paired well with the setting sun to end a truly sensational day.
LaGrange Grocery sponsored free taxi rides home to provide safe transportation for those who had been sampling, and Downtown LaGrange Shuttle Service offered a trolley to the official after party locations, Brickhouse Grille and Main Street Pub. With just shy of 900 attendees, the festival surpassed Sweetland staff’s expectations for its first year and they hope to continue the celebration of craft beer and music next year. /- By Cassidy Chreene
Check more photos from the festival by Cassidy Chreene: