Breweries come together for an annual event

There will be over 80 different beers to taste at this year's Rocktown beer festival.

Three thousand people will flood the streets of downtown Harrisonburg as the annual Rocktown Beer & Music Festival celebrates beer, bands, local food and the community.

This year’s festival will feature 36 different breweries and cideries, such as Pale Fire Brewing Co., Brothers Craft Brewing, James River Brewery, Austin Eastciders, Stable Craft Brewing and Potter’s Craft Cider. Collectively, they’ll have 80 different samples to taste.

“Pale Fire will always be in the brewery lineup at Rocktown along with the other Harrisonburg breweries,” Susan Keeler, taproom manager at Pale Fire Brewing, said. “It’s our hometown festival. How many other beer festivals can you literally leave our patio and walk across the street and you’re there?”

Pale Fire Brewing Co. will be debuting a new collaboration with Shenandoah Bicycle Company (SBC) called Yard Beer.

“It’s basically a shandy made with our Skinny Dennis Blonde Ale and Silver Needle White Tea,” Keeler said. 

They’ll also have a keg of our Bourbon Barrel Lucille Oatmeal Stout.

Several performances will take place throughout the day, including local band The Good Saloon, Erin & the Wildfire from Charlottesville and The Bright Light Social Hour — a national touring headliner.

“The Bright Light Social Hour knows how to party,” Aaron Ludwig, owner of Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint and Billy Jack’s Wing and Draft Shack and co-founder of the festival, said. “These guys rock live venues all over the country.”

With over 100 volunteers, the HPD and local vendors, the festival will take place rain or shine at the Turner Pavilion this Saturday at 3 p.m. 

“We want folks to come back year after year and to learn something new about beer and music,” Ludwig said. 

Breweries are constantly evolving, and Ludwig wants guests to taste the improvement in their beers. 

“There’s been great beer available downtown for a long time, but there are always new people discovering a new brewery or style,” Keeler said. 

New to this year’s event, Rocktown will be expanding into the grassy area south of the Turner Pavilion where the food vendors, ciders and a selection of craft beer will be located.

“It’s been a sell-out crowd every year, so it’s nice to see how Harrisonburg has embraced craft beer,” Ludwig said.

Typically, tickets sell out a few days before the event. With the plethora of beers to sample and performance lineup, returning guests can expect a totally different experience.

“Rocktown has a fun, exciting environment,” Taylor Weisbrod, a senior biology major, said. “10 tastings really does go a long way. You’ll feel pretty good after the event.”

Weisbrod is attending her fourth festival this Saturday. She looks forward to the great weather and seeing friends, professors and returning alumni like in years past.

Unlike years prior, “Special Tappings” will be taking place, where people will be able to taste a rare beer. 

“The main reason is to try to keep the festival improving year over year,” Ludwig said. “Breweries are constantly evolving and the beers are getting harder and harder to get. So we wanted to collect a lot of these beers and have these rare releases at Rocktown.”

Beginning at 3:30 p.m., Green Flash Lustrous Frumento will be served, followed by Founders Azacca IPA. Samplings will continue every 30 minutes until 7 p.m.

“It’s fun to be a part of a beer festival where people can try a wide selection in one place,” Keeler said. “I can’t say that I’ve always been part of Harrisonburg’s craft beer community, but once I got a taste, I was hooked.”

This year, Keeler is most excited about the ideal weather forecast to celebrate the event. In years past, they’ve held the festival in cold rain. 

“Its great seeing this growing industry draw so many people in, to essentially celebrate its existence,” Lauren Reynolds, volunteer coordinator of the festival, said. “People appreciating the art and craft that is beer. That’s what makes this festival happen.”

Visitors go to Rocktown to taste beers they love and discover beers they’ve never had before. 

“Rocktown brings a lot of business to the local downtown community,” Ludwig said. “It’s nice to get local breweries involved like Pale Fire and Brothers to help pull this thing off.”

Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint, Jess’ Lunch, Chanello’s Pizza and Hank’s Grille & Bar will be serving a variety of foods ranging from Southern barbecue to fried Oreos. Local breweries Pale Fire Brewing Co. and Brothers Craft Brewing will sponsor the event.

“We anticipate about 150-180 [volunteers] … it’s a pretty big volunteer force that makes it all happen,” Reynolds said.

People can sign up to volunteer until the day of the event. They’re responsible for setting up and breaking down the event, scanning tickets and pouring beer.

“It’s so awesome to see such a large event with so many people, run by a group of people willing to just donate their time for the success of the event and the town,” Reynolds said. 

With new music and samples, Ludwig hopes the Harrisonburg community experiences something different and exciting each year.

“This is no small feat, but it’s worth it to make Harrisonburg awesome,” Ludwig said.

Contact Maria Keuler at keulermc@dukes.jmu.edu.

Maria Keuler is a senior media arts & design and Spanish double major. She writes about what she loves — fitness and a healthy lifestyle. If all goes as planned with her future, you'll catch her on TV in the mornings broadcasting your local news.