After 13 years, here’s why the Rocktown Beer & Music Festival is done

A picture of a crowd with type saying: Rocktown friends, we have had an incredible time celebrating craft beer and music with you all since 2010! Harrisonburg is a special place. The 2023 Festival was our last. All good things must come to an end.
The Rocktown Beer Fest, which ran from 2010-2023), announces via social media that it will be no more. (Screenshot)

An “epic day in Harrisonburg every year” is how Jeremiah Jenkins, long-term Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance volunteer, described the Rocktown Beer and Music festival. 

“It was awesome. Three-thousand people coming downtown for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon with great music, often great weather and local food — great craft beer. Why wouldn’t that be a great day?” Jenkins said. 

But, “all good things must come to an end,” announced a Facebook post last month harkening the event’s end. Alas, the festival’s final hurrah was last spring’s event.

As craft beer aficionados themselves, Tim Brady and Aaron Ludwig co-founded the festival in 2010 to highlight the craft beer industry and share it with the community. After putting on 15 beer and music events, Ludwig said he thinks the festival helped put Harrisonburg on the map as a craft beer city. 

Jenkins was involved with the music side of the festival and said he’s very proud of the diverse bands they were able to showcase through the event. 

“We wanted Harrisonburg to stand out as a craft beer town and with the quality of our craft beer festival, but also with the quality of the music lineup,” he said.

Some of Jenkins’ favorite bands who played the festival include Snarky Puppy (in 2011), Larry Keel (also in 2011)The War on Drugs (2012) and The Steel Wheels (2013).

Over the course of the festival’s 12 years, it served as an opportunity for people to gather, listen to great live music, eat local food and drink good beer. But, as the downtown scene has changed, events like the Levitt AMP Harrisonburg Music Series, which started last year, have also taken on that role.

Ludwig said now is the perfect time to “pass the baton” to the Levitt concert series and “fill the void” the Rocktown Beer and Music Festival may have left behind.  

Last summer was the first year of the Levitt concert series, bringing thousands of people downtown to the grassy lot near the Tuner Pavilion. The event offers free live music from a range of artists, a beer garden and local food on Wednesday evenings from July to September. Last year the lineup included a mariachi band, indie rock, bluegrass, jazz and more.     

“We just thought this is going to be the perfect transition, you know,  to still be able to have live music and beer out on the square, teaming up with local breweries,” Ludwig said.

A lot of other events have used the Rocktown Festival as a model, Brady said.

Jenkins highlighted the growth of downtown since the festival began, adding that because of the new events, the community won’t be losing out on live music opportunities or craft beer experiences in the festival’s absence.

“I think Harrisonburg is still very much a beer-knowledgeable town and a beer town that appreciates different aspects of the craft beer industry,” Jenkins said.

In 2010, Brady said Cally’s brewery was the only one downtown; now there’s five craft breweries according to Harrisonburg’s tourism website: The Friendly Fermenter, Pale Fire, Restless Moons, Three Notch’d and Brothers Craft.  

“That craft beer scene is as vibrant as ever and there’s plenty of places to hang out,” Brady said.

There was also a personal aspect to the decision to end the Rocktown Festival. Ludwig and Brady said they also wanted time back for themselves and their families.

Both had full time jobs outside of organizing the festival every year, and preparations for it started five months in advance. 

“It was wonderful,” Brady said, but after doing something for so long that wasn’t even supposed to be an annual event, “it would be nice to have that time back too.”

While Brady, Ludwig and Jenkins said they were all sorry to take away something that was such a highlight for so many, they encourage people to take advantage of other community events.

“I can understand why someone might feel a loss,” Jenkins said, “and while we’ve lost the beer festival, there are still many, many opportunities to engage the downtown community.”

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