Before last year Ben Walters had never even come close to organizing a concert, let alone one that helped raise money for a good cause. But then inspiration hit and Walters, then a senior in high school, realized that he could combine two of his passions, the environment and music, and thus created the Loudoun Wildlife Festival. The festival was a success attracting more than 300 people and this year it returns, Saturday, June 7, to raise awareness about Loudoun’s ecosystem and money for the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy (LWC) once again.
"I got the idea for the festival and I contacted the LWC and they liked it. I’m a very concerned citizen in regards to the environment and I’m also a very active musician and I wanted to do something to help the environment and the most accessible tool I had was with music," Walters, whose band The Acoustic Bugoo will be performing at the festival, said.
The festival, which will take place at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship in western Loudoun County will feature a multitude of events including music from local bands, a reptile zoo and a chance for the family to get out and hike around the scenic area. The LWC will be there to offer information on what they do and help people learn about their surrounding environment and how they can help protect it.
"The Blue Ridge Center is privately donated and there are nature trails that LWC helps put up …. It’s a really beautiful part of Loudoun County and it's very scenic and the whole place has this environmental theme," Helen Van Ryzin, an LWC board member who has helped organize the event, said. "The LWC will have a booth with membership and a raffle and other fun stuff."
THE FESTIVAL will have plenty of other fun stuff, too. Live folk music will be presented throughout the event from bands throughout the area and at 6:30 p.m. the headlining band, Dirty River, will have a performance for everyone. The number of bands has almost doubled from the previous year as the festival has grown.
"It’s much bigger and we’re getting more music," Walters said. "The main focus this year is to increase the size of the event and increase the outreach. I’d say the philosophy of the concert is to create a local environmental concert and getting people outside and hearing music that is unique to the area. I’d say educating is probably the greatest benefit of the event."
The music itself will be mostly folk with a selection of bands that the organizers enjoyed to listen to. Walters said that the bands were chosen based on what they thought would go well with the theme of the show and on what music was really fun and enjoyable to listen to.
The event is designed around families coming out and listening to the music and having a great day outdoors. The organizers hope that the music will draw people to the area and help them realize that there is a very robust local ecosystem in the county. Van Ryzin said that the center is a perfect location for concerts, too, with an area set up specifically for music and easy access to trails so people can wander to and from the concert at their leisure.
"The music is fun, the zoo is going to be great and it is really just a beautiful place. It’s right near Harpers Ferry and it’s nestled in the mountains. It’s got a lot of forest and trails on it. People can come and hear the music and just enjoy being outside, too," said Walters.
THE ZOO is being presented by Reptiles Alive and will feature native amphibians from around Loudoun. The creatures will be presented with information and an expert there to discuss what they are and how they impact the environment. Children can come and learn about all of them and where to find them in their own backyards.
"A lot of people when they think of ecology and ecosystems and the environment, they have a tendency to think of things that are far away like the rain forest," said Caroline Seitz, the director of Animals Alive, when discussing the importance of learning about the local environment. "I think that people have a lack of understanding of what is living here right in their own neighborhood. The point of the presentation will be to present to people the animals that we need to help right here in Loudoun County. The rainforest is cool, but there are plenty of fantastic animals to protect here."
The zoo will offer information to help protect these local animals such as ways to cut back on energy and avoid littering. It will also be full of animals that one might not see on a regular basis, but that definitely live in Loudoun. Seitz gives the example of wood frogs that have the ability to freeze solid and then defrost and be fine and also little cricket frogs that sound like two marbles being rubbed together when they chirp. There will even be a giant bullfrog with a head injury that was rescued from an Asian grocery market.
"They’re all going to be exciting," Seitz said. "Everything I’m bringing is so cool. We’ll even have poisonous American toads and these are all animals that live right here in Loudoun County."
Walters said he hopes that the zoo will help to raise awareness of all the animals that inhabit Loudoun and that people will gain a new respect for what is going on all around them outdoors. "Most people in the area are unaware of the robust environment in Loudoun County. It’s about getting them interested in all of it," he said.
THE LWC AND the rest of the organizers of the event are hoping that this year’s festival becomes even more popular than last year's and helps to raise more money to help fund many of the group's programs. Last year, the festival raised $1,400 and while the main focus for the event is more on awareness than collecting money, the organizers hope to raise even more this year. All donations and proceeds will be given to the LWC.
"This year hopefully we’ll raise a bit more money. The money will go into the general fund for wildlife programs," Van Ryzin said.
"That’s why the music is so important, because people love music and you get a lot of people at the event like this and you can let them know about everything that is going on. I’m hoping that people get interested," Walters said.