Fun for all: Follow herd to Nelson fest

If, in the past 10 years, you’ve never taken the scenic drive down 29 South for Nelson County’s Summer Festival, which takes place on the gorgeous grounds of the Oak Ridge Estate, this might be the year to do it. Especially if you enjoy great live music, food, rural crafts, rare sheep, and sheepdogs.
This non-profit, family-friendly festival, which takes place this year on the weekend of June 14-15, is known for its eclectic mixture of unique bands and animal breeds. Every June, top-notch musical acts sing and strum from the festival’s main stage. This year’s crowd-pleasing line-up includes Charlottesville’s own Jan Smith Band, folky singer Mollie O’Brien, the Tracy Nelson Band, Eddie from Ohio, and the Caribbean soul sounds of Kevin Davis and Ban Caribe.
Offering a different breed of entertainment are the many, (mostly) pettable four-legged critters such as diminutive “Baby Doll” and striking Scottish Black-Faced sheep, angora goats, alpacas, and Zebu cattle. And if you never thought twice about chicken, some pretty amazing poultry specimens will surely get you clucking.
Not only a petting zoo, the festival’s interactive and educational Rural Living Tent gives visitors young and older the chance to watch as the freshly-sheared wool is either spun or pressed into traditional felt art. Now that’s something you don’t see at the mall.
But I’m most excited about the sheepdog trials. This year, 33 sheepdog trainers from around the country will be meeting in Lovingston to compete in the festival’s two-day herding trials. Follow the whistles to the trial field, where, from 10am-6pm, hard-working and highly trained Border Collies will skillfully maneuver mini-herds of sheep through various gates and obstacles into a pen. Since this dog was bred to gather, not drive sheep, it works quietly and quickly, using its intense gaze to subdue the sheep into obeying. With its belly close to the ground, the Border Collie controls by copying the stance of a predator. And the sheep obey, not out of fear, but out of respect. Sounds like quite a show.
If you work up an appetite just watching the collies compete, don’t worry. You can expect a lot more than the usual funnel cakes and hot dogs at the Nelson County Summer Fest. Gyros, Cajun fried fish, egg rolls, papaya, shakes and Philippine cuisine are just a few of the offerings, which add an international flair to this one-of-a-kind rural Virginia festival.  
The 11th annual Nelson County Summer Festival offers a full schedule of activities on Saturday and Sunday, June 14 and 15, from 11am-6pm (rain or shine). Advance tickets are $10 per day, $12 at the gate. Children under 12 free. Call 800-282-8223 for tickets. Oak Ridge Estate, off Hwy. 29 South on Rte. 653, about 5 miles south of Lovingston.