May 23-26, 2024 ❘ Martinsville, VA

In His Natural Habitat

Up-and-coming guitar shredder Isaac Hadden is a festival beast

Isaac Hadden performing in the House Band set at Rooster Walk 13 / Photo by Bob Adamek

Isaac Hadden grew up on festivals. Actually, his fest journey started even before that. His mom went to festivals when she was pregnant with him, and just about every year after that. “I don’t even really remember my first festival,” he says. “It’s kind of been my life.”
Mom certainly gets credit for the early years, and Hadden has worked hard since he was a teenager to ensure that festivals will remain in his future — as a performer. Now just 20 years old, he is aggressively pursuing a music career by playing solo, with a trio, and leading the five-man Isaac Hadden Project. He says the varied lineups just make it easier to manifest his many influences in live performance.
“It’s all pretty much just a part of a part of what I’m doing,” Hadden says. “I have a lot of different things I like to express through music, and it’s nice to have multiple outlets.”
Hadden is intimately familiar with Rooster Walk, having attended and played previously, and the festival management knows that he likes lots of opportunities to play. Originally, his Isaac Hadden Organ Trio was scheduled only to play two sets on Saturday. But he got a call on Friday that a guitarist couldn’t make the set by the RW House Band that night. Would he fill in? Hadden was on stage hours later ripping through ’70s tunes such as “Jungle Boogie” and the Tina Turner tribute “Proud Mary.”
Just like that, Hadden was a member of the house band, adding three more sets to his Rooster Walk schedule in addition to joining Yarn and others on stage. Veteran tenor saxophonist Ron Holloway and jam-band demigod drummer Jeff Sipe were members of the house band, so with the addition of Hadden, there was a five-decade spread of musical talent playing together.

“Getting to trade licks with Ron was amazing,” Hadden said. “He sounds so good. What an honor to be on stage with him and Sipe, too. It’s those guys who laid the whole groundwork for everything we’re enjoying here. That was a lot of fun.

Isaac Hadden performing with his trio, IHOT
Photo by Cloud Bobby

“What I love about the artist at large thing too, is just getting to sit in with all kinds of people, making all kinds of different music and getting able to just feel like a whole variety of different energies. That’s kind of what I’m in it for, is to explore the world through energy and self-expression.”

Even with numerous performances on tap, Hadden doesn’t relinquish the role of patron when he’s at a festival, especially one near his hometown of Blacksburg, Va. He stayed the whole extended weekend at Rooster Walk, camping and catching up with old friends.

“Every festival feels like a big family reunion,” Hadden says. “This one has a special vibe to it. Just a really nice group of people that comes out. You can tell that everything’s done from a place of love, and you feel it. That’s really what I love about this festival.”

Hadden plans to keep the festival vibe rolling with lots of little show runs through the summer, including a show at the Grandin Theater in Roanoke, the SunBine Music Fest in Axton, Va., and the Blue Plum Festival in Johnson City, Tenn. There, Sipe will sit in on drums with him again, a prospect that has him excited.

Along the journey, you can bet that Hadden will continue to pick up bits and pieces of many influences as he hones his unique sound as a performer. He’s convinced that it won’t work if he tries to emulate any one or two guitar players — he has to keep experimenting and developing individuality as an artist.

And even though Hadden admits that he’s too busy these days to think more than a week ahead, he absolutely looks forward to returning to Rooster Walk 14 in 2024. After all, it’s basically home.
“Every time I come back,” he says, “I feel like I’m in my natural habitat.”