Couple of us "1st-timers" will be there festival weekend.
(1. Any particular campgrounds one would recommend?)
For camping, well it is getting close to that date and hundreds of people come out there to be on the water. If you need to be really close to the Dam. Remember you float down stream (ha) so you’ll have to drive in any case. But look in to the event camping. Check out AW’s page for the event, they have links. I am not sure if you are going to be staying for before or long after the event. Camping may not be aloud after it is over.
(2. Does one just stagger back to the car after the band each night. Is it Woodstock style camping?)
Yes if you stay at the fest. There are about 15 rafting companies that have campgrounds. I work at ACE and I will stay there. They are the furthest away from the dam (about an hour on a bus, less in a speeding car) PS watch out for the cops, 1 mile an hour over they will ticket you. About 153.00 us dollars.
Ace has some advantages as for access to the NEW. If you have not paddled it, I would. When the river is running over 5 feet on the Thurmond gage, it really is not much fun for kayakers (my opinion as a raft guide) Too much water, no real play spots. If it is in the 2feet and under, more fun. Get to know the river from a good book reference or someone in a boat who HAS run it before. There are a few spots that you can easily get trapped. Easily enough to avoid.
(3. Is the New River worth paddling at these levels before Gauley cranks?)
Depends on the levels, and it can change over night. I remember once season it was running about 2.5 feet and then since there was a hurricane off Florida, the river was 11+ feet the next day or so. Just be prepared for anything. My opinion is, if you are a creeker, this is a big river compared. The river drops only 22-30 feet per mile.
(4. Do they start releasing water at 1am Friday the 21st? Is there any residual flow the day after a scheduled release?)
6am, the AW web site can give you specifics, each day. Unless the lake is unusually full, they will shut the water down in the evening. To be honest they run the water out of the dam all season long. Some seasons it is 2-10x the flow of the Gauley season. Two years ago, in June we had 20,000 out of the dam. ACE has some video that will be playing at the Lost Paddle lounge on property during ‘G’ season, if it is not playing, as the bar tender they’ll hook you up, Ask for John.
(5. Do they sell beer on Sunday's?)
I can’t remember for sure. I think only at bar / eating establishments. G fest (the sale and bands and such in the field is only Fri / Sat. Check the AW web site (American Whitewater - Welcome
(6. What river in CO most closely resembles the Gauley?)
I am new to the CO area, I have asked a recent acquaintance and he says that Gauley is a bit easier than Gore, but harder the Royal Gorge. If you do not know where you are going down stream, just make some friends with some of the video staffers and they should direct you in to some good safe paddling. I know that I have had a swim or two under a good looking rock.