The 23rd Annual Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance: Staying Different by Remaining the Same

In this day and age where music festivals are popping up like a game of  Whack-A-Mole, it’s nice to know there’s an oasis of musical and arts gatherings right in our own backyard, one that is celebrating its 23rd consecutive year. That festival is Grassroots and that backyard is Trumansburg, NY.

“The uniqueness of Grassroots really lies in the feeling where everyone who goes to Grassroots feels like a real part of the festival. You’re not being subject to an event, rather you’re part of it and creating your experience with everyone else, so everyone who comes to it is truly, a real part of it.” – Jeb Puryear, Donna the Buffalo

Spawned from the brainchild of Donna The Buffalo members in 1990, the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance has evolved in many ways, uniquely, by not evolving. The festival has always stayed true to its roots (no pun intended) by offering the widest array of genres, cultures, instruments, ethnicities, flavors, beats and personalities of any festival in Upstate, which, in many ways, defies the current model of genre-specific festivals that have become so recently prevalent. This year’s lineup remains on par with that informal mission: attract the total diversity of people Upstate NY has to offer by offering the most diverse lineup to new and veteran festival goers July 18-21.

“You know it’s really easy for a music festival to slide into that stereotypical niche of being hippie or whatever but I mean, yeah, sure I’m a hippie, but it’s a tough distinction to make. We get farmers and republicans to everyone. That’s one of our goals really is to make the masses of people, everyone from everywhere, to realize Grassroots can be a great event for everyone,” said Donna the Buffalo frontman Jeb Puryear in a recent interview. “The uniqueness of Grassroots really lies in the feeling where everyone who goes to Grassroots feels like a real part of the festival. You’re not being subject to an event, rather you’re part of it and creating your experience with everyone else, so everyone who comes to it is a truly, a real part of it.”

Fresh off their latest album release, Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday, roots/zydeco/jam icons Donna the Buffalo returns home to the Finger Lakes to highlight this year’s extensive lineup.  In addition, other area acts include Sim Redmond Band, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, John Brown’s Body, Driftwood, Milkweed, Gunpoets, Thousands of One and Sophistifunk, among countless others. As always, some of the regulars will be making another appearance with Keith Frank and the Soileau Zydeco Band, and Preston Frank and His Family Zydeco Band keeping people kickin’ up their heels to ungodly hours each night in the infamous Grassroots Zydeco Tent. Other great acts include Rubblebucket, Rusted Root, Jim Lauderdale, The Town Pants and Chatham County Line but perhaps the largest draw of the festival (‘The Herd’ would contest) is expected to be for Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. Perhaps, however, most of Grassroots charm arrives from hearing music or artists you have never heard of or maybe never have consciously self-introduced: Genres spanning afrobeat to Cuban, bluegrass to soul or reggae to…dare I even say it, country music.

One of those said “acts”, if you can call their ensemble that, is called Festival Au Desert – a Caravan of Peace. Hailing from Mali, a nation currently torn in turmoil among recent throngs of Al Qaeda influence, the Festival Au Desert refers to themselves, comprised of several different Malian musical groups, as a ‘Festival in Exile’ and they will bring that mobile caravan of global rhythms to Trumansburg July 18-21. “The Festival of the Desert thing is gonna be pretty cool. It’s a product of when the forces of global politics invade something as pure as music,” said Puryear. “Al Qaeda is in the northern part of Mali, and getting unruly and next thing they did was start going into the villages and started outlawing music and outlawing something like music in Mali is a pretty heinous thing, so they have this festival in the desert every summer and they didn’t feel like they could hold it safely over there, so they decided to take their festival on the road and we were lucky enough to get ‘em.”

In addition to the non-stop music July 18-21 at the Trumansburg Fair Grounds, Grassroots also boasts eclectic mixes of art, dance, food and activities. Since 1990, the festival has appeared to really grow with some of its original attendees. In addition to growing up as a festival, Grassroots has also expanded to now include Grassroots Festivals in North Carolina and Florida. “First, in the beginning of it all, with some proceeds, we wanted to bring awareness to AIDS. We started as a musical event and we decided to make it to go towards helping some causes. We branched out to arts and education and essentially, by branching out to helping education and the arts, we are essentially furthering our original mission, which is music,” said Puryear.

Essentially, the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance promotes arts and education, provides family-friendly entertainment, on-site camping and food, a relaxed, friendly vibe, a diverse lineup of never-ending music and great Finger Lakes Scenery. Yet, despite all of this, Puryear said he knows there are music lovers in Upstate New York who still have not yet made it to one of the past 22 installments. “Everyone in this area is good people. People who come and finally get there after hearing about it for years just end up having an unbelievable time. I can even begin to recommend anything more assuredly than telling people to go to Grassroots festival. It really is special.”

‘s recommendations for this year’s lineup: Donna the Buffalo, The Horse Flies, Driftwood, Chatham County Line, The SPAM Allstars, The Speckers, Aurelio Martinez, The Campbell Brothers, Rubblebucket, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. For a complete listing of Grassroots artists: please visit www.grassrootsfest.org