Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance was held on the 18th- 21st of July. Not really though. Really it began on Rabbit Run Rd. behind the Trumansburg Fairgrounds outside of Ithaca, NY on July 17th. Anybody there will tell you. Cars, trucks, buses and RVs lined up early Wednesday morning to get in line and do their best in claiming a good spot on the grounds. Loyal fans spent the night on the side of the road in the humidity and July heat carrying Grassroots cheer with them, as they reminisced about past years. When Thursday morning arrived, the hard work had paid off and at noon, hot pink bracelets were on and gates were opened. People filled up the fields and both onsite and offsite camping almost full as the much anticipated music began.
To many, Grassroots is a summer staple, a place where they return again and again, often times carrying new friends along, recommending the joy to others they meet on their travels. Musicians and crowds carry similar chants: “Grassroots is not like any other festival, it is in a class all of its own. Casting spells and sharing the whole wide world on four stages.”
The popular new camping area dubbed “Next door camping” is a great place to stay while the festival unravels. You can hear sounds from the famous stage at the Infield, as well as be tempted by sights and sounds coming from the Grandstand stage. Thursday evening The Blind Spots kicked the festival into full gear, mixing oldies, funk, reggae, rock and the gorgeous vocals of lead singer Maddy Walsh up into the perfect brew. Their rendition of “Purple Rain” kept people talking through the weekend. Staying at the Grandstand would have kept anyone satisfied with bands like Driftwood, Rubblebucket, and of course Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad filling up the night with sound. At Grassroots though, a different world is a walk away. Down a dusty old path to the Infield, festival creators Donna the Buffalo was making beautiful music before handing the stage over to old time favorites Rusted Root. Meanwhile, the famous Grassroots dance tent was successfully being turned into a NYC dance club with newcomers DJ Bill Kelly & Richard McVay.
Grassroots parties ‘til the moon goes down. So after a perfect night of raging, Friday comes too quick. Yoga in the dance tent tempts most festival goers but the early morning sun seems like too much and the crowds remain small (“maybe tomorrow?”) One of the perks to being a Grassroots flower is you get second chances. Everything happens twice. Any overlapping bands, events or adventure usually give you a second chance. There is the double-scheduled bands, the healing tent activities happening each day, ethnic and comfort food available all hours of the night, shuttle buses that leave every ten minutes to the forest at offsite, the free-flowing art in the barn and of course the forever tumbling gorges a walk away.
Friday at Grassroots promised some of the biggest acts of the weekend including Jim Lauderdale, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Sim Redmond Band, and John Brown’s Body. If you are willing to look and listen you’ll find a few new favorites as well. The Spam Allstars from Miami, Florida rocked the Grandstand Friday evening taking festival goers from the hot Latin music of South America to the cool trance music of Canada.
Saturday is the day to get down at Grassroots. Anyone who makes their way to this sweet spot will tell you, “If you’ve got some energy left, save it for Saturday.” It is the day to roam the grounds, do some shopping at the array of local artisan booths, and take a gander at the artistic creations that will leave you both impressed and inspired. Just stopping in the picnic area and taking a look at the sights that surround you are enough to fill your senses. The people are a work of art. Everyone dares to be different. There’s the dancers, the painted ones, the glitter goddesses, the families, the farmers, the jugglers, the musicians (everywhere) and the fairies on stilts; which will of course lead you to the kids play area, the drum workshop, the hula-hoopers, and the bubble blowers. Everywhere you go there is something to see, something to hear and someone to meet.
Saturday music offered yet again a beautiful lineup. Elliot Martin of Black Castle and lead singer of John Brown’s Body satisfied the rootsy souls in the Dance Tent while Driftwood put on another stellar performance at the Grandstand. Festival au Désert Caravan For Peace shared music from across the world in the Infield. The Horseflies, a Grassroots favorite took over the crowd with their trance-like folk melodies and tempting beats, the Grandstand was overflowing with intrigue. Finally the one, the only, Samite of Uganda. Samite is a beloved Grassroots act whose African music and beautiful talent on flute and Kalimba (thumb piano) has not been enjoyed in the evening hours in years. The sights and sounds of faraway places and warm tones pour into your soul and have you begging for more beauty. The crowd was pleased pleasantly and gratitude was all around.
As for the Dance Tent on Saturday night, it is legendary. Keith Frank & His Soileau Zydeco Band play their hearts out until the sun comes up. Colored paper lanterns lit the way as dancers swayed to the music and made their way to the stage. The crowd was thrilled to finally be there in that moment, a year’s worth of waiting finally paid off. And it was so worth the wait. There is something about that energy, some kind of passion found in that present moment that is like fuel. It keeps you burning, it keeps you going, dancing, feeling alive, ready for more music, and more memories.
Then there was Sunday. The Happiness Parade filled the pathways of the festival with theatrical masterpieces, music from drumming, tambourines, harmonicas, guitars, chanting and laughter. This was the perfect day to make a visit, experience the festival in a nutshell and tap into your own creativity. Beyond that the mellow, sunny, open vibe that lingered on Sunday from the joy created all weekend was lovingly intoxicating and left us all begging to stay just a while longer. Who better to unwind in this feeling and under the bright sun with, than Sim Redmond Band. Their warm sound just mimics the atmosphere and makes you feel right at home.
As neighbors fade away, crowds dwindle down, and reality starts calling, the Sunday party does anything but wind down. Bands like Preston Frank & His Zydeco Family Band, Miami natives Suénalo, and Donna the Buffalo kept things alive and full of energy until the end.
All of Grassroots music, uniqueness, humbleness, talent and beauty not only have the locals coming back for more but also continues tempting music lovers worldwide, and making Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance one of the world’s top festivals of its kind.