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Living the Festival Dream: One GrassRoots Festival Per Season
To every season, there is a GrassRoots Festival…

2013 GrassRoots Festival Dates:
Feb 21-24 –Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance – Miami, FL
April 18-21 – Shakori Hills Spring GrassRoots Fest– Pittsboro, NC
July 18-21 – Finger Lakes GrassRoots Fest – Trumansburg, NY
October 10-13 – Shakori Hills Fall GrassRoots Fest – Pittsboro, NC

It begins…

FingerLakesheader-grfAbout 22 years ago, Ithaca-based band Donna the Buffalo and some of their friends saw a void in their community.  AIDS was a new and deadly disease and people were uneducated about it and how to prevent it.  As artists do, they decided to use their art to spread the word and make a difference – they created a festival. In the summer of 1991, The Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival was held on the fairgrounds on the edge of the small town of Trumansburg, NY.  Folks danced, listened to great music, created and witnessed art, met up with old friends, found new ones, and shared ideas.  The festival was a hit, and the profits went to AIDSwork of Tompkins County to help spread the word about the terrible, yet preventable, disease.

Since then, the not-for-profit festival in NY has grown continuously and has given funding to socially and environmentally responsible organizations including: Doctors Without Borders,  Musicians For World Harmony, Ithaca Free Clinic, Ithaca Ballet, Hospicare of Tompkins County, Boy Scouts Of America, LACS Katrina Relief Group and more.  Not just another music festival, GrassRoots became synonymous with not only being the region’s premiere music event but a community that cares about each other and the world around them and are passionate about music and culture in a very human way.

The acts on the bill have not always been pop-darlings or the coolest “hit” of the year, they are artists with a conscience, who have something to give the audience that lasts longer than the moment in which songs are heard.  Featured genres include: World, Roots Rock, Americana, Bluegrass, Latin, Old-time, Zydeco, Cajun, Blues, Folk, Country, Hip Hop and Jazz.  World music heroes like Africa’s Hugh Massekela, Oliver Mtukudzi, Seun Kuti (accompanied by his father Fela’s band Egypt 80), and Tinariwen; Reggae pioneers like Burning Spear and Toots & The Maytals; Hip Hop social activists Arrested Development; Folk and Country greats Merle Haggard, Lucinda Williams, and Old Crow Medicine Show; Latin artists Maraca Y Otra Vision and Sierra Maestra, Native Americans Keith Secola and Deer Clan Singers; and others The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Ani DiFranco and Rickie Lee Jones all have graced the GrassRoots Festival stages. Artists that make a difference, that educate and feed the soul.

The journey continues…

shakorihdrlogo1In 2003 a group of organizers from the New York festival, including GrassRoots Festival Organization founder Jordan Puryear, decided that they had such a great thing going, they should share it with as many people as possible.  With a vision for a GrassRoots for every season the organization moved south to central North Carolina.  The region is well known for its music, from its history of Old-time, Bluegrass, and Folk music to a thriving indie college scene; here was a perfect atmosphere in which to create another GrassRoots Festival.  They discovered a 75-acre old farmstead outside of Chapel Hill and on Earth Day weekend of April 2003, the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance was born.  Four days of music, dance and art in a green, idyllic setting.

The Spring and Fall Shakori Hills GrassRoots festivals, from their inception, reached out and included local non-profit and advocacy groups and helped present their missions to audiences.  Shakori Hills also presents a safe and friendly place that is very welcoming to families.  Sara Waters, festival co-coordinator shares, “The kids’ area is outstanding, with activities from crafts to learning how to play instruments, kid-focused bands, and storytelling, to making masks and painting umbrellas for peace, there’s even a festival-wide game of capture the flag and a parade consisting of giant, ornate puppets and any number of percussion instruments.”

There are four stages, including two in large outdoor fields, a more intimate cabaret tent and a large, 10,000 square foot dance tent.  Some of the artists who have performed at Shakori Hills include: Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Avett Brothers, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Oliver Mtukudzi, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Sam Bush, Rusted Root, Nickel Creek, Richie Havens, Ralph Stanley, Squirrel Nut Zippers and Nnenna Freelon.

As with the New York festival, there is a Healing Arts area with Yoga, Tai-chi, massage and  movement workshops.  At Shakori Hills there is also a “Sustainability Fair” where area pioneers in Earth friendly technologies and practices come to share and present their ideas. “Attendees can camp out and stay for all four days or just come in for an afternoon.  Everyone finds something here that they are interested in. They may come for a favorite band and find they have a new love of  Zydeco dancing or an interest in gardening or biodiesel,” Waters recounts.

A new adventure…

miami-logo-final-4With their newest motto (taken from a fortune cookie) at heart– “If at first you succeed, try something harder.” –the organizers packed up and moved south yet again.  Historic Virginia Key Beach Park in Miami, Florida is now the home to the third, and winter season, Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance.  When asked about what was behind the creation of the southern-most GrassRoots Festival, Puryear says, “Well, it is a dream come true!  Creating four seasons of GrassRoots Festivals was an idea inspired by the turn of the century mark in 2000 and us wanting to do something really great.”

Like it’s big sisters, the Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival has adapted to the local culture, celebrating it and learning from it.  The festival organization has spent time not only planning a festival, but becoming familiar with the local community, finding out what the festival can bring to the table that might be missing or underestimated locally.  The GrassRoots festivals not only add to their surroundings, but they strive to make it so the event becomes a place for the local community to celebrate itself, unite in understanding as well as in fun.

The first Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival featured among others: Chaka Khan, Del McCoury, Arrested Development, Suenalo, Locos Por Juana, Keith Frank & His Soileau Zydeco Band, Jahfe and Donna The Buffalo.

Why this dream and what it means…

The GrassRoots festivals uphold their belief in education as much as fun, in sharing as much as taking a break from the everyday world.  Waters comments on the overall dream: “The idea is to have a wonderful experience and then take that out into the world, continue what you have learned and help others to learn it as well.”   Puryear speaks about what happens in the Dance Tent of all four festivals–how there, “the artists and the audience are on the same level, sharing in something very simple yet quite profound, the movement of the body and the communication music portrays without words.  The people, both artist and audience, sharing the music, breathing the same air, dancing on the same floor, kicking up some dust, become one.”

Written by Sara Waters.

2013 GrassRoots Festival Dates:
Feb 21-24 –Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival of Music & D ance – Miami, FL
April 18-21 – Shakori Hills Spring GrassRoots Fest Pittsboro, NC
July 18-21 – Finger Lakes GrassRoots Fest – Trumansburg, NY
October 10-13 – Shakori Hills Fall GrassRoots Fest – Pittsboro, NC

GrassRoots festival websites:
http://www.grassrootsfest.org
http://www.shakorihillsgrassroots.org
http://www.virginiakeygrassroots.org

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Here’s a few more highlights from Shakori Hills Festival this past weekend!

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Video of Donna the Buffalo’s Tara Nevins  & Jeb Puryear at Shakori Hills Festival. This is Tara’s NEW Song “Snowbird” and is going to be on Tara’s NEW solo album that she’s been recording in Levon Helm Studios with Larry Campbell–Set for a Spring release!

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I had such an amazing time this weekend at Shakori Hills in Silk Hope, NC hanging with friends, seeing some fantastic music, eating great food and generally lovin’ life! I got to see some of Donna the Buffalo, Preston Frank Zydeco, Snake Oil Medicine Show, Woody Pines, The Double E’s, Amelia’s Mechanics, Hee Haw Nightmare, Greg Humphreys, Big Fat Gap, Mandolin Orange and lots more!

I also spent a lot of time with my friends in the new “Green Room Lounge”‘ that they set up at the festival to take some film of musician interviews and sessions. They are going to launch their new website, Fingerlakes Unplugged and post some of the footage in a month or so, so stay tuned to http://fingerlakesunplugged.com. Posted below are some of the snapshots I took while in the Lounge.

Greg Humphreys in the Green Room Lounge

The Hee Haw Nightmare Band

The Smart Brothers

Tara Nevins, Ed Poullard, and Preston Frank discussing Creole, Cajun, and Zydeco

Woody Pines

Luigi at work...

Check out Caroline Pond’s Blog from the fest as well. It’s got a great video of Snake Oil Medicine Show: http://carolinepond.wordpress.com/2010/10/12/dance-tent-joy/

And click here for great footage from Shakori Hills Festival uploaded by people on YouTube.

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Super pumped about Shakori Hills Fest being right around the corner! It’s October 7-10th in Silk Hope North Carolina.

You never know what will happen at Shakori  as the magic sets in… I’ve seen plenty of rainbows &  blue skies (as well as a few muddy dancing rainstorms…) I’ve seen one of the longest shooting stars ever that lasted at least a minute and flew over the mainstage as Donna the Buffalo was playing on one of the famous Sunday night sets… and I’ve seen some of the best musical collaborations EVER on stage! Everything goes and the festival is always amazing!

On the lineup for this fall are Donna the Buffalo, Preston Frank, Toubab Krewe, Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, Snake Oil Medicine Show,Woody PinesAmelia’s Mechanics, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Lizzy Ross Band, Mandolin Orange and lots more! See the complete lineup here: http://www.shakorihills.org/performers/

At every Shakori, the last set on Sunday night is always one that everyone looks forward to as host band Donna the Buffalo brings out many guests from other bands that have played all weekend. Last spring one of the biggest hits was when  John Paul Jones had randomly appeared at Shakori because his overseas flight to England was delayed from the volcanic ashes that were in the air from the eruption in Iceland. He sat in with Donna the Buffalo and played several songs on bass, keys, and mandolin. Here is a great video of one of them:

Check out this very in depth and personal interview that Paul Kerr from Homegrown Music Network did with DtB’s Tara Nevins on the DtB bus at the festival just before that Sunday night set. At the point of the interview, Tara did not know that John Paul Jones was there again and ready to play:

HGMN: How did [Led Zeppelin bassist] John Paul Jones end up coming to Shakori Hills?

Nevins: He really likes traditional music. He always did, and he plays the mandolin. He produced that all-girl old-time band Uncle Earl. He produced one of their records, and I play triangle on it actually. I got to work with him in the studio. He was at MerleFest a few times and was just checking everything out. Because I had played triangle and was in the studio and had met him and worked with him, I think I might have said, “Hey we’re doing a dance in the dance tent later, why don’t you come by and sit in?” And everyone wanted him to sit in, you know? But he actually showed up and my drummer almost fell off his stool.

She told me later that when she left the bus to get on stage Jeb said, “Hey, Tara, John Paul Jones is here and wants to sit in”. She said something like, “yeah right Jeb” and then he said, “No, really, turn around” and she did and there he was. Funny because she was just telling a story about him at the interview a few minutes before and had no clue about his delayed flight or that he was even at the festival at all… Well.. That’s just some of the magic that happens at Shakori Hills!

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