There is no place like the right time! Donna the Buffalo sings about this in their song off the Positive Friction album, and for me all I can ever think about is the Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance. The third week of July every year, I get the best early birthday present – four days in Trumansburg, NY at Grassroots. Donna the Buffalo started this festival 28 years ago and it’s stronger than ever. Four days with over 80 bands from all over the world. Nothing short of amazing if you ask me. With music spanning across four stages from the Grandstand Stage, to the Infield Stage, up to the intimate Cabaret Hall, and finally, remove your shoes and step into the infamous Dance Tent! One of the best thing about Grassroots is the fact that every stage touches its toes in the water of unique genres of music. In my ten years of going, I have seen everything from musical great Merle Haggard to Uganda’s own Samite, who always brings such an incredible feel to the stage. This year was no different with reggae Gods (in my mind), Toots and the Maytals, taking the Infield Stage on Thursday night, showing us just how amazing they are. Also, making his first appearance ever at grassroots, was Ryan Montbleau and his band. Ryan had a skateboarding accident before the weekend, so it was his first ever show where he just sang and didn’t play any instruments. Trust me, from someone who has seen Ryan a lot, this performance was nothing short of spectacular. Then, there was Valerie June, who I personally had never seen before, but her majestic looks and stage performance had my attention glued to the stage. The Wood Brothers showed up to the party, and just like they do time and time again, left me and the rest of the crowd in awe.
Now those may have been some awesome performances, but for me personally, the top new band I had never seen before that I highly suggest checking out is Uma Galera out of Miami. They are a Spanish fusion band that is just that – a fusion band, blending all kinds of amazing styles. Uma Galera came out for not one, not two, but three mind blowing encores during their late night set at the Grand Stand, that just left me wanting more. Luckily for me they played a whole second set later on in the weekend. I tip my hat to all the bands who are new to the scene at grassroots and came in guns firing but what about the classics? Well, first, Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad in the infield late night just made me flashback to days of being 18 at ‘Roots for the first time seeing them. Now 28, I still love nothing more than them vibes panda puts out! How about the late night return of the Syracuse based, roots rock reggae band, Root Shock, who followed Donna the Buffalo’s Saturday night late set with an incredible late night set in the down pour of rain!
All while this Root Shock set is going on, I have a personal dilemma because my original late night band is off in the distance and I can hear the accordions tuning up. Keith Frank is his name and the Soileau Zydeco Band is the name of his backing band. Saturday Late Night, they do this thing we like to call the All Night Dance Party. This essentially is non stop zydeco music till the sun comes up and this year they stopped nothing short of 6am! To the guy who notices my press pass in the early AM – that’s why I was up.
There are two greats that I come back for, year after year, no matter what. First, is a band by the name of The Sim Redmond Band. Sim and his friends are a nice blend of island music with reggae roots undertones. They are just something special. Generally, they will play once on Thursday night to serenade me into the weekend, and then again on Sunday to send me home smiling. And last but certainly not least, we have Donna the Buffalo! Donna the Buffalo, fronted by Jeb Pruyear and Tara Nevins, started this amazing festival 28 years ago! A portion of profits go to aid relief in this country, and has been about that from the start. If that doesn’t show you how much heart these two and their band have, I don’t know what will. Donna plays three sets every grassroots and, in my opinion, each set is better then the one before. All leading up to the party jam on Sunday, when Donna invites all kinds of musicians from the weekend up with them to jam.
Now, Grassroots is, and will always be, about the amazing musical experience but one thing not to look past is all the amazing food from all over the world that is offered. From Greek Gyros to Vietnamese Egg Rolls, there is a bite of food from so many countries. For me, I always first treat myself to some Silo Fried Chicken which, this year, was no different with a nice snack of two pieces of fried chicken topped with homemade honey butter. Now, Silo is fairly new to the grassroots menu for me because they have only been setting up there for a few years now. Before Silo, my go to was Hector, New York’s own Stonecat and their always enjoyable Catfish Bites. Now time for some lunch after a little appetizer. The New York Pizzeria out of Ithaca is always a great go to for a delicious slice of greasy pizza. From pepperoni to cheese to specialty pizza they are just a slice of heaven! Another affordable option for burgers and dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches is the American Legion Post who sits atop the hill. PS – if you are ever hungry in the AM, go there for one big breakfast. You will thank me later. Also set atop the hill is the Grassroots Food Court, as I like to call it. This is huge food court of sandwiches, bagels , BBQ food, Mexican food and tons of other goodies, all either made by a volunteer putting their love into the festival, or coming in from the Ithaca Bakery. One thing to make sure you do while at Grassroots is get yourself one of this year’s official Grassroots mugs. The mugs can be filled with anything from lemonade to coffee to tea and every 5 years they get 25 cents cheaper to fill. It is always so amazing seeing mugs almost as old as me. Well, a few hours have past, and now I am hungry for dinner. As always, the first place I look is down the hill to Outback Katie’s. Outback Katie’s is down home, southern cuisine with everything from Alligator Burritos to Lobster Mac n Cheese. This year I was greeted at the booth by its manager, Miss Peggy. She was talking to me all about this bechamel sauce she had been making specifically for their lobster mac, and by the time she was done telling me I felt like Homer Simpson drooling everywhere! The catch was that I had to wait an hour for it to be done. So, I did what any fat guy would do – get another snack and return for my dinner. Upon arriving back, she met me with a big bowl of Lobster Mac, on the house for me to try, and WOWSER that was magical, from the perfectly creamy, cheesy, bechamel sauce to the chunks of Maine lobster freckled in every bite!
Now I am fat and full and ready to gawk and awe at all the amazing art that is sold and shown off every year at Grassroots. I personally always start at the drum tent to see what cool new tie dye drums are available. Another stop I like to see every year, because of the message they send, is the “Live the Life You Love” booth who print amazing messages like that, along with cool landscapes onto hats, hooded sweatshirts and t- shirts. Now I embark into a booth called “Apothecary of Magic.” This woman had some very cool spoon jewelry. Next, I see these beautiful clay mugs in a booth right around the way, so I walk into Printemps Pottery and am greeted by some beautiful cups and bowls, all made out of pottery clay, looking like galaxies. I just love walking around Grassroots and taking in the jewelry from all walks of life, from the crystals inlayed into all forms of Native American jewelry, to pocket knifes, to peace pipes. Or the wood pendants inlayed with all kinds of cool stuff at the “New World Glass” booth.
At the end of the day, there is just something magical that happens in the village of Trumansburg, NY. It may be a tiny one street town but it holds more love in its heart then a city with 50 million. If you ever need to just feel right and to feel love like no other, might I suggest checking out the Grassroots Festival one of these years? It changed my life and I know for sure it did for many others too. This year, I did a project asking people to describe Grassroots in one word and the number one consensus I got from people is LOVE, and what a true statement that is. From making new friends in the rain, to hugs and kisses from family of years past, the Grassroots experience is like no other. ‘Till the gates open again, this pumpkin will long for the times spent in those four days!
Author and Photographer: Pumpkin (Shane Bolt)