Sunday, July 13, 2008

2008 Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance

The official title of the annual happening that takes place at the Trumansburg Fairgrounds every July is the Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance. But, hey, we’re from here, so we just call it Grassroots. Need I say more for you to generally know what to expect? I think not. The specifics of this year’s festival are a different matter, though, and do need a little further description.

So what to expect at Grassroots 2008? Well, first off, you’ll find the great performers that play the festival every year. Sim Redmond Band, Donna the Buffalo, The Horseflies, and other great local performers such as Thousands of One, Hank Roberts, Kevin Kinsella, Jennie Stearns, and Johnny Dowd will all be there. Just on its own, this is a killer group of musicians to get to see. But in total there are going to be 70+ groups playing at Grassroots between July 17 and 20—many of whom music fans would have to work pretty hard to see otherwise. For instance, you would likely not get an opportunity to see the amazing Navajo punk band Blackfire. I mean this trio is good—really good. So good that the late Joey Ramone once called them, “Fireball punk rock.” They will be also performing with their traditional Native American Dance group, the Jones Benally Family Dance Troupe.

Niger’s Etran Finatawa is another great example. The band, whose name means “The Stars of Tradition,” formed out of a jam session at the annual Festival au Desert in Mali. They combine their traditional cultural sounds with the blues. Another band, Luminescent Orhcestrii, plays a nice little combination of Romanian gypsy melodies and punk rock performed by 2 violins, guitar and bass.

As if that weren’t enough, though, I have yet to tell you about the two incredible headliners. Thursday night sees Lucinda Williams hit the Stage and on Friday, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Yes, you read it correctly. And yes it is amazing. In case you don’t know, Lucinda Williams is an alt-country, folk, rock singer who has been hailed as one of the best songwriters in America. In addition, her 1998 album, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as number 304 in its list of the top 500 albums of all time. When I asked Megan Romer of the Grassroots Festival about the choice of Lucinda Williams, she told me, "We're really, really excited about this year's lineup. Having Lucinda Williams at the top of the bill is a big deal for us—she's the largest headliner we've ever had, in terms of demonstrable draw and local popularity.”

If you haven’t heard the music of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, this is the best way I can describe it: They take the traditional brass band music of New Orleans and blow it up. Their latest CD provides a prime example of this. It is a song-by-song brass band reinterpretation of Marvin Gaye’s classic album, What’s Going On. Another example is the two-song medley they do that combines the song, “I’ll Fly Away” (From the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack) with Prince’s “Purple Rain.” And hey, all you hipsters out there, they’ve even recorded with Modest Mouse. But the song they are best known for is, “My Feet Can't Fail Me Now,” which took on a new meaning after Hurricane Katrina. If you’re not blown away by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, well, I don’t know what, but I’ll sure be surprised.

When I asked Megan for her overall impression of Grassroots 2008, she told me they have an “amazing array of performers from around the world—The Dirty Dozen Brass Band from New Orleans, Etran Finatawa from the Sahara Desert, Cyro Baptista from Brazil, and The Meditations from Jamaica—alongside an amazing variety of performers from around the country and right here in Ithaca. Musically, it's going to be a really high-energy year, and I think everyone's gonna have a really good time."

To my mind, this lineup represents a high water mark for they always great Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance. Please see or call 607.387.5098 for ticket information. The festival runs July 17-20 at the Trumansburg Fairgrounds.


NIGER1.COM said...

I am from Niger and a Band from niger etran Finatawa will bethere
I live in New york City
are you involved with the grassroots festival
i manage a wesite about niger and previously i marketed the etran Band on my website , may be if you work with the marketing i could advertise it on my website again email me at

Dynamic Meter said...

I am not connected to the Grassroots Festival. I am a freelance writer that lives in the area where the festival is held. This was an article for a local paper.

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