Going into their 29th year, the Grassroots Festival has plenty of new bands and new events in store for this year’s event. Groups such as the Taj Mahal Quartet, Rising Appalachia, and Todd Snider will be joining the yearly roundup of bands who come to play the annual Trumansburg gathering. This year’s festival plans to offer the familiar spirit and music as in previous years, according to festival organizer and member of Donna the Buffalo, Jeb Puryear.
The festival will be held at the Trumansburg Fairgrounds from July 18 to 21. Tickets for the four-day Culture Camp cost $165 for adults and $75 for youth. Single-day Culture Camp admission is $60 for all. Camping is allowed at the festival, but is now only available in the field across from the site. Field camping is $75 and is tent only. Large site camping for vehicles and campers, across from the festival, is $195.
Festival tickets for adults (ages 16 and up) cost $155, while youth admission, (ages 13-15) is $75. Single-day tickets are available as well. Thursday tickets are $58, Friday tickets are $62, Saturday tickets are $67, and Sunday tickets are $47. Tickets can be purchased at Wegmans, Collegetown Bagels, Ithaca Bakery’s downtown location, Ithaca Guitar Works, the Trumansburg Market, or online at grassrootsfest.org. Kids ages 12 and under are admitted for free. For more information, people are encouraged to call the main office at (607) 387-5098 or visit grassrootsfest.org.
The Artists and Activities
The Taj Mahal Quartet is a blues group whose music has influences from the South Pacific, Africa, and the Caribbean. Rising Appalachia is comprised of the Atlanta based sister duo, Leah and Chloe Smith, with their Appalachian-music stylings. Todd Snider will rock the festival with country songs, some as a tribute to pain and others sung in fable. With the festival entering its 29th year, it has had fewer challenges to deal with than in years past. Other bands include Viva Mayhem, an Ithaca-based, avant-garde Ska band, and Drank the Gold, an American-Irish duo with North Atlantic songs played on the fiddle and the guitar. They bring fresh eyes to Celtic classics.
Throughout the festival, there will be an assortment of workshops held. That includes the Moon and Stars Hoop Dance on Thursday at 3 p.m., which will teach people how to groove with a hula hoop. There will be various yoga and meditation sessions to help people recharge and enhance their time at the festival. On Friday, there will be the first of several QiGong sessions, which is a meditative dance created to provide self-awareness and ground people in their bodies, allowing them to focus on the present. Saturday will have a Reiki Circle Attunement and Practicum. This will allow those who are interested in learning to channel their Reiki healing energy. Reiki practitioners, givers, and receivers are encouraged to join in.
There will also be a songwriting workshop with Atlanta-based songwriter Barb Carbon. This workshop is designed to allow people to write music based on experiences of their lives, using any genre. Carbon will be discussing how to write captivating lyrics while remaining true to yourself. She’ll also delve into how she went from feeling stuck to acknowledging songwriting can be an exciting journey with numerous destinations. Finally comes a workshop about women’s chanting and drumming, led by Shanti Starr, an internationally touring multi-percussionist and vocalist. She uses traditional West African and Afro-Cuban rhythms within her music. This workshop is designed to have women awaken their feminine divinity through the power of the drum. Men are welcome to come and join in on the dance as well.
Generally speaking, the sessions are meant to establish safe spaces for those who wish to participate.
All of these will be available in the Workshop Tent, with maps and guides available throughout the festival. Closing out the festival is the Happiness Parade which meets on Sunday at the Art Barn Headquarters at 1 p.m. This parade encourages positive expressions and will have musicians, jugglers and stilt walkers among the other participants.
Puryear has noticed that those who come for the first time after only hearing about it enjoy themselves. In previous years, there have been a variety of highlights that make Puryear glad to see the festival have such a lively crowd. For him, those moments include having people like Merle Haggard and George Jones.
“There are always five or six things that are these moments that come together between people and the bands,” Puryear said. “There are just lots and lots of beautiful times. [...] You’ll meet somebody you know and you’ll rave about something you’ve seen.”
Setting the Stage
Grassroots packs a lot of action into a short time, which obviously requires a massive amount of preparation. As the Ulysses area gears up for the 2019 Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Dance & Music, the many volunteers that set up beforehand were busy building stages and all the necessary infrastructure on July 10. It was a hot afternoon, maybe the hottest of the summer so far, but the volunteers were enthusiastic.
“I love the atmosphere,” said Chris English, of Rochester, who will also be performing during the festival. “We’re pretty much a family here.”
True, of Ithaca, is newly in charge of the infield stage this year. He is also director of the Congo Square. His mission is to diversify the volunteer staff and vendors at the festival. “We have a diverse, festive group who enjoys Grassroots,” True said. He gestured toward the volunteers working on the stage.
“Not too many get to see this right here,” he said. “I’m opening the opportunity up.”
While they worked, Elaine Springer, Grassroots co-coordinator and volunteer coordinator, took a moment out of her jam-packed schedule to mention what she is most looking forward to about the festival.
“That feeling you get,” she said with a smile, “when the gates open.”
More than just a festive way for out-of-towners to experience Trumansburg and locals to have a good time, Grassroots is a major economic driver. The event attracts as many as 7,000 people on a busy day, according to Springer. “From grocery stores to hotel stays and wineries, it is definitely is part of the tourism machine,” she said.
Since the festival is in Ulysses Town (not Trumansburg), Rordan Hart, Trumansburg Village mayor, said the Village is mostly a bystander to the festivities, lending support where it can without being directly involved in most of logistics.
“The biggest impact is just the number of people,” Hart said.
“I know that some locals skip going out that weekend,” he said, “and then people from out of town might make up that difference. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. From year to year it can be different.”
The weather makes a huge difference as well, Hart added. Some years it drives festival goers inside local stores and restaurants, and other years people prefer to enjoy the weather outside.
“We love it,” said Carol VanDerzee, whose family owns The Falls Restaurant, which is right next door to the festival.
“There are definitely people that just want to get away from next door and come in and have a cocktail or breakfast or dinner,” she said “It’s a good spot for them to come in and relax and suck up some cold air.”
There are about 1,200 camping spots, most of them at the area behind the Shur-Save grocery store. Dubbed the “Across the Way” campsite, the large plot of land behind the store was purchased by the festival as a replacement for both “off-site” and “next-door” camping, as well as parking. There are still some sites available for purchase.
According to the Grassroots website, Across the Way woods camping is sold out. Across the Way field camping (tent only) is still on sale for $75, and Across the Way large site vehicle camping is available for $195.
Onsite tent camping tickets, which were $100, went on sale online on Feb. 14 at 9 a.m. and sold out in about five minutes, Springer said.
For those looking for another option close to the festival site, the VanDerzee family is once again offering parking and camping near the family’s Falls Restaurant. It is first-come, first-serve for the $125 camping spots, which include one tent and one vehicle. It is $40 per additional tent. The campgrounds open at 8 a.m. on Thursday, July 18.
It might be a risk, but those who get there early enough get a prime spot from which to enjoy the festival. “It’s literally right next door,” VanDerzee said. “There’s a fence between us, and it’s just over the fence.”
People can park their car on a campsite, but cannot move their vehicles around during the festival once parked, according to Carol VanDerzee.
Regulations and Law Enforcement
VanDerzee said that this will be the second year she has had to comply with additional regulations imposed by the Tompkins County Health Department in order to provide camping on her private property.
“There are a lot more rules and regulations about lot size; it has to be a certain size,” she explained. “Being a wooded area—if you had a big square field dividing it up would be easy, but it’s a little more awkward. There are lots of trees involved.”
“[The county] determined that the festival is a mass gathering last year,” explained Elizabeth Thomas, Ulysses Town supervisor, who said that she has no real concerns about the upcoming event. “There were a lot of different regulations and permits, and it requires [festival organizers] to do a lot more coordination among different agencies. It was a little bumpy in the last couple years, but even that seems to be settling out really well.”
Festival co-coordinator Springer said organizers have worked to develop a new emergency response plan. “Weather is really the biggest threat to us,” she said, “but we’re very good at monitoring it.”
Trumansburg Police Chief Joe Nelson said coverage by the police will be about the same as previous years. Grassroots gave Trumansburg Village $4,000 for an increased police presence during the festival; the contract between the Village and the festival was approved by the Trumansburg Village Board of Trustees at the board’s July 8 meeting.
Police presence in the village will increase by two on-duty officers, and there will be officers patrolling 24 hours per day (which is not standard for the police department).
Nelson said that because this is his first year as chief, he’s looking forward to seeing how things go. “Next year, we can see if we need more or less manpower,” Nelson said. “I don’t like to be wasteful.”
He said signs have already been put in place indicating where people cannot park or they will be towed. “It’s to help with traffic flow—emergency services and traffic safety,” he explained.
Thomas said there is one aspect of the law enforcement that she would like to see change.
“I don’t think people realize that when they park on the side of the road they have to have all their wheels off the road,” Thomas said. “Otherwise, they will tow.”
She said she wishes the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department would just issue tickets rather than towing vehicles.
“I don’t like it,” she said. “Certainly the town is not asking the sheriff’s office to tow those cars. It makes me anxious.” She said she has heard from families who returned to their cars at 11 p.m. only to find them gone. If they don’t have the money to get their cars out of the cash-only impound lot, they’re stuck. “One family I know from Syracuse—it was a nightmare,” Thomas said. “They ended up having to borrow money.”
That being said, she said she always looks forward to the festival each year. “I hope everybody enjoys it and that they are safe, and I’m really grateful,” Thomas said. “We have a big history here.”