Oh, dear summers of Ithaca, for too long I’ve missed out on your majestic beauty and sprinkling gorges in an unfortunate favor to get lost in the ravines of NYC internships and urbanity. While this year has been no different, I decided to trek back north to celebrate a double 21st birthday — to myself, all freshly ripened, and to the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance, cultivated to a respectable veteran caliber.
This summer’s annual Grassroots Festival in Trumansburg was packed with bursts and pockets of joy in all corners. Many acts incorporated American roots music fused with unique world substance. My personal top picks of the 4-day festival include a mix of both local favorites — John Brown’s Body, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, The Gunpoets — and global favorites, Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 and Balkan Beat Box.
Both reggae groups, John Brown’s Body (hailing from our very own Ithaca) and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (Rochester) played ruthlessly hypnotic sets that transported the audience’s consciousness back and forth from Jamaica to the Finger Lakes and back again. The Gunpoets (Ithaca) provided a raw and excitingly fresh energy that’s rarely seen in hip-hop these days. With stinging and provocative social commentary and live instrumentation, The Gunpoets were easily one of the most enticing acts to catch. The Gunpoets and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad both have past roots on Cornell’s campus too, playing previously at the Thumpty Mansion within these past couple of years.
World-renowned Balkan Beat Box and Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 drew immense crowds filled with energy for their sets. Balkan Beat Box gave the Grassroots Festival a taste of the Middle East twisted with live electronica. Seun Kuti, son of the politically charged Afrobeat music legend Fela Kuti, led his father’s Nigerian band and the audience into a wildly spirited African funk-jazz fiesta.
And lastly, Carolina Chocolate Drops was an unexpected favorite. The band played two sets on two days featuring Southern black ragtime music blended with country, jazz, funk and beatboxing by former Risley Hall artist-in-residence Adam Matta. Totally kick-ass.
The festival bellowed a worldly sound, but overall carried a distinctly homegrown American vibe. The sun was blazing strong upon the audience (easily reaching as high as 100°), and the audience remained blazing strong under the sun (easily way over 100 were high). Water was plentiful — free water & cups were always around to drink and occasionally a fire truck would shoot a refreshing blast over the audience. The food was fantastic and the art was intriguing. The best part about it all was that it felt undeniable rooted to the Finger Lakes community and not over-commercialized by any means. See ya’ll at the 22nd Grassroots!