August 28, 2007

Celebrating Our Roots with a Side of Grass

Print More

As your friendly native-Ithacan-still-in-residence I’ve decided to let you in on a local secret (although it’s not really a secret) — a four-day hippie-fest that absolutely must be attended once in your lifetime (like seeing the Pope or making pilgrimage to Mecca). The GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance, held annually in my lovely hometown of Trumansburg, N.Y. (about 20 minutes outside of Ithaca, and home to the infamous Rongovian Embassy bar), is, to say the least, an exceptionally unique experience. The festival takes place over a weekend in late July and goes nuts from Thursday around 5pm until Sunday (well, really Monday) at about 4am. People arrive from all over the country days early to get a decent camping spot, and police from the entire county roam the streets of my small town. Pretty much everyone there is a full-on hippie, or at least harbors closet hippie leanings, like myself, and pretty much everyone spends the entire four days dancing (in very varied amounts of clothing), dirty, wet (if it rains, as it did this summer), and in an altered state of mind, be your preference alcohol (preferred mostly by the closet hippies), pot, shrooms, special brownies, or even acid or E (or any combination thereof). You name the drug, it’s been done at GrassRoots. Also included are drum circles (which you can hear at my house until 5am), daily yoga sessions, and the ever-amazing Happiness Parade.
But entirely apart from the resulting “let’s all be friends and dance” atmosphere (which is great), and the myriad of trippy stories (which native Ithacans, and especially Trumansburgians such as myself, love to amaze Cornellians with) the music of GrassRoots is well worth hearing. Staples such as Donna the Buffalo, The Sim Redmond Band and John Brown’s Body regale the four stages every year. Local favorites such as IY, Seth Feldman, and the Sutras (who, by the way, played an absolutely incredible set this past year), always get a chance to take up the stage, and many other dance and music groups old and new play as well. However, in my personal opinion (as well as the opinions of many others), far and away the best show put on this summer was the Cat Empire, a platinum-selling band come all the way from their native Australia to play for GrassRoots in tiny, little Trumansburg.
The Cat Empire, who I discovered several months before this year’s festival, are a 6-piece Australian band (including several unorthodox percussion instruments, bass, trumpet, keyboard, decks and the occasional guitar), with a sound that is not entirely jazz, rock, latin, funk, or ska, but a rockin’, catchy and always extremely well-played mixture of all five. The band played around 9 o’clock on Friday the 20th of July (luckily, early enough so that I could still get to the Barnes and Noble Harry Potter midnight release party – do not criticize, I will readily admit to full-blown dork-dom … I also watch anime). But, believe it or not, I would have missed Harry Potter (yes, THE Harry Potter) to have seen these guys play). The main vocalists, Felix Riebl and Harry James Angus, both have highly unusual but great voices, especially Riebl, and Angus can sing (and somehow play amazing trumpet at nearly the same time) some of the fastest and strangest words and sounds I have ever heard. It is awesome. Really. You have to check this band out. Really. The set lasted about and hour and a half (I danced the whole time, unable to resist the music despite aching feet) and the crowd grew steadily the entire time. More than one person asked me ”who IS this band” — because they were wildly impressed, not appalled.
If you want to hear the Cat Empire live (and believe me, you want to) all you have to do is get everyone in your hometown to click the “come to my hometown” link on their website. If enough people click, they come. Because I must give credit where credit is due, WICB DJ Chris Wilson (aka Chris Capulet), almost singlehandedly managed this here — which is how we got to see them at GrassRoots. So definitely look up the Cat Empire — their new CD comes out next month, and if you happen to be from Australia you can pre-order a signed copy for five dollars. Lucky you. And more than definitely spend a summer in Ithaca so that you can experience the GrassRoots festival for yourself — it’s pretty much amazing.