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Culture Camp Comes to the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival, Trumansburg, NY, July 17-24

Richie Stearns and Rosie Newton at Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival 2015, by Amos Perrine

There are many heritage festivals around the country whose primary purpose is to assist musicians (and would-be musicians) to develop and further their skills in the heritage arts, including, among others, roots, blues, bluegrass and old timey music. My home state of West Virginia is no exception being home of at least six well-known festivals where folks come from all over the world to experience roots music and Appalachian arts first-hand.

For several years now I have been attending and extolling the virtues three of the four annual GrassRoots festivals in the East. They are seasonally timed: Shakori (North Carolina) in the Spring and Fall, Virginia Key (Florida) in the Winter and Finger Lakes (New York) in the Summer.

In my preparation for attending the Finger Lakes portion in Trumansburg, New York, that runs from July 21 through July 24, I discovered that for the past two winters at Miami's Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival began their own heritage festival that preceded the music festival. It's called Culture Camp. As they were successful in Florida, it was decided to add the camp feature to the Finger Lakes Festival. The Camp portion will be separate from the festival itself and precedes it, running for four days, July 17-20. The four day music festival begins the following day, July 21.

According to Tara Nevins, co-founder of GrassRoots host band Donna the Buffalo, the idea came from Jonas Puryear, the son of the band’s other co-founder, Jeb Puryear. Nevins said “We’ve been going to festivals for years, and Jonas suggested we do it at Virginia Key, so I started working on it with him. It has become increasingly popular for festivals to have music camps, so people are familiar with the concept. People love the opportunity to be intimate with musicians they admire and want to learn from.”

Katie Foley, Finger Lakes' director of development and marketing, added “When you think about GrassRoots, it’s so much more than a music festival. It’s really about spreading education, exposing people to all sorts of music — roots, world music. So it’s a way for us to extend our mission by actually producing programming, in the same way that our Roots in the Schools program exposes kids to music at an early age. Culture Camp is GrassRoots’ way of offering something that’s part of the bigger picture of what it’s all about.”

The Culture Camp on the festival grounds in Trumansburg will offer more than twenty workshops that range from the usual roots instruments to Moog synthesizers to singing, dancing, yoga and songwriting. Many familiar faces will be teaching at the workshops, including Jim Lauderdale, Richie Stearns, Rosie Newton, Johnny Dowd, Amy Puryear, Jeff Claus and Judy Hyman of the Horse Flies, Hank Roberts, Jennie Stearns, Keith Secola, Claire Byrne (of Driftwood), Aaron Lipp and Preston Frank. All of whom I saw perform last year at the festival.

Culture Camp will also feature nightly themed dances: Sunday, original members of Donna the Buffalo, which will be a real treat; Monday, T’Monde (a Cajun all-star band with members of Pine Leaf Boys and Feufollet); Tuesday, Santa Palabra; and Wednesday, Preston Frank and Soileau Zydeco. There will also be nightly dinners.

Foley concluded by saying, “The idea of being able to take the typical GrassRoots experience, which has been four days, and turn it into a whole week is really special. Whether or not people sign up for the workshops, the nightly dances will be off the hook.”

Complete information on Culture Camp, along with day by instructional workshops and leaders (including their bios) can be found at www.grassrootsfest.org. Needless to say you can also find information on the festival itself.

I am looking forward with great anticipation to both the festival and attending at least some of the Culture Camp as I had a fantastic experience last year. While you will be able to read all about it in my Through the Lens column for ND in July, I suggest you look at your summer schedule and see if you can experience it first hand. It is a gorgeous portion of New York where I hiked a lot long before the festival began. Last year it felt like going home. It was the festival I had always been looking for.