TRUMANSBURG, N.Y.—The Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance returned to its full glory over the weekend, celebrating its 31st year.
Over 15,000 people congregated at the Trumansburg Fairgrounds to celebrate from July 20 to July 23, an attendance figure that rivals pre-pandemic levels, according to festival organizers.
GrassRoots, founded in 1991, was forced to cancel its 2020 show, and operated at a reduced scale and lower attendance in 2021 and 2022. With 2023 now in the rear-view mirror, the festival — which has grown into an annual tradition that rivals the significance of major holidays for some locals and out-of-towners — appears to have rebounded.
“For me, it’s the biggest hometown family reunion,” Sierra Carrère told The Ithaca Voice. Carrère was raised in Ithaca but now lives in Hawaii.
This year’s lineup featured over 80 musical acts across four stages. The festival is widely known for its eclectic array of bands, with the weekend including everything from Zydeco to reggae, rock and roll, old-time, hip-hop, bluegrass, and beyond.
“My music taste as a musician and artist has been completely shaped by the experience of having GrassRoots every year of my life, being introduced to African, Native American, Disco, Zydeco — like upstate New York people don’t know about Zydeco growing up,” Carrère said.
Maurice Cavness, Carrère’s partner, said he had been to his first GrassRoots festival after the pandemic. “I went right after COVID, and I was like ‘Okay, am I not getting something here?’ Now I get it.”
He said he appreciated the diversity of people and styles present in the crowd.
“It’s like, ‘Hey what should I wear for Grassroots?’ Whatever you want. Clothing optional or whatever,” Cavness joked. “This guy over here looks like he’s super hip-hop, this lady looks like she just came out of the woods. It doesn’t matter.”
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All the sights of our GrassRoots gallery were taken by Casey Martin, Alyvia Covert and Kate Conroy. Please email Matt Butler at email@example.com for any photo inquiries.
Ithaca local Nate Rogers said the vibe was “wonderful” and called GrassRoots 2023 an “experience the community was deprived of for a long time.”
Rogers, who said he’s maintained a 15-year GrassRoots attendance streak, said he was planning to bring his one-year old son to attend GrassRoots for the first time on Sunday.
“We’re starting the next generation with these people,” Rogers said. “I was him!”
For many, it’s an opportunity to meet new people. Angelina Gremaud, who grew up in the Ithaca area and said she’s been coming to Grassroots “all her life” said this year’s festival spoke with The Ithaca Voice after getting off the dance floor with someone she’d met that day.
“He was talking so loud,” Gremaud said — loud, but he wasn’t a bad dancer.
Clayson Benally, who plays in “Sihasin,” a Dine’ band that mixes punk, folk, on top of Navajo Rhythms, said he’s been attending GrassRoots for over 20 years. “It’s a beautiful, amazing scene. So much love and community — especially with the artists.”
Cortez “Cash” Taylor said he traveled from Goldsboro, North Carolina for the festivities.
“Grassroots might be the nicest thing I’ve ever been to,” he said. Taylor called GrassRoots “a new millennium Woodstock. So I understand what Willie Nelson was talking about back in the day.”
Resuscitating the “new millennium Woodstock” from the impacts of the pandemic was a challenging endeavor. Russ Friedell, the Marketing Director for GrassRoots, said, “To be honest, it was a long road to get here.”
He said funding received by GrassRoots — which operates as a nonprofit — through the federal Save Our Stages program was critical to the festival making it through the uncertainty of the pandemic.
For Friedell, having the festival’s music back in full force is great, but he said his favorite part is “wandering around in there and you just see all walks of life and ages.”
“It’s just a magical thing,” Friedell said.
“It’s nice. It feels like we’re back to the [pre-COVID] Grassroots vibe,” Cassidy Clough told The Ithaca Voice while tending the bar at the GrassRoots beer tent.
Then someone in the beer tent shouted, “GROOTS!”
“Exactly,” Clough said.