GrassRoots Culture Camp to take on a blue tinge for 2023
Since its founding in 2016, GrassRoots Culture Camp has offered instruction in an array of roots music genres – everything from Cajun and country to old-time and Zydeco – and a variety of instruments. Students come from all over the country for the four days preceding the annual Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance, to take workshops taught in an intimate setting by some of the country’s top players.
Since the beginning much of the camp's teaching roster has included many local faces, including Judy Hyman and Jeff Claus of the Horse Flies, Richie Stearns and Rosie Newton, Jeb Puryear of Donna the Buffalo, Maddy Walsh of the Blind Spots, cello master Hank Roberts, singer-songwriter Jennie Lowe, and many more.
But for the sixth annual Culture Camp, which returns to the Trumansburg Fairgrounds July 16-19, coordinator Tara Nevins, a co-founder of GrassRoots host band Donna the Buffalo, has added workshops in blues and jazz by bringing in several new instructors as well as expanding offerings in old-time, Cajun, country, and other rootsy genres.
“It's the first time that we're bringing an influx of the blues, and it's really actually pretty cool,” Nevins said.
Texas guitarist Johnny Nicholas, a former frontman for the western swing band Asleep at the Wheel, will visit Culture Camp for the first time to lead workshops titled “Traditional Blues: Chicago to the Delta” and “Highway 61: Chicago to New Orleans” as well as participate in a couple of roundtables on songwriting and country music.
Members of the southwestern Louisiana Cajun band Pine Leaf Boys will teach several classes; for example, Wilson Savoy will lead a workshop on boogie-woogie and jazz piano.
Multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, who has performed in Ithaca many times with Joan Baez and several Cajun bands, will return to teach classes on old-time fiddle, Cajun fiddle, and “Write a Song in an Hour” (for which he’ll be joined by his daughter Amelia Powell) along with joining those songwriting and country roundtables.
“It's really exciting this year to have Dirk Powell here,” Nevins said. “He’s a stalwart of the Americana music world and, he's a wonderful musician. He's been touring with his daughter, who’s the granddaughter of (Cajun legend) Dewey Balfa. And it turns out she's very talented, as well.”
Timbo, an up-and-coming Nashville-based artist, will lead a class in country and honky-tonk electric guitar, while Central New York troubadour Raedwald Howland-Bolton will teach country blues fingerpicking guitar. And Back Step members Michael Motley, Chester McMillian, and Nick McMillian will offer instruction in a variety of dance styles and old-time instruments, including fiddle, guitar, upright bass, and banjo.
“I usually have had locals like Judy Hyman, Jeff Claus, and Richie Stearns teach old-time music workshops,” Nevins said. “But this year, I decided, well, why don't I bring authentic music from the south? So I'm bringing in Back Step, who are the real deal. Chester McMillan and Nick McMillan are from Mount Airy, North Carolina. And their grandfather played music with Tommy Jarrell, who we all learned from.”
There are some fun new workshops, too, including “Making Country Bolo Ties,” taught by Rachel Bowlin, and “Passionate about Possums,” led by Rodney Sutton.
Good Times Roll
The nightly themed dinners and dances are the other pillars of Culture Camp. Nevins has once again recruited an eclectic roster of chefs to offer a variety of meals that will be followed by sets from some of the country’s most talented roots musicians. And they’re exclusive performances that you won’t see at this year’s GrassRoots. (Note: The dinners and dancers are open to the general public; you can purchase a ticket for both, or just for the dance, but not just for the dinner.)
For Sunday’s Honky-Tonk Night, Timbo will perform backed by several Culture Camp all-stars, including Miss Tess and Thomas Bryan Eaton. Nicholas, who owns the Hill Top Café in Fredericksburg, Texas, will cook a meal that blends southern barbecue flavors with his family’s Greek influences.
Monday’s Cajun Night will feature a performance by Pine Leaf Boys from southwest Louisiana along with a Mexican meal prepared by native Oaxacan, Gabriel Emilio Gomez Recio.
Tuesday’s Jump Blues Night will feature Nicholas performing with an all-star band assembled by Nevins; she’s recruited area players Alicia Aubin (trombone), Lee Hamilton (sax), Brian Williams (bass), Bobby Henrie (guitar), and Mike Bram (drums) for a night of swing, blues, and other danceable American music. That will come after a meal prepared by Jo Vidrine, “the Freelance Cajun” from Lafayette, Louisiana.
And for Wednesday’s Zydeco Night, longtime GrassRoots favorite Preston Frank will perform backed by Donna the Buffalo after a Cajun dinner prepared by the Pine Leaf Boys.
A sense of community
Culture Camp is not only a worthwhile opportunity for attendees, it’s also a satisfying experience for its instructional staff. Jeff Claus, a longtime member of the Horse Flies and a stalwart of the local music scene, listed a few reasons why.
“It’s an easygoing and welcoming sense of community and support,” he said. “There’s a wide variety of class and workshop options, and it’s great staff that includes excellent musicians from all over the country. And there are strong dance bands every night, representing different styles, with creative and tasty dinners that match cuisine and music. Plus, it’s only 10 miles from home—it's so great to have such a fun and high-quality event this close to home!”
If you go
Where: Trumansburg Fairgrounds, 2150 Trumansburg Road, Trumansburg
When: July 16-19
Cost: four-day pass, $175 in advance, $190 at the gate, includes four days of workshops plus nightly dinners and dances; single-day admission, $60 in advance $70 at the gate, includes one full day of workshops, and dinner and dance on that day; youth four-day pass, $80 in advance, $90 at the gate; youth single-day admission, $44 in advance, $49 at the gate; dinner and dance, one night, $40 in advance, $45 at the gate; dance only, one night, $15 advance, $18 a the gate;