Culture Camp Returns to Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival
Today is July 4, a day not only to reflect on one’s patriotism and the founding ideals of America, but also to embrace the many heritages that make up our country.
Heritage is an ongoing concern in this most modern of ages. Beginning with the industrial age and continuing now in the technology and post-technology ages, we, as a species, have sought to prevent previous cultures and traditions from becoming extinct in a variety of ways. In the 1970s we had the Foxfire books, as well as festivals and workshops curating arts and crafts from that agrarian age. More recently, we have seen a movement afoot to expand roots music and its culture into our daily lives via the schools and though music festivals.
So, this is an opportune time to feature the four-day Culture Camp that precedes the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance held each July in Trumansburg, New York. Building on the success of its initial year in 2016, the festival again offers Culture Camp’s four days of workshops and instruction by a variety of artists in the many genres of roots music, from beginners and beyond. There are 27 types of workshops, including yoga, painting, and dance, and 87 different instructors. There are also workshops specifically tailored for young folks.
Culture Camp, July 16-19 this year, is set on the grounds of the festival and includes more than the workshops. Each of the four evenings also offers a different themed dinner and dance. For example, on Wednesday night before the festival opens, there will be a creole dinner prepared by Shane Guidry from Louisiana, and the dance features music by zydeco maste Preston Frank. Camp participants can subscribe to all four days or attend day by day. There is a youth discount, and the evening dinners and dances are open (for a fee) to the public as well. On-site camping is also available.
Last year I attended Culture Camp and was awed by camaraderie of not just the attendees, who, it seemed, ranged in age from 10 to 70, but the “instructors” as well. I put that in quotes because what I saw was their patience and desire to pass along what had been passed along to them. They were not so much instructing as they were “sharing” the tradition. In so doing, they were also learning. More than once I witnessed a young player come up with something that couldn’t be done. Because no one had told her it couldn’t be done in a certain way, she did it that way. The camp embraces tradition as being a two-way street as well.
As you will note below, the workshops are varied, and based on my experience last year, it should come as no surprise that songwriting and singing were the most popular, with guitar and fiddle not far behind.
However, this year the camp expands its already diverse lineup, offering instruction by guests who did not play the festival last year. Notably, members of Balfa Toujours and Los Texmaniacs will lead workshops as well as preparing Tuesday night’s dinner and leading that night’s dance. Wow. Folks in the Northeast will have the opportunity to learn how those folks carry on their traditions. Just imagine, let’s say, you are already somewhat proficient on one or more instruments; now you can immerse yourself in the Cajun style. While you may never play Cajun music, the deep exposure to another way of playing the same instrument can only open up new possibilities for your own music.
There is another workshop I am excited about: Bobbie Henry on flatpicking in the style of Doc Watson. Again, can you imagine what could be gleaned from a day or two of that?
But workshops are not limited to those who know their way around a given instrument; there are also many beginner classes. All workshops are wide-ranging in skill level as well as style. Some examples: Richie Stearns on beginner clawhammer banjo; Preston Frank on zydeco accordion; Judy Hyman on advanced old-time fiddle; or Jeff Claus on old-time guitar. Or, Tara Nevins and Jim Miller (both founding members of Donna the Buffalo), with Miller also delving into Country Songs Old and New.
Duo workshops also offer an interesting perspective. This year, David Via and his son offer two perspectives on the mandolin, and there’s the intriguing combination of guitar and cello with Jeb Puryear and Hank Roberts. Puryear is, of course, a founding member of Donna the Buffalo and the festival itself, while the Grammy-winning Roberts comes from a jazz and experimental background as evidenced by his many ECM recordings in the 1980s and his work with such notables as John Zorn, Arto Lindsey, and Bill Frisell. Roberts, as last year, also leads a workshop on improvisation.
I could go on, but these are just some of the things I am looking forward to. For complete information, please visit: https://www.grassrootsfest.org/culture-camp-1-1
To hear about Culture Camp from Nevins herself, listen to her radio interview here.
Note: All photos were taken at the 2015 and 2016 Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival and 2016 Culture Camp.