by John Simon
After a two year hiatus, GrassRoots is finally ready to celebrate its 30th anniversary. The Festival itself runs from July 21st-24th, but there’s a magical “sneak preview” event starting on Sunday the 17th and running through the 20th: it’s Culture Camp, now in its fifth year.
Culture Camp is "pretty young in its incarnation, and it's a very cool and unique opportunity for folks leading up to the festival to immerse themselves in four days of all kinds of workshop of every instrument you can imagine," says Culture Camp coordinator Tara Nevins of host band Donna the Buffalo. After two years without Culture Camp, and with many other events canceled, "We're just starving for this soul-fulfilling experience that we've been so devoid of," she says.
After an orientation on Sunday evening, where attendees meet instructors and then enjoy a dinner and dance, Culture Camp gives you three and a half days of workshops: dance, yoga, Culinary Arts and music (including all levels of musicianship on a wide array of instruments and styles of music), plus jamming and hanging out.
Each day culminates with an authentic culturally themed dinner (6:30-8:30) and a corresponding dance (8:30-11:30), open to all even if they're not attending the workshops. Sunday night is Honky Tonk Night (southern-style comfort food and music by Western Centuries), Monday is Cajun Night with music (and food) by The Daiquiri Queens from Louisiana, Tuesday is Tex Mex night (music and food by the Texmaniacs) with special guest Peter Rowan, and Wednesday night is Creole night (gumbos and more with margaritas made by Tara Nevins herself) plus music by Preston Frank and Donna the Buffalo.
The workshops are incredibly diverse, Nevins says. For instance, just for fiddle, Culture Camp offers "everything from beginning fiddle, intermediate fiddle, and advanced fiddle to playing fiddle and open tunings, Cajun fiddle, Irish fiddle, advanced Irish fiddle." The same diversity goes for bass, mandolin, guitar, banjo, accordion, and songwriting, she says. Popular art workshops include "Art in an Hour" and making henna paste and then practicing henna art.
Culture Camp's Nevins promises “…an intimate and laid back scene that’s a fun and festive party in itself” and that has something for the whole family. Workshop faculty include GrassRoots luminaries including Peter Rowan, Preston Frank, Keith Secola, along with local regulars including members of The Horsefiles, Donna the Buffalo, Hank Roberts (cello), Maddy Walsh (singing), Richie & Rosie and more.
Dinner-and-Dance evenings are included with Culture Camp admission, and are also open to the public for a nightly amount (one night's dinner-and-dance is $40 in advance, $45 at the gate; just attending the dance is $15 in advance or $18 at the gate). "The dinners are pretty fabulous," Nevins says. "We try to bring different chefs from wherever the dance is culturally from. For instance for Cajun night, which is Monday, July 18th, we have Jo Vidrine coming up. He calls himself the Freelance Cajun, and he's coming up all the way from Lafayette Louisiana, to make with his big cast iron pots, jambalaya, vegetarian jambalaya, something he calls Mother Zydecos, Jo Vidrine's yam jam, and then there's always a dessert, praline brownies."
"We move Tuesday night on to an entirely different style of music, Tex-Mex Conjunto night, with Los Texmaniacs from San Antonio, Texas. They're coming to play for us, and they're cooking the meal! They're the real deal!" All meals include a vegetarian option and beverages (wine, beer, iced teas, lemonade, seltzer) and a dessert that fits the style of cuisine.
"People make great friends and really nice things come out of it," Nevins says of Culture Camp. "I think people come away really inspired."
Four days: $155 in advance or $165 at the gate covers unlimited workshops, yoga, and four nights of dinner and dance.