Winging back to Ithaca for my annual GrassRoots pilgrimage

Former Ithaca radio station manager Chris Wilson is on his way back to Ithaca for his annual pilgrimage to the GrassRoots Festival, and he kindly agreed to write this flavorful music preview for our readers.

Chris Wilson emceeing the Infield Stage at the GrassRoots Festival. 14850 Photo.

Chris Wilson emceeing the Infield Stage at the GrassRoots Festival. 14850 Photo.

Oh hi there. I’m Chris. Nice to meet you 🙂

As former Station Manager at WICB, I found my inner music lover’s paradise right off Rabbit Run road as have many before me. While I reside in San Francisco now, I am just as thrilled as always to make my annual pilgrimage home to Trumansburg to spend four wonderful days and nights listening, sharing, loving and most importantly dancing with you all.

Everyone has their own flavor, and I’m honored to share mine with you to help you gear up for some of your old favorites and to introduce you to some shows sure to knock your socks off. Let’s get into it!

Brett Dennen

This is going to be one of the most talked about performances of this year’s festival. Brett Dennen fits into the GrassRoots spectrum so perfectly it’s not even funny. Brett’s vocal prowess is simply effortless and combines elements of Folk and Americana music into a catchy blend of bright, but thoughtful, pop music.

He’s absolutely real. He’s lovable. Best of all, I don’t think he tries to be anything he’s not. He’s fresh off a new release called Por Favor and you can catch him Saturday night at 9pm on the Infield stage right before Donna the Buffalo. Take a listen to “Make You Crazy” featuring Femi Kuti to get warmed up.


I’m not sure who exactly to thank for opening my ears to this one, but thank you! I predict this will be the band that everyone craves again and again.

Cumbia, Gypsy Jazz, and Funk come together in this sweaty collaboration of heavily latin influenced jams. Pieces remind me of my personal favorite band, The Cat Empire, just a little grittier as if you were catching them in a little back alley club in Havana. Very excited to see what they add to the festival lineup and lucky for you, you have two opportunities to see them this year:

12:30am Friday night into Saturday morning on the Grandstand, or catch them again Saturday night at 8:30 in the Dance Tent which is sure to light the place up. Get a taste.

Silversun Pickups

I have to admit, when I finally got my mitts on this year’s lineup, this was an act that I was surprised to see on the bill. I wasn’t sure if I was looking at the right festival lineup at first, but then I realized I didn’t care because I think Silversun Pickups will be a very welcome addition to the GrassRoots family, adding a strong indie rock presence to the festival.

Hailing from L.A., the band is currently touring on their fourth full-length studio album, “Better Nature.” You’ll find toe-tapping melodies and beautifully haunting harmonies from vocal duo Brian Aubert and Nikki Monninger. The more I’ve been listening to them gearing up for the festival, the more it makes sense to see them on this bill and I’m secretly hoping we get the chance to see a couple local legends join them on stage, mainly folks like Jennie Lowe Stearns or Maddie Walsh from the Blind Spots would be nice compliments. Fingers crossed. Silversun Pickups hits Saturday night on the Grandstand at 10:45pm.


Sihasin performing at GrassRoots.

Sihasin performing at GrassRoots.

This is an act that has become a large part of what the Grassroots family means. Hailing from Arizona, you may recognize this brother/sister duo from their Navajo punk band, Blackfire. The duo is super passionate and welcoming in sharing their culture not only with the crowd, but with the world. I had the pleasure of chatting with the group last year after their show, and I was really moved by their performance. I’m also a sucker for any group that gets kids and families involved and you’ll likely meet members of their family as well throughout their performance.

If you’d like to see some incredible traditional Navajo dance as well, the two perform as part of the Jones Benally Family Dance Troupe with their elder having 90+ years of rich heritage to share with you. Sihasin performs twice, in the Cabaret at 5pm on Saturday and again on Sunday at noon on the Infield stage. The Jones Benally Family Dance Troupe takes the Grandstand at 11:30am on Saturday morning following the Battle of the Bands.

Sophistafunk & Jimkata

Sophistafunk rocking the Infield Stage at GrassRoots!

Sophistafunk rocking the Infield Stage at GrassRoots!

I felt putting these two acts together to highlight made a lot of sense. I’ve been following these two bands for many years now, and honestly, they have never taken a step backwards respectively. Every time I have the privilege to catch a live show from either, I’m somehow more impressed than the last time I caught them and that speaks volumes about their talent and dedication to their craft.

Sophistafunk, a 3-piece core, brings a crafty blend of hip-hop, jazz, and well, funk. An added saxophone in the mix recently has elevated their sound to a new level and Jack Brown’s dazzling verbal acrobatics will get the crowd moving for sure. They’re a fine wine, have a glass!

Jimkata lighting up the night on the Grandstand Stage.

Jimkata lighting up the night on the Grandstand Stage.

As for the fellas in Jimkata, also a 3-piece core, they offer their own unique blend of synth-heavy alt rock. The band has spent the better part of a decade meticulously designing the instrumentation and stage elements of their performances into an addicting polished sound that is both danceable and easily approachable at the same time. These cats love to put on the late-night rager to close an evening out, and that’s where we’ll find them again this year. One highlight to watch for is for the last few years, they’ve graced us with a killer cover (often accompanied by members of Big Mean Sound Machine). Last year’s rendition of Lionel Richie’s All Night Long echoed throughout the festival grounds. Can’t wait to see what they have in store this year!

Catch them both Thursday evening on the Grandstand, Sophistafunk at 6:45pm and Jimkata closing out the stage at 1am.

The Flying Clouds

This is hands down my guilty pleasure can’t-miss show of every Grassroots. Hailing from South Carolina, the band is in their 56th year. No typo there, 56 years playing some of the most honest Gospel music you’ve ever heard.

Nothing brings more of a smile to my face each Grassroots than watching these heavy hitters do the one thing they love most. They connect with the crowd on a level that can’t be surpassed and they’re the definition of a staple when it comes to the festival.

They’re making a slight departure from the Grandstand where they usually are featured and heading over to the Dance Tent on Friday at 6:30pm. You can also catch them at the Infield this year at Noon on Saturday. Guaranteed, this will brighten your day!

Telekinetic Walrus

There’s always one act at Grassroots every year that seems to make people say “What the heck was that?” and “How the heck do I get more?”

Last year, that band was Telekinetic Walrus without a doubt, and for those of you who only heard about it in passing for the rest of the weekend, you’ll get your chance to redeem yourself this year.

Grab some 808/909 beats.  Throw together some super deep bass.  Put a troupe of clever lyricists on top of the sundae, bake it with lasers, toss it in a kaleidoscope, then send it to outer space.


If you’re up for it, catch a late night set on the Infield stage at 1am Saturday into Sunday morning. If you’re not, have fun listening to all the cools kids talk about it on Sunday.

Busted Subaru

So. This is happening.

I’ve been helping with and enjoying the annual Grassroots Band Contest on Saturday morning for as long as I’ve been coming to Grassroots. While many folks are still sleeping or getting their morning yoga on, 15-20 acts vie for a chance to play at next year’s Grassroots festival.

Enter Busted Subaru.

For fans of The Sim Redmond Band, make sure to get to the festival grounds just as the long weekend kicks off at 4pm on Thursday in the Cabaret. Why? Because Busted Subaru is a 3-piece punk cover band playing exclusively Sim Redmond Band songs. Or so we think.

Based on their wildly energetic performance at last year’s Battle and their unique idea in the first place, I would not be surprised if the trio added in a couple other popular local classics and I can almost expect special guest appearances at this one, maybe even from members of SRB themselves.

You’ve been notified, go forth and rock.

Honorable mentions you can’t go wrong with:

  • Driftwood (Folk/Bluegrass) – Dance Tent – Thursday at 6:30pm
  • The Gunpoets (Hip hop)- Grandstand – Thursday at 9pm
  • The Small Kings (Reggae) – Cabaret – Friday at 4:30pm
  • Misses Bitches (Punk/Rock) – Cabaret – Friday at Midnight
  • John Brown’s Body (Future Reggae) – Infield at Midnight
  • Samite of Uganda (Folk/African) – Grandstand – Saturday at 3pm
  • Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad – Infield – Saturday at 5:15pm
  • Plastic Nebraska – Cabaret – Saturday at 8:30pm
  • Club Rub-a-Dub (Jay/Elliot from JBB) – Cabaret at Midnight
  • Uniit Carruyo (Folk/Americana) – Infield – Sunday at 2pm
  • Big Mean Sound Machine & Friends (Funk/Instrumental) – Dance Tent – Sunday at 5:30pm
  • Donna the Buffalo & Friends All-star Revue (Zydeco/Americana) – Infield – Sunday at 7:30pm
Chris Wilson in his roving LED-powered DJ suit last summer.

Chris Wilson in his roving LED-powered DJ suit last summer.

As for me, I’ll be roving the festival after dark with my portable DJ suit ready to start a dance party any and everywhere. Give me a high five and we’ll dance! Everyone have a safe and wonderful GrassRoots and I’ll see you soon on Rabbit Run!

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