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 may not live in Ithaca any more, but he’s always back for GrassRoots!

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!

Uma Galera

This was easily my favorite act of last year.  Stumbled into the Dance Tent because it was apparent there was a party going on in there. Boy, was I glad I did. These fellas know how to throw a freaking party. Energy is a critical component to any incredible live performance, and a lot of that energy comes from the crowd. Uma Galera (One Crowd) feeds of this energy and it shines through in their performance. If memory serves, they even filled a cancellation spot and came back and crushed the Grandstand again the next night. They bring so many sounds from around the globe because their members come from six different countries (Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela). They’ll be crushing two sets: Friday night at 12:30am on the Grandstand and again Saturday night at 10:15pm in the Dance Tent.


If you don’t follow the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance on social media (shame!) you might have missed the hype on Mokoomba. This year, the Festival started featuring and teasing a few key bands online before the full lineup was released. Mokoomba was their first announcement of the year, and for good reason! This Zimbabwe-based band is the real deal. Expect that their mélange of Afro-fusion and traditional Tongan beats will get your booty shaking. Seriously, don’t miss ‘em.  Saturday at 6:45pm on the Infield stage!

Danielle Ponder & The Tomorrow People

Perhaps not since the late great Sharon Jones graced the Infield stage has there been a soulful voice that could melt the faces of a sea of people while at the same time bringing joy to their ears. I think Danielle Ponder & The Tomorrow People might be able to certainly get close. Their unique blend of Soul and R&B has a super infectious style that fits in so perfectly at the festival. If you missed their first appearance last year, be sure to catch them on the Infield Saturday at 3pm. (And be sure to watch this video.)

Locos Por Juana

Welcome back Locos! LPJ hasn’t played GrassRoots since 2014, erm, well, at least not up North here.  They’ve been an integral part to spreading the fire at the Virigina Keys GrassRoots Festival the past few years which makes sense given they hail from Miami. These Grammy nominees are just flat-out fun to watch. Hip-shaking is pretty much inevitable if you have a pulse. They’ll be setting the stage on fire Saturday night rocking into Sunday starting at midnight!

Bomb Pulse

A new band on the scene that I’m curious to see in person. Many festival regulars no doubt know the name Thousands of One, and front-man Jhakeem Haltom will be bringing his new project to Rabbit Run this year. Jhakeem has stage presence in spades, constantly dancing, rocking his flute, and hitting those powerful high-notes effortlessly. Bomb Pulse recently took the stage for the first time at the debut edition of the Ithaca Reggae Fest, and I’m excited to see what they’re made of. You can hear some here. 8pm in the Cabaret Friday night!

Local Newcomers

There’s a really exciting crop of local talent getting their Freshman debut at the festival this year that I felt was worth highlighting as they’ve earned their spot through consistent hard work and dedication to the local scene.

¡Viva Mayhem! – This is among my top anticipated shows of this year’s festival. I’m the first to admit, I love horns. I was also in a ska band in Ithaca previously, so you better believe I’ll be right up front in the circle pit. Watch this, then join me for a little mayhem at 10:15 Thursday night in the Cabaret?

Thru Spectrums performing at the Range last summer.

Thru Spectrums – These cats are a no-brainer for the festival in my opinion.  They’re funky, they’re fun, and their performances are tight. They’re been a name around town for a while now and I really think festival goers will welcome them with open arms. Catch them Thursday at 4:45pm on the Grandstand.

Travis Knapp – I’ve known Travis for a while since we both studied at IC. Travis was a part of Ithacappella and has some seriously tailored pipes. His personal style of music is folky and full of warmth. Travis was the runner-up last year at the GrassRoots Band Contest last year, and I’m really stoked he’ll get a chance to entertain this year. Don’t miss him kicking off the Cabaret stage Thursday at 3:15pm!

Sammus – I’ve only had the pleasure of catching Sammus once before I moved and I’m excited to see her do her thing again. Sammus quickly caught the ears of Ithaca’s hip hop scene for being outspoken, raw, but most importantly, herself. Sammus takes the stage as part of the Ithaca Underground showcase that starts at 9:45pm Friday night in the Cabaret.

Crucial Reggae Social Club – It’s about to get real sweaty in the Cabaret. The brilliant minds behind the CRSC that have been keeping The Dock packed every Wednesday for the last 3 years will be bringing some super deep reggae cuts inside the festival gates for the first time on Thursday night at 12:45am. Listen.

Mosaic Foundation – There’s no shortage of rock/reggae at GrassRoots (and I’m pretty sure we’re all completely okay with that!)  Mosaic Foundation has been around the local scene for many, many years now, and are some real session players.  They’ll be hitting the Grandstand Friday at 3pm just in time for the “screw it, I can’t be at work anymore, IT’S GRASSROOTS!” crowd.

Fall Creek Brass Band – I am a huge fan of FCBB. With their famed green sousaphone in tow, these wandering minstrels will be adding some flare and fun to the Happiness Parade this year.  Join them Sunday at 2pm, be super happy, and get down!

Honorable mentions you can’t go wrong with

  • Kevin Kinsella (Roots / Reggae) – Infield – Thursday 5:30pm
  • Sophistafunk (Funk / Hip Hop) – Grandstand – Thursday 12am
  • The Ladles (Folk – Winners of last year’s band contest!) – Cabaret – Friday 2:45pm
  • Flying Clouds of South Carolina – Dance Tent – 8:30pm
  • Cortadito (Cuban / Folk) – Dance Tent – Friday 10:30pm
  • Uniit Carruyo (Folk / Americana) – Grandstand – Saturday 1pm
  • Thundbody (Reggae / Rock) – Cabaret – Saturday 10:45pm
  • Drive-By Truckers (Southern Rock legends) – Infield – 4:30pm
  • Big Mean Sound Machine & Friends – Dance Tent – 5:45pm til late!

Sophistafunk rocking the Infield Stage at GrassRoots!

Phew! That’s it for now, but my best advice for you if you’re heading to GrassRoots is to just follow your ears and go where your heart takes you.

There’s something for everyone, and no matter what stage you end up at, you’ll have a blast and make plenty of new friends along the way; I know I always do. As for me, well, I’ll be running around from stage to stage getting my emcee on, but who knows, maybe you’ll see me performing for my first time somewhere out there on stage too 😉

Have fun, drinks lots of water, and have a safe and happy GrassRoots 2017!

For more, follow on Facebook and Twitter or sign up for our newsletter.