Virginia Key Grassroots Festival: A Dispatch From Big Brass Juke's Eric Garcia

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The Virginia Key Grassroots Festival descended upon South Florida like a ninja with a mullet.

The entire Miami music community wondered, "Where the hell did these people come from? Who put this thing together? What's with the crazy lineup?" But most importantly, "How can I get on the bill?"

Fortunately, my band, Big Brass Juke, was selected to play at the four-day fest.

Being a frequent festival attendee as well as performer, I fancy myself a connoisseur of these gatherings. Getting there early to get the lay of the land is key. You never know what kind of logistical nightmare might be waiting at these first-year events: cracked-out soundmen, a clueless staff of interns, delayed set times, or just freaks in general.

That being said, there was none of that. The parking was fine, and the performer check-in tent was very well organized. They slapped a wristband on me and my girl, handed us 20 bucks worth of food tickets, some beer vouchers, and sent us on our merry way.

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It was early, and the older hippie presence was already strong. There was overnight camping provided at this thing and hippies do not fuck around. They want be there for the whole damn show and they come extremely prepared.

As I made my way around scattered blankets and lawn chairs, Willie Watson & Evil City was twanging away on the main stage. They were just one of the many acts I had never heard live and I admired the bravery of these folks for putting on something like the Grassroots fest in South Florida.

There were four stages in total, and I wandered over to the Green Pavilion where I was supposed to play that night. The Hindu Cowboys were doing some strange blend of '60s covers and happy violin jams that made my stomach feel weird, so I was off to grab a bite.

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The food area was awesome. All kinds of healthy and tasty grub. It was built in the shape of a big square, so all the different vendors kind of shared a communal prep area. The beer was great too. I grabbed a Swamp Ape IPA and went to check out the Del McCoury Band.

Del's band was ripping. His fantastic head of white hair and funny little Southern comments had the crowd going. "Girl, you are awful loud," he joked. "But I can't understand what you're sayin'." That would normally sound kind of dickish. But when Del Mcoury smiles and says so ... Well, it sounds like syrup. You're just happy he's even talkin' to ya.

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Del McCoury ripping it up at Grassroots.

Elastic Bond was up next at the Orange stage and it was a nice reminder of how this out-of-town festival dropped down on us for four days and really decided to pay attention to a lot of the local acts, regardless of genre.

Then, all of a sudden, I found myself drinking whiskey by the ocean with some friendly festival types who need a bath. And it was time to go play my set.

It was getting damn cold and windy. So I finished the bottle, stepped onto the stage, and saw a quickly growing crowd of eager eyes. These people had come to consume some goddamn music. It was like they were thirsty for it, even though they'd been there all day. The guys in my band picked up on that vibe, and I have to say we played a pretty shit-hot set.

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Big Brass Juke in a red haze.

Afterward, I stumbled over to the next stage. I have no idea what the hell a Hobex is, but that band was great. It was really nice to discover them and it made me wonder how many other little gems I missed throughout this whole well-run yet poorly attended four-day social experiment.

I know we live on little besides limestone in South Florida. But I hope this festival is strong enough to take its licks and come back next year to set some roots down again.

-- Eric Garcia

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Location Info

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Virginia Key Beach Park

4020 Virginia Beach Drive, Key Biscayne, FL

Category: General


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8 comments
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" You never know what kind of logistical nightmare might be waiting at these first-year events: cracked-out soundmen, a clueless staff of interns, delayed set times, or just freaks in general."Happy to see you discovered this is NOT how grassroots rolls!

Ethan Oringel
Ethan Oringel

Grassroots is the ultimate festival. I've been to I think 10 of the original fest up in Trumansburg, NY (near the hippie/college town of Ithaca), and every year it is simply awesome. So I was beyond excited about Virginia Key. I wound up going Thu, Sat, and Sun and it was an absolute blast. The weather was kinda rough. If it was half as gorgeous as it is today, it would have been perfect. But let me clue you newbs in on my favorite thing about Grassroots. It's that you might be at a stage digging some band, then roll over to grab a beer and there is some African or Haitian band whose name you can hardly pronounce absolutely RIPPING it up. I've seen some pretty wild acts from all over the globe at Grassroots and many of them were so good that I still listen to their music fairly regularly. The best example of this is Tinariwen who just won the Grammy for the best World album of the year (they played in Miami this past November). Well, Tinariwen played Grassroots in Ithaca in 2005 before anybody in the U.S. knew them. In fact, I think it was their 2nd concert ever in the U.S. That is just how on point these folks are who run the fest. They find these acts, spin it together with local acts and some of the classic Ithaca area acts and BAM... the best festival ever. I've been saying that since 1995, but being able to rage Grassroots while dipping my feet in Biscayne Bay was something truly extraordinary that I'll never forget. See ya'll next year!!!

Btw, thanks for the review Eric.

Hellvis
Hellvis

sounds fun, but did the bands get paid or did they play for "exposure" ?

Ihadfun
Ihadfun

i was skeptical of this event, but went sat and sun nights.  sunday night was brutal, it seemed like it was 35 degrees. the headliner played to 100 people until 230am. grass roots survived some of south fl worse weather minus a hurricane and persisted. i am not sure if they broke even financially, but they promsed they will be back this time next year. hopefully the weather will be better.

JennyLee Molina
JennyLee Molina

I really hope this festival comes back again next year even stronger! It was well organized (heck, they also produce Shakori Hills which is a great one!) and there was something for everyone! Despite the rain, the festival endured and I hear nothing but great things from everyone. 

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"cracked out soundmen" wait didnt they play last year in Trumansburg

Uncle SCotchy
Uncle SCotchy

we got paid our rate, and i believe all the others did as well... as soon as our set was over, i was handed our check.

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