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Grassroots Stages Reviews


"It's the best musicalmentary I've ever seen." Erin Regan
From The Herd...

...TOP NOTCH. Truly a professional
job....An uninhibited insight into Grassroots Festival and it exquisitely
captures the soulful celebration of the human spirit....Lots of Jeb on the
extra's features and Tom's Birthday

Samite of Uganda

Paul Kerr From The Homegrown Music Network
Filmmaker Michael O'Connell has crafted a touching and heartfelt portrayal of the music and people behind the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival in Trumansburg, NY. The annual non-profit four-day festival has been raising money for the fight against AIDS for 15 years, and recently expanded to create the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival in Silk Hope, NC. Not just a concert film, O'Connell concentrates heavily on the people behind the music, including extensive interviews with festival organizers Jordan and Jeb Puryear among others. Jeb is one of the lead singers and guitarists for Donna the Buffalo, making them the quasi-host band of the festival.

Performances are frequently cut up with interview snippets, letting the energy of the volunteers carry over onto the vibe of the music. Also featured is extensive coverage of the mayhem of the festival grounds, from healing arts tents and face painters to dancing revelers and office workers. The festival is run almost entirely by volunteers, and the film focuses heavily on their involvement and outlook. A natural extension of nearby Ithaca's progressive mindset, the GrassRoots staff is an optimistic group working tirelessly to create a clear sense of community for the weekend.

The first concert clip on the dvd features nouveau zydeco accordionist Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band performing Dr. Jim. The GrassRoots Festival is famous for its all-night zydeco dance parties, but this clip shows Frank laying down his thick Louisiana funk in the rarely seen daylight hours. The crowd dances and spins to the washboard wailings and accordion acrobatics. The dark country funk and progressive trancegrass of the Horse Flies follows with Three Shoes (at the Bottom of the Sea). Jeb Puryear perfectly sums up their singular groove with his meditations on old-time music in general "It has the ability to create a hypnotic revolution in your psyche when it really gets going."

Jeb's band Donna the Buffalo is up next with the chunky changes of Positive Friction. The lyrics encapsulate the energy, fitting to perfection the intention of the creation Yes theres a certain vibe thats circulating in the air / Cast from all the energy that emanates from everywhere / Ah, such a lovely truth beginning to unfold / It's our brothers and sisters all coming in from the cold. The South Carolina soulgroove of The Flying Clouds follows with their gospel-tinged rendition of Old Cotton Fields. The distant downcast drama of Jennie Stearns Bands Seasons of Dreams is followed by the mesmerizing African rhythms of Samites Soroti Boys Song.

John Specker's fiery fiddle solo stomp through Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire leads to Keith Franks interminably funky Buck Bayou.Keiths sister Jennifer Frank unleashes a science fiction bass solo over the top, launching the zydeco mothership straight into outer space. The mood settles down again with the slow churning of Jennie Stearns Band Get Around Behind. This time the vocals are handled by her husband Richie Stearns, who also plays banjo with the Horse Flies among other musical adventures. Donna the Buffalo invite a group of little kids onstage to dance around during the weightless loping bounce of Two Feet Tall before the Horse Flies return with the piercing dirge Sally Ann. The dvd wraps up with the slow, shuffling lament of Donna the Buffalos Seems to Want to Hurt This Time, an uncharacteristically sad yet poignant tune.

The lyrics from Donna the Buffalos Positive Friction seem to best reflect the hearts and minds of the organizers and volunteers of the festival "There's a family growing / I've seen it with my own two eyes / There's something that we're all knowing / I hope it's spreading like a wild fire / Back to a place one might call home. And for those of you watching on dvd, there's these further words to take to heart "We have our own heroes / They're dancing in the living room."

-- Paul Kerr


Randall Rigsbee
Chatham Record
October 7 2004
A new DVD, "Grassroots Stages," is depending on your level of familiarity with grass roots music festivals, either a great introduction or a great keepsake.
Either way, most viewers of the recently-released documentary will be entertained.
Concieved,produced and directed by Pittsboro resident Michael O'Connell, the Haw River Films production was filmed at the 2003 Finger Lakes Grassroots festival of Music and Dance.
The documentary features performances from a wide variety of musicians, including Donna The Buffalo, The Horse Flies, Flying Clouds, The Jennie Stearns Band, Samite, Keith Frank and John Specker. Sharing time on the documentary with the music and the musicans are many of the colorful people who attended as well as festival organizers Jeb and Jordan Puryear, who are featured in illuminating interviews.
Filmed with a modest crew and budget, the production quality is nevertheless excellent.
The fluid movement of the camera and expert editing is perfectly in sync with the spirit of the music.
The sound quality is equally superb.
The DVD works well as simply a document of some of the musical acts on hand for the festival, but the project is also a fine piece of  journalisim, examining through interviews with key festival participants the festival's genisis in the early Nineties as an AIDS benefit and what draws the audience back year after year.
A note at the end of the documentary explains that the festival, held annualy in Trumansburg, N. Y., has raised more than $230,000 for a variety of community organizations.
O'Connell became interested in the festival after attending the first SHakori Hill Grassroots Fetsival, and offshoot of the Fingerlakes event, and desired to film a documentary on festivals.
Even without the expert and always interesting camera work, you could close your eyes and just listen to this DVD and have a lot of fun.
The music is great from fiddler John Specker's starkly rendered "Ring of Fire" to Donna The Buffalo's rollicking aural treat "Two Feet Tall".  Try to sit still during that one.

Jim Catalano
Ithaca Journal

Many GrassRoots fans have such a good time at the festival each year that, as soon as it's over, they start counting down the weeks until the next one.

A new DVD, "GrassRoots Stages," should help tide them over from now on. Filmed by Michael O'Connell at the 2003 festival in Trumansburg, the DVD features performances from a representative range of musicians: Donna the Buffalo, the Horse Files, the Flying Clouds, Keith Frank and the Soleil Zydeco Band, John Specker, Jennie Stearns and Samite.

Interviews with festival organizers Jeb and Jordan Puryear, volunteer coordinator Mae Beale and others provide background, and dozens of festival scenes -- everyone from dancing fans and the peace parade to the "Fascist Fashion Show" and the clean-up crews -- round out the package, which catches the vibe of the annual event.

A resident of Pittsboro, N.C. and a staff photographer for UNC-TV in Chapel Hill, O'Connell got the inspiration to make the DVD when he attended GrassRoots' first sister festival, at Shakori Hills Festival in Silk Hope, N.C., in April 2003.

"My wife took me," he says. "At first I didn't want to go, but when I got there, I was intrigued by the music. So I said, I should check out where this is coming from -- you know, go to the source. It just worked out so I had the time and the resources to go up to Trumansburg.

"I just wandered around with the camera and no one said anything at all," he continues. "I knew I wanted to get Donna the Buffalo, since they're the host band, and people had told me about the Horse Flies, and I had seen Jennie Stearns play earlier that spring. Much of it comes from just from wandering around and going where my ears and eyes led me--like Keith Frank, the Flying Clouds and the parade."

The one segment of the DVD that captures GrassRoots in a nutshell features the Jennie Stearns Band performing "Season of Dreams" -- the combination of the music, lyrics and images is especially evocative.

"At Shakori Hills, I got her latest CD and the lyrics just really spoke to me," O'Connell says of Stearns. "A few lines of that song are things I carried through (during filming), like 'bend the light to make due.'"

(Stearns notes that there are lot of edits during this sequence, which O'Connell attributes to a focusing problem with the camera - he edited around it by choosing related festival scenes.)

The DVD's sound is very good. O'Connell was able to plug into the mixing board during several band sets, and he also used the multi-tracked recordings done by Alex Perialas at the Infield Stage for Keith Frank and Donna the Buffalo.

The interviews with the Puryears are especially useful in explaining the motivation behind the festival -- its beginning as a benefit for AIDSWork and its subsequent evolution to support other causes (more than $230,000 has been donated to community organizations), and the positive role that the festival and its music can play in people lives. "You've got these two brothers -- you sort of take a trip through the whole festival with them," O'Connell says.

Bonus sequences include Donna the Buffalo's full-length performance of "Rocking Horse," the onstage birthday party for Donna drummer Tom Gilbert, a slide show, and outtakes from the Puryears' interviews, some of which are additionally revealing.

"Sometimes if you go to the festival, it's like going to a dream," Jordan Puryear says in one outtake. "You remember it--you think back, 'those things happened,' but they're a little bit elusive to your memory."

He adds that when you attend the festival year after year, they tend to stream together in their own reality, but when people pass through the gates again it all comes flowing back and they're in that dream again. "It's a pretty darn magical thing," he says.

Now that the DVD is completed, O'Connell is trying to get it accepted into film festivals around the country. "It hasn't happened yet, but I hope the Woodstock Festival takes it, because they have such a connection to music," he says. "I broadcasted it down here on a local cable channel before the Shakori Hills Festival, and I'm waiting to hear from a satellite channel, freespeech.org."

"People who see it seem to respond favorably," he continues. "Whether it's a documentary or a concert film, I don't know. It might be that it's more a souvenir of the festival. But I think if you really listen to what all the people are saying, it covers a lot of ground."

"GrassRoots Stages" costs $20 and is available online at www.funkyside.com, www.amazon.com and at the festival itself, where 10 percent of every purchase will be donated to the Finger Lakes Land Trust.

Originally published Thursday, July 15, 2004