Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Grassroots Fest 2010

This Thursday, the 20th Annual Fingerlakes Grassroots Festival kicks off in Trumansburg, NY. While I don't usually cover events like this, I had to take notice of this festival due to the amazing lineup that includes a heavy dose of afrocentricity. Burning Spear, Chiwoniso, Arrested Development, The Black Seeds, Oliver Mtukudzi, John Brown's Body, Locos Por Juana, and a host of other acts will hit the stage ready to unleash a dance fervor upon the masses. Tickets are still available, so if you can make it to Trumansburg, NY this weekend (Just outside of Ithaca in the finger-lakes region of upstate NY) I highly recommend checking this jam out.
One band that's been rocking Grassroots for almost a decade straight is John Brown's Body. JBB has earned a reputation for their modern interpretation of roots reggae/dub all over the world. Part of the band hails from Ithaca, so they have a dedicated following upstate. Their latest album, Amplify, came out in 2008 on Easy-Star Records. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing JBB drummer, Tommy Benedetti, on the band, Grassroots and Reggae music:

MGA: I've seen many labels attached to your music, Future Roots Music, the most commonly used. How would you describe your sound in your own words?

TB: I think the term "Future Roots" does describe our music pretty well. We all love and respect Jamaican reggae/dub from the 70s and 80s. So our songs are generally built from a heavy dub influence. But we have many other influences that go into our sound as well. And i think its our job to keep our sound progressing and keep things as fresh as possible. JBB is a thick sound. A big, loud machine.

MGA: How were you first introduced to reggae and who were the artists that made the biggest impact on your musical development?

TB: I was introduced to reggae as I was finishing up at Berklee College of Music in Boston. I took the gig with The Tribulations and went on a crash course of reggae and dub. Kevin Kinsella and Elliot Martin dropped some heavy stuff on me to check out. The Gladiators, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, Alpha Blondy. It was a whole new world for me to dive into. Sly and Robbie had a huge influence on my approach to playing dub, and still do to this day.

MGA: The personnel in JBB has changed a lot over the years. How would you describe what the most recent changes have brought to the band?

TB: We've been lucky, that everytime we've lost someone, we've brought in a musician thats really helped JBB progress and get to where we are today. We are very much like a family. Theres a lot more involved in being a member of JBB than just being a killer player. This current lineup has been traveling the planet together for over 4 years, which is pretty good for our business.

MGA: How would you describe the evolution of Reggae music over the last twenty years and where it fits in the global music scene?

TB: Reggae is a very far reaching genre. I see a lot of kids all over the country that are being inspired by reggae; a lot of times on tour we will have a local act open the show ,so it's cool to see everyone's unique approach to playing the music. Some of my favorite reggae these days comes from all over the globe. Black Seeds from New Zealand and, Dubmatix from Toronto, Midnite from St Croix...there are alot of hard working bands doing some real good things these days.

MGA: You guys have played all over the world. How does the reception vary in different places and cultures?

TB: Generally, people come to our shows and are very appreciative i think. We bring something different to the table so not everyone gets it. But we've had some great shows in France, Hawaii, New Zealand, there's always gonna be some places that are better than others, just like in the states, but when we come to town we're gonna throw down, no matter where we are.

MGA: JBB has been playing grassroots for several years. Could you describe the vibe and energy of the festival for those who haven't been there before?

TB: I think i can speak for most of the guys and say that Grassroots is one of, if not our favorite summer fest to play. I always have a great time and the caliber of music is really off the charts. This is probably around our 10th one, so we play to a real big crowd and its an incredible feeling. I recommend it to all of my friends.

MGA: One band I'm especially looking forward to seeing is The Black Seeds, a band with a similar sound to JBB who you guys have toured with extensively. Could you describe their sound and how you feel about it?

TB: They have more of a soul/funk vibe than JBB does maybe, but we share many common influences. I am a huge fan. We had them open a US tour for us last year and they returned the favor by bringing us to New Zealand for 3 weeks of shows. It was a real life changer. To me,they have it all..theyre amazing musicians, great songs, and a sound thats all their own..and you know i have to say their drummer Jarney is one of my favorites!

MGA: Who are some of the other acts to which you're especially looking forward to seeing this year at G-Roots?

TB: Unfortunately this year we have to leave Saturday to play a big outdoor show in Boston,so i won't be able to catch as much music as i usually do, but i would be psyched to see Oliver Mutukudzi and Railroad Earth..we did the jam cruise with them back in January..they are a great band..and i think The Black Seeds are playing the same night we are, so i can not wait to see them and party with them

MGA: JBB has evolved and changed quite a bit over the years. Where would you like to see JBB go from here on out musically and otherwise?

TB: I want us to be happy continuing doing what we do..further crafting our sound and bringing it to the people.

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