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Published: 2004/05/29
by Benjy Eisen

Grassroots Stages

If you’ve ever attended the Fingerlakes Grassroots Fest, worked for the Fingerlakes Grassroots Fest, or otherwise are an active supporter of the festival, then this DVD may make a nice take-home souvenir. As for everyone else…
You’ll never want to go to the festival after watching this disc. I mean it man. Unless you’re a good Samaritan and want to go because it’s for a good cause. But if Grassroots Stages is an adequate picture of the festival, then what we have here is a hokey-pokey gathering of mediocre bands and the people who like to twirl to them. Sound harsh? Yeah, I know it does. And I hesitate to dismiss it so easily. But in the end, I have no other choice.
In light of the evolution of the modern music festival, the picture we get of the Fingerlakes Grassroots Fest is one of an antiquated….literally grassroots…hippie gathering. But this isn’t a review of the festival, it’s a review of the film about the festival. And perhaps that film’s shortcomings are why the review is harsh on the festival itself.
Assuming that the performances on the DVD are some of the musical highlights, well then, we’re lucky that the filmmakers didn’t include more. The jams are repetitive and the audience seems to twiddle-twaddle between being genuinely fired up and just slightly entertained. A reasonable John Specker performance, in which he covers Johnny Cash’s "Ring of Fire," is unbalanced by wholly uninteresting Donna The Buffalo footage.
And while I was relieved to not have to sit through longer, uncut performances, I suppose if I really was a fan of this festival or its music, I’d be slightly annoyed at the filmmakers for not letting the music speak for itself. Just when things get going, it seems, there’s always a cut to an interview clip; and even during the included performances the camera shots focus on members of the audience as much as members of the bands. For a community charity-fundraising event such as this, perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps this is a way of saying, "Hey, it’s not the most stellar line-up, or the most exciting festival, but this is a good place to bring the family, to relax, and to contribute to a good cause, if nothing else."
Um, yeah…if nothing else.
Of course, I could always be totally wrong about the Fingerlakes Grassroots Festival. After all, I don’t really know because I’ve never attended. But I am not wrong about the DVD. Like I said, buy it if you were there (I know I would). Otherwise, forget I even bothered to say something and go back to your regularly scheduled programming. Please.

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