SHERMAN - When a few good friends decided to have a holiday picnic in the rolling hills of Chautauqua County back in the summer of 1992, they never expected they were laying the groundwork for a summer tradition that brings back thousands of music lovers each year.
But that is exactly what the Great Blue Heron Festival has become - an annual celebration of music and friendship. With a wide variety of live music on three stages - including the intimate Tiger Maple Stage at the Cafe in the Woods and a big top Dance Tent that swings through the night - plus workshops, drum circles and kids and teen activities, the festival provides many ways to enjoy the Independence Day weekend July 6, 7 and 8. And that is why so many music fans come back year after year, sharing the event with family and friends while camping out amongst the sunny fields and shady woods that grace the property.
This year's lineup includes the festival debut of Nat Geo recording artists Toubab Krewe, whose electrifying hybridization of African polyrhythm and Western rock has been described as "the national music of a country with no name that appears on no map." South Carolina balladeer Jim Avett is also new to the event, although his sons Scott and Seth - a.k.a. the Avett Brothers - have performed here several times before. These acts join Sugar Hill recording artists Donna the Buffalo, whose highly contagious brand of danceable roots-rock has been a crowd-pleasing staple of the event for over 20 years. Other returning performers include Vancouver Celt-rockers the Town Pants, Ithaca's reigning master of roots reggae Kevin Kinsella Martha's Vineyard rhythm kings Entrain and the globally infused folk pop of Ithaca's Sim Redmond Band. Jamestown barnyard stompers Big Leg Emma head up a host of local favorites that include soul-jazz purveyors Smackdab, high strung bluegrass band Old Dawg, Buffalo's premiere Latin dance band La Krema and many more.
Although day passes are available, most attendees choose to stay for the weekend, while others avail themselves of local hotels, motels and B&Bs. Families are encouraged to attend with their children and teens. Everyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
Between performances, go for a swim at the spring-fed pond, take a hike or bike along forested trails, or just relax with coffee at the cozy Caf in the Woods. The festival midway offers an exotic variety of fresh-cooked fare, as well as artists and vendors offering a wide variety of clothing, jewelry, musical instruments and other gifts.
As the festival begins their third decade, the core principles of the event remain the same - to present a wide assortment of original music from regional and national performers, to create a magical space where festival goers can interact with the artists and each other, and to foster a positive environment that ensures a safe and satisfying experience.
For tickets and more information, go to www.greatblueheron.com.