A Musical Sampler at the Great Blue Heron Fest

By Alyce Wilson
July 9, 1998)

SHERMAN, N.Y. -- Despite continuous rain on Saturday, the seventh annual Great Blue Heron Festival rolled on, with music for every taste, whether folk or world beat, roots rock or reggae, jazz or swing.

Albert "Moon-tee" Sinquah performs on pow wow drums
photo by Alyce Wilson


The festival has expanded over the years, taking on an arts festival feel, with crafters selling everything from funky dresses to hand-made drums.

Over the years, the Great Blue Heron has been a magnet for Western New York talent, such as 10,000 Maniacs and Rusted Root. This year, the line-up felt like the world's old-home week, as bands from as far away as Arizona offered their music from a tiny stage at the woods' edge.

Friday's bands included the Knuckleheads, The Funnest Game, The Nevins and Friends, The Steam Donkeys, Tim O'Brien, Quetzl, and Donna the Buffalo. Along with Keith Secola and the Wild Band of Indians, Donna the Buffalo was a co-headliner of the festival.

Arriving on a rain-soaked Saturday afternoon, I couldn't hold onto my gloom. Renowned Louisiana musician Preston Frank destroyed the dampness with sunny zydeco music perfect for dancing. By the end of their set, the rain felt refreshing.

Then Donna the Buffalo took over, with their blend of string band, zydeco, Tex-Mex , Cajun and country blues. Easy to see why this Trumansburg, N.Y., band has just signed with Sugar Hill Records. That night, as the Zydeco Experiment, they jammed with Preston Frank in the dance tent.

While Donna the Buffalo commanded the main stage, tribal rock band Psoas lit up the dance tent. With a flute-infused airy rock, they had the audience swaying like a creative movement exercise.

When the rain became more persistant, the main stage act Y'All moved to the dance tent. But they had to wait to play their "old time country for the 21st century," because of a power failure. In the meantime, audience members launched an impromptu drum circle in the dark, for a stomping, shouting good time.

Y'all was ... interesting. Kind of like a Spam and jelly sandwich. But I wasn't enjoying them enough to take another bite, so I waited until the rain gave up and the Afro-pop group Sankai took over the main stage.

This Boston band, whose name means "happy/positive," was the perfect solution to rainy day blues. With a blend of drums and up-beat lyrics, they convinced the crowd to "move it, shake it" until twilight.

Alison Pipitone and the Cash Cows, a Buffalo-based group, provided something like a mix between Joni Mitchell and Joan Jett, with soul-shaking lyrics and a rock-steady beat.

But the evening wasn't complete until Keith Secola and the Wild Band of Indians dragged everyone out of their rain shelters for a blend of Native American rhythms and good pure rock.

Secola's vocals had the raw ghostly power of Neil Young, as he sang his underground hit "Indian Car," a favorite on reservations in the United States and Canada since its release in 1987. Singer, songwriter, electric and acoustic guitarist and flutist, Secola draws from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and even hard rock.

An Anishinabe Indian from the Mesabi Iron Range of Northern Minnesota, Secola's rock blended well with the pow wow leanings of Albert "Moon-tee" Sinquah, a Hopi/Choctaw Indian from Arizona. Sinquah learned pow wow singing and drumming in South Dakota. In one amazing tune, Sinquah belted out pow wow vocals to a hard rock background.

By the end of the weekend, Secola and the Wild Band of Indians had attracted many new fans. I was far from surprised to discover later that Secola has opened for such major acts as Neil Young, David Bowie and Patti Smith.

Other bands featured on Saturday were Quetzl and Zeta Cauliflower.

Sunday started quietly with a songwriter's circle, then a children's song hour. Jennie Stearns woke the campers up gently with her breathy folk. Afterwards, The Hix brought their old-time folk humor to the stage. Banjoist Keith Brand was also the weekend's Master of Ceremonies.

World beat band One World Tribe made magic with their danceable blend of jazz, reggae and Latin, not to mention some flashy guitar work. "We are one," they had the crowd chant. "And mean it," they added. The feet would just not keep still for this group, although campers were packing for the journey home.

Later, the lead singer told me that One World Tribe is instrumental in planning a very promising musicfest called Grape Jam, to be held from August 7 to 9 in Wattsburg, Pa. (near Erie). In addition to One World Tribe, the festival will feature 50 bands of varying styles, with headliners The Tragically Hip, God Street Wine, Mojo Nixon, Merle Saunders, Yellowman and The Dude of Life. Visit www.goerie.com/grapejam or call (814) 452-4907 for more details.

The weekend ended with a reprise of Keith Secola. Now that the audience knew their songs, they sang along to fun tunes like "Fry Bread." And the countrified rock of The Funnest Game brought the festival to a stomping end.

Throughout the weekend, workshops in yoga, creative movement, and musical instruments -- as well as children's activities -- were available, along with swimming on a lifeguarded beach.

For info on next year's festival, visit www.greatblueheron.com.

A sad note: Chris Petrick of the Summer Sun Festival informs me that the remaining venues for this year's Summer Sun are cancelled. Better luck next year.

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