GrassRoots Festival Rocks Virginia Key in March

If you didn’t know it already, here’s a friendly reminder that Miami is one of the great global music capitals of the 21st Century. Latin and Afro-Caribbean beats waft in the tropical air, casting spells on dancers, musicians and audiophiles alike. Wander the city on any given weekend night, and you’ll soon find that you are no longer sure where you are, geographically: The streets vibrate with techno, deep house, rap, and reggaeton; and oscillate with salsa, bachata, merengue, and hip-hop. Miami, rivaling an earlier era in New York City, is now — more than any city — the cultural melting pot of the U.S., brimming with Caribbean, Latin, African and European influences.

Hyper-aware of South Florida as a growing cultural hub, the organizers of an annual summer GrassRoots Festival in bucolic upstate New York launched the Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance in 2012, choosing Miami’s iconic barrier island, Virginia Key, for their southernmost expansion in winter. (They also put on a spring festival in North Carolina.)

The choice has worked out about as well as anyone could have hoped. The tenth edition, March 6-12 on Virginia Key, is the biggest by far. “We are so honored and excited to celebrate the 10th Anniversary this year, having started in 2012 at the beautiful and iconic Historic Virginia Key Beach Park,” Russ Friedell, GrassRoots’ marketing director, says in an interview.

Unlike popular, more landlocked music summits such as Coachella and SXSW, Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival attendees get to sway under breezy palm trees near Biscayne Bay. “The secluded and serene park features sandy beaches and miles of nature trails abutting the pristine, calm waters along the Atlantic Ocean,” says Friedell.

Along with the hiking and maritime views, the festival offers live music, dance, dining, yoga, live art workshops, a sustainability fair, children’s activities and camping. “This year’s lineup focuses heavily on a wide variety of some of the best world, national and regional artists, and the magic that is created when these communities interact is indescribably amazing,” says Friedell. “Our team feels that the entire lineup is incredible this year.”

In a three-day musical lineup, highlights are almost too numerous to mention. But here goes: Marlow Rosado, a Latin Grammy-winning Puerto Rican salsa composer, producer and musician; Cuban Afro-jazz composer and singer Daymé Arocena (featured on NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert); Venezuela’s cuatro folk master Jorge Glem; and Vodou rocker RAM, from Haiti.

There’s also Afro-Brazilian percussion collective Miamibloco, Jamaican roots reggae exponents The Resolvers, and gypsy-jazz swing band Tamboka. Last year’s attendees will see return visits from global synth pop combo Afrobeta, Latin Grammy-winning Cuban-American singer-songwriter Pepe Montes Conjunto, electro-house-pop producer Dom Martyr, traditional Cuban folklore group Cortadito, and musicians from the School of Rock: N. Miami. And it wouldn’t be GrassRoots without the band that started the whole project 31 year ago, Donna The Buffalo, bringing their danceable zydeco Americana to the waterfront.

Guests can prepare for their festival experience by playlisting some of the other artists on the lineup in advance: The Bones of JR Jones, Munir Hossn, Eva Peroni, Richie Stearns, Machaka, Jose Albizu Jazz Sextet, Tand, Cosmic Collective, Fabi, Matthew Sabatella String Band, Rebel Love, Vicious Fishes, Maddy Walsh & Miami Whizzdom, and more.

The nonprofit GrassRoots organization invites people of all ages to take part in a weeklong event that promotes cross-cultural music education and collaboration while fostering connectedness among its guests and ties that last year round. Kids under 12 are admitted free of charge (but are required to be accompanied by a parent or guardian). “It is amazing to witness three generations of families (grandparents, parents, children) enjoying the same festival together,” says Friedell.

Music festivals large and small go back centuries, through wars, pandemics and recessions, and they all seem to take on characteristics of their surroundings. Virginia Key GrassRoots has acquired some of South Florida’s rhythmic soul by drawing on Miami’s international music and dance culture to produce a blended experience that seeks to connect, revive, and inspire attendees in a setting the organizers call “a music lover’s paradise.”

This article originally appeared in PureHoney Magazine. Check them out here.

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Amanda Moore

Amanda Moore is the founder of Fovea Creative.