At the Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance, don’t ask where you can find the VIP tent. This isn’t Art Basel.
Rather, Grassroots, a four-day festival starting Thursday at Virginia Key Beach Park, is designed to showcase musical and cultural diversity. The second annual event presents an array of reggae and world music bands, including Rusted Root, Suenalo, MC Yogi, Donna the Buffalo, Spam Allstars, Johnny Dread, Locos Por Juana and others. There will also be children’s events, art projects, food, massage and yoga tents and a parade.
“Reggae music, like the blues, it is part of a fabric that makes up most of other genres. The healthy things that uplift your spirit and that is what Grassroots is about,” said Ian Lewis from Inner Circle, one of the headliner acts on the bill.
“We also love the idea of artists and musicians being on the same level of the attendees. We don’t have big VIP areas or walls or fences. We want the experience to be just as fun and educational for everyone who is a part of it. We all eat together, play together, dance together, and therefore learn together,” adds Sara Waters, from Shakori Hills, one of the event’s sponsors.
But beyond the music, the site itself was chosen to reflect its history and potential.
At one point, 60-plus years ago, this area of Virginia Key was declared Miami-Dade County’s “Colored Only” beach. Now owned by the city of Miami, the beach withstood attempts at commercial development and the 82-acre park is now preserved and overseen by the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust. The park contains nature trails, recreational facilities and museum structures.
“You can see the stages, the ocean and the Miami skyline all at once. Plus, it is a nice spot for camping, enjoying nature and having enough space to put on a large festival. But, when we got deeper into planning the event, we realized just what a special place it is,” said Waters. “We think that it’s a perfect place to celebrate our diversity and beauty as human beings, all getting along and enjoying the beauty of nature, art, music, and dance together. It is our mission overall, but it is emphasized by the history of this site as one of separation, and now we want to be a part the opposite movement, of bringing everyone together.”
Lewis, 59, formed Inner Circle with his brother Roger in 1968 when both were teenagers in Kingston, Jamaica. The reggae group broke up in 1980 after lead singer Jacob Miller died in a car accident but a reformation in the mid-80s led to Inner Circle’s most popular stateside song, Bad Boys. That 1987 single served as the theme song for Fox’s long-running Cops series. The up-tempo tune will likely make its appearance at Grassroots, but it’s just one link in the Inner City’s musical chain.
“It is found over time that songs, the melodies and the different scales all put you at a sort of peace. When you take a bath you play music, everyone is walking around with headphones all the time, it is essential for life. The essence of it is the music is a strong part of the dialogue of life,” said Lewis.
Waters picks up the beat.
“We want people to say, ‘Oh, you can do that with a banjo?’ or ‘I’ve never even seen one of those instruments,’ or ‘This isn’t what I normally listen to, but wow, it’s really great.’ We want to draw people into the festival with a taste of the music that they might already know or be familiar with, but we want them to leave inspired to find out more about new bands and genres they never knew existed,” she said.
Proceeds after expenses will go to the Virginia Key Beach Trust, Zen Village, Community Arts and Culture Inc, and Moksha Family Arts Collective.