A Unique Community

Every year the Great Blue Heron Music Festival draws area residents and visitors to rural Amish country in Sherman to create a temporary community, and it’s mostly done by volunteers.

According to Julie Rockcastle, an original founding partner of the festival, between 10 and 15 percent of the Great Blue Heron festival population volunteers in some capacity. She attributes the willingness of attendees to volunteer to the fact that nine hours of volunteering throughout the weekend equals free admission and the opportunity to be part of the community effort. More than 500 volunteers will gather at the festival grounds on Thursday, July 4, for a potluck and orientation.

“Outside of the basic services such as tickets, parking and security, we have all these niceties that we’ve created,” said Rockcastle. “We recycle, have a both a teens and kids tent, a drum circle, a bathhouse and more for volunteers. We like to cover our bases so that everything runs like a little community.”

New volunteer opportunities are added each year, including the Silver Heron Lounge, which is geared toward the festival’s senior patrons.

“It’s a meeting place in a tent atop the hill that’s run by my good friend Diane Clark, of Fredonia, who is in her 70s now, but has been volunteering with us since the first year,” said Rockcastle. “She wanted to highlight the fact that we have a community of all different ages, and to create an opportunity for seniors to document their festival lineage or something they’d like to share for posterity.”

The 22nd Annual Great Blue Heron Music Festival is set for July 5-7. The festival features a wide variety of live music on three stages. A large main stage, which rests at the bottom of a hill, provides room for hundreds of listeners. The Tiger Maple Stage, located at the Cafe in the Woods, offers an intimate small stage. And, there is also a big top dance tent that swings all through the night.

The festival also features instrument workshops, dance lessons and activities for both children and teens. Plus, according to David Tidquist, an original founding partner of the festival who handles booking, new to this year’s festival is a New Orlean’s-style marching band, called 12/8 Path, consisting of a group of musicians who will walk throughout the grounds to entertain guests.

“Because the stage music doesn’t usually start until about 3 p.m., we decided to do something from noon to 3 p.m. (Friday) while people are setting up,” said Tidquist.

This year’s lineup features Rochester’s Campbell Brothers’ blues, rock and African-American gospel known as Sacred Steel, the swinging jazz and classic pop of Brooklyn’s Lake Street Dive, and the string picking of Pittsburgh’s Jayke Orvis and the Broken Band. They join Sugar Hill recording artists Donna the Buffalo, whose brand of danceable Americana rock has been a staple of the event since the start.

Big Leg Emma and Buffalo’s roots rocker Alison Pipitone head up a host of regional acts that include soul-jazz purveyors Smackdab, bluesman Ron Yarosz and the Vehicle, string band Driftwood and many others.

“The goal with anything I do is to capture people’s attention with a good variety of music, and offer something that they may not have seen before,” said Tidquist. “We’re hoping that what people take away from them is seeing something new and being turned onto a different genre of music. And, the other thing would be what you hope to take back from any little venture or vacation, which is some good memories and a warm feeling from meeting new people. It’s also an opportunity to become a part of this community that we’ve created.”

There is also a variety of activities to entertain festival-goers between performances. The grounds features swimming in a spring-fed pond, hiking and biking on forested trails and a festival midway which offers fresh-cooked fare, as well as artists and vendors.

The festival may be beginning its third decade, yet the core principles of the event remain the same. The organizers and volunteers strive 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, satisfying experience.

“Toward the end of the weekend we have so many people say, ‘This was the best Heron ever,’ and it just feels like every year is the best year ever” said Rockcastle.

Volunteers are still being accepted. However, Rockcastle recommends that those interested stop by the festival grounds, 2361 Waits Corners Road in Sherman, to sign up as opportunities are becoming limited. For more information call 761-7190 or visit www.greatblueheron.com.