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All-star line up at Roots & Rhythm festival
Day-long event to benefit Vincent Village
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
The Roots & Rhythm Festival — an all-day event happening Saturday, August 16 at Headwaters Parks — showcases a diverse line-up of national and regional talent, and festival organizer Bruce Lehman is still reeling at how quickly the show came together. “We just came up with the idea eight months ago,” he laughs. “Now it’s just a few weeks away.”
The line up includes eight bands and artists, including Possum Trot Orchestra, Ty Causey, The SwingBillies, and Kenny and Amanda Smith. “I would say about 85 – 90% of the bands either have local ties or are local,” adds Lehman. “Kenny Smith grew up playing in the area and he and Kenny Taylor got down together and are still really good friends. Goldmine Pickers are regional. They’re out of the Goshen area…”
The festival is a benefit for Vincent Village, a Fort Wayne organization that helps homeless families. “We provide shelter, basic needs, food clothing…whatever a family needs,” says Executive Director Ann Helmke. “They have to be homeless and have to have children to qualify for their services. Whoever comes to our door, as long as they meet that criteria, we try to work with them.”
The organization has been around since 1989, and in addition to its own services works with other social organizations in town to provide counseling, education, training, medical services and more. “We serve way more kids than we do adults,” Helmke says. “68% of the people we serve here are children.”
This is Vincent Villages first signature fund raiser. Lehman, who sits on the board at Vincent Village, says the idea of a music festival appealed to him because it was different. “I looked at the experiences I’ve had with benefits over the years,” he says. “There’s the golf outings, there’s the wine tastings, there’s the silent auctions, there’s the live auctions… and then you kind of repeat all that. But this is a little out of the ordinary.”
Lehman, who runs a marketing firm, The Lehman Group, with co-owner Marcia Bates, says he goes to a lot of music festivals with his wife, and the Roots & Rhythm festival is sort of a miniature of those. The music runs the gamut from the smooth R & B of Ty Causey to MOJO and the Bayou Gypsies’ zydeco-flavored sound to the blues of the Bill Lupkin Blues band. “According to people I’ve talked to in the blues field, Lupkin’s a harp (harmonica) master,” Lehman says. “He’s known as one of the best harp players we’ve got around right now.”
One national artist on the line up with a Fort Wayne connection is Arvel Bird, a classically trained violinist who was very active in Fort Wayne’s music scene before leaving in 1985. Bird and Lehman knew each other during Bird’s time in Fort Wayne, and Lehman has followed his career since then. Now living in Oklahoma City, Bird has released 11 CDs since 2001, and his original music is eclectic to say the least. “I trained as a classical violinist for 11 years, and then I decided I wanted to know more about music,” says Bird, who was a four time Indiana State Fiddle Champion during his Fort Wayne years. “I started to learn to play by ear and started sampling the genres of Celtic music and old time mountain music, folk music, bluegrass music and of course, country and blues and rock and jazz… All those genres now blend together when I write music and perform, which is best described as global/Native American fusion.”
Bird is of Scottish and Native American (Southern Paiute) ancestry, and calls himself a fiddler, a flutist, and a storyteller. “I like to write music about birds and animals and then I like to talk about the totem powers of these birds and animals according to the medicine of Native America people,” he says. “I like to talk about the history and tradition of Native American fiddle playing, and I’ll be playing some of that music, too.” (It turns out the history of Native American fiddle playing is pretty expansive. Bird explains that in the 1600s, Jesuit priests brought the instrument over to teach Native American children how to play so there would music at Mass, and the Americans adopted it as their own).
What the artists on the bill have in common is that they all play from their own roots. “All of these groups are really into giving back,” Lehman says. “It’s just a way to highlight a lot of great music for a day, with bands that people already have a great understanding of their virtuosity and musicianship.”
John Minton of the roots/blues/folk band Possum Trot Orchestra agrees that it’s a way of giving back. “We’re very community-minded,” he says. “Most local musicians depend on the support of the community and they return that. It’s kind of a cooperative effort, and its becoming more and more that way as more music on the national and international level is this kind of this manufactured, American Idol stuff that people don’t feel any contact to. And roots music in particular is very much community oriented. It’s folk music or the people’s music, and I think that’s a very good match.”
On one level, the name “Roots & Rhythm” reflects the diversity of the artists on the bill, but it also has another meaning. “When you lose your roots, you use your rhythm, and that’s exactly what happens to homeless people,” Lehman says. “We want to restore the roots and restore the rhythm, and at the same time have this musical event that celebrates our diversity and welcoming community.”
Roots & Rhythm, featuring:
The SwingBillies — 2 pm
Possum Trot Orchestra — 3 pm
Goldmine Pickers— 4 pm
Ty Causey — 5 pm
Arvel Bird — 6 pm
Kenny & Amanda Smith — 7 pm
Bill Lupkin Blues Band— 8 pm
MOJO & the Bayou Gypsies — 9 pm
Saturday, August 16
2 pm – 11 pm
All Ages. Food & Drink by Mad Anthony's
Tickets: Pre-sale - $20; at gate — $25; ages 10 and under free with adult; ages 11-15 — $10 only w/adult.
Festival Seating. Bring your blankets and lawnchairs. Sorry, no coolers.
Buy tickets online at www.rootsandrhythm.org or call (260) 456-4172 or visit one of the following locations: Wooden Nickel on North Anthony; the Jam Crib (3319 N Anthony Blvd 422-1654).
For more information on bands (and to buy tickets), visit www.rootsandrhythm.org
For more information on Vincent Village, visit www.vincentvillage.org