A destination: The stars of folk, roots and rock are all coming to perform at the Dunegrass & Blues Festival this July 31-Aug. 3, along with an estimated 6,000 concert-goers per day.
At least, thats the hope of impresario Stephen Volas of Grassroots Productions, who is counting on a good turnout as a reward for bringing the best roster of entertainers yet to the 16th annual incarnation of the festival in the Village of Empire.
The Dunegrass is spending $350,000 on artistic talent this year, and thats a lot of money to take a chance on, so Im really hoping that people will come out and support the festival, he says.
This year, the Dunegrass is hosting roughly 75 acts, with other big hitters including Steel Pulse, Todd Snider, Harry Manx, Donna the Buffalo and a wide range of regional favorites.
In addition to supersizing its roster, the Dunegrass is also expanding its layout: In addition to a main stage, there will be a new dance tent, with stages on each end. The dance tent stages will be 60 by 200 feet long and located about 650 feet from the main stage, Volas says. It will be a good place to cool off in the day and a great place to dance at night.
Upsizing the Dunegrass has been nerve-wracking at times for Volas. This spring, he had some concerns that the festival would be upstaged by the huge Rothbury Festival south of Ludington. I was a little worried about competing with Rothbury, but I went down to the festival and everything has turned out fine. I think the Dunegrass has enough different performers to draw its own crowd.
Another concern is an injunction being sought by a neighbor at the 35-acre festival site thats located just north of Empire. The festival is close enough to the village that you can walk to the beach or local restaurants and shops.
The festival has been hugely well-received by Empire and the village wants us to stay, Volas says.
But the continuing expansion of the festival means that the Dunegrass may be held on a 60-acre site near Empires airport next year, with a potential of having 150 acres total for camping and parking.
In the meantime, Volas is trying to head-off concerns over congestion at this years event. The thing were doing this year to counterbalance the traffic and camping congestion is offering both at an area thats offsite from the festival, he says. Were also expanding our shuttle bus service to get people to and from the site.
The prestige of the Dunegrass is clearly on rise, as evidenced by the fact that Volas is now being contacted by top performers -- such as Arlo Guthrie, Ritchie Havens and Bela Fleck -- with requests to perform at the festival.
Hes also tweaked what has traditionally been a folk and blues festival with some new directions, including the rock and jam-band sound of Buckethead, who performs in a mask with a KFC bucket on his head. I really think that Buckethead is going to be the most eccentric artist weve ever had, Volas says.
Our reggae selections are also going to be great with Steel Pulse and the Meditations, he adds. And this year were also featuring several amazing female acts with Grace Potter, Donna and the Buffalo, Jill Jack and Rachel Davis. Sunday will be more of a roots, bluegrass and folk day.
Other innovations will include a mist tent, a Human Rights Awareness Tour fashion show, a Kids Tent, and a Green Ticket, with $1 of each going to support environmental causes.
For the future, Volas is considering holding the festival in the second week of August next year. The Dunegrass has always been held the first weekend in August, but that coincides with the TC Film Festival and also tends to be the hottest weekend of the year.
Whatever the case, hes seen steady growth in the festival over the past couple of years. In 2006, the Dunegrass had just $20,000 in online ticket sales, a figure that increased to $150,000 last year. Weve seen some great increases but are still encouraging people to buy their tickets in advance if they want a discount over the price at the gate.
Weekend and single-day Dunegrass passes are available at www.dunegrassfestival.com