Local bands play Roxbury Music Festival

By Pauline Liu
More than a year after the controversial Desiderata Festival was held at Stone Tavern Farm in Roxbury, owners John and Danielle Burrows are preparing for this weekend’s debut of the Roxbury Bluegrass Festival at their 400-acre horse farm.

John Burrows explained that Desiderata, which drew noise complaints from town residents, is a thing of the past.

“They asked to come this year, but we wanted to go with a more family-friendly, town-friendly concert, and I want to build this into an annual event for the next 20 years,” he said. “I want to be labeled, ’The Roxbury Music Festival.’”

One of the musical highlights of the festival will be Bill Keith and the Saturday Night Bluegrass Band. Keith is a five-string banjo player. He performed with the late Bill Monroe, who is widely regarded as the creator of bluegrass. He named his musical style after his home state of Kentucky. “Bill Keith was the partner of Bill Monroe, when bluegrass was founded, so a lot of people say, ‘He’s the number two man’ in bluegrass,” explained Burrows. “I love bluegrass, but I don’t know it that well. We’ll be getting an education this weekend.”

Other acts scheduled to play this weekend include Hickory Hill, The Folk Goddesses, Strike the Bell, No Brakes Bluegrass Band, Dorraine Scofield and Thunder Ridge, Mike Herman, and the Catskill Mountain Boys, who call themselves, “Portland’s finest all-Jewish, bluegrass duo.” The Oneonta-based group, Polish Moses is scheduled to perform on Sunday, while the locally based Tremperskill Boys, are slated to perform both Saturday and Sunday. 

Music hall space
To keep the noise level down, many of the bands are scheduled to perform in a 12,000-square-foot music hall on the Stone Tavern Farm property. According to Burrows, last year’s five-day-long Desiderata Fest brought in 1,600 ticket sales.

Including festival staff, attendance approached the town’s permit-free limit of 2,000. Roxbury’s 1969 mass gathering law, enacted in response to the historic Woodstock Festival, requires that event organizers obtain a permit for gatherings of over 2,000 in order to access water, bathrooms, and regulate noise. “I really don’t know what to expect as far as attendance,” explained Burrows. “So far, we have only 10 percent in advance ticket sales. If we are lucky to get a big turnout, I can go get a permit from the town.”

Contacted on Facebook, Desiderata Festival Organizer Kyle Shearman explained that the festival has been “canceled, so that organizers can focus their attention on other projects.” As of a few months ago, they were still searching for a site in upstate New York to hold their event.

Not just here
A search of online news archives, shows that the controversial festival was also plagued by noise complaints from neighbors, when it was held in Herkimer County in 2009 and Chenango County in 2008.

“I’m still getting endless e-mails from that crowd that went to Desiderata Festival,” said Burrows, “I tell them, I don’t know what happened to Desiderata, but we’ve got a great bluegrass festival they can come to.” The gates open at 4 p.m. on Friday and the music begins at 9 p.m.
For more information, check out, www.roxburybluegrassfestival.com.