Now in its 21st year of providing Chautauqua County with an outlet for creativity and a place to call home for an annual one-weekend celebration of the arts and outdoors, the Great Blue Heron Festival is back July 6-8.
Every year since 1992, David Tidquist, one of the original partners, has handled the booking of bands, graphics and promotion; while another partner, Julie Rockcastle, took charge of the logistics and infrastructure. Julie and her husband Steve also run Green Heron Growers, an organic farm on the Heron grounds in Sherman.
"Julie is probably the busiest person up there," said Tidquist. "It is a huge undertaking and she oversees everything that there is to do. Steve oversees the grounds, security and has been involved with the improvements to the main-stage. And, he has been a big part of the actual back breaking work that it takes to get it done. I don't know what we would have done without them this year."
The 21st annual Great Blue Heron Festival will be held July 6-8 in Sherman.
P-J file photo
According to Tidquist, for Rockcastle and him to be able to continue the tradition of the Great Blue Heron Festival for more than 20 years is a strange feeling.
"We're in rarified air here," said Tidquist. "I can vividly remember saying to Julie at the 10th Heron 'What about the 20th?' and we'd laugh because how could that ever happen? And, now here we are past that. I think once you see that an operation like this can be sustaining and successful it opens the possibility of it continuing even after we're gone."
All of the usual suspects like Donna The Buffalo, The Town Pants and Big Leg Emma will be appearing at this year's Heron. Fans of Big Leg Emma will have two chances to catch a performance. The band will have a main-stage performance on Sunday during the day, and will be playing a special set all night long in the Zydeco dance tent on Saturday evening.
A unique guest performance this year includes one of the first bands that ever played at the Heron. The Steam Donkeys are a country-rock-honkey tonk band that will play at the main-stage on Friday.
Those who are familiar with roots reggae band Mosaic Foundation may enjoy this year's set that includes Kevin Kinsella.
"Kinsella is a tremendous performer, Rasta genius and he will be heading up Mosaic Foundation," said Tidquist.
There are also some new additions to the lineup this year including Jim Avett, father of Scott and Seth of the Avett Brothers. According to Tidquist, Jim remembers his sons telling him about their original appearances at the Heron and what they thought of it. He believes that their words went a long way in Jim wanting to perform. In addition to participating in the songwriter's circle, Jim will appear on the main-stage and at the Cafe in the Woods on Saturday.
"He is just a wonderful songwriter and storyteller who sings a lot of great old songs that people might be familiar with," said Tidquist. "He has also written a few songs that have appeared on his sons' albums. So, Avett Brothers fans will recognize some of those."
Another band Tidquist is excited about is Lake Street Dive. The jazzy-pop quartet recently appeared on the radio show "A Prairie Home Companion." They will be on the main-stage on Saturday and will play a set at the cafe later that day.
"I guarantee that people are really going to like them," said Tidquist. "They have a jazz oriented vocalist who is just great to hear, and three other highly trained musicians."
The newest semi-headliner for this year's event is Toubab Krewe. The Asheville, N.C. based instrumental five-man band has played nationally at many festivals, including Bonnaroo.
"Coincidentally their new drummer is Donna The Buffalo's old drummer Vic Stafford," said Tidquist. "They have a percussion oriented world music type of feel that will get the crowd going."
Another new addition to the experience at the Heron includes changes made to the grounds and the main-stage.
"The main-stage is quite a bit bigger," said Tidquist. "The floor and roof and we added sound baffles. We moved the sound booth way back so it's not in the middle of the viewing area anymore."
Improvements to the drummers circle began last year and have continued this year.
"They are vastly enlarging that area," said Tidquist. "The work is being done by volunteers, and it looks great. I'm sure there will be a nice gathering back there this year too."
The festival itself would not be possible without the help of the 700 volunteers that make their way to the Heron each year. Some volunteers show up a month before the event to help make improvements and plan for the 8,000 plus festival-goers who arrive at the beginning of July. The hundreds of people are organized by Rockcastle and a team of volunteer coordinators. Volunteers are still being accepted. Admission is waived for those who volunteer for 9 hours during the festival and 12 hours for pre- or post-festival work. To find out more visit greatblueheron.com/gbh_volunteers.html.
"We have to create a whole community with everything that you might do normally in town," said Julie Rockcastle. "I don't think there is any better way to meet people and to feel good about coming to a festival than to volunteer. Once you volunteer you get a better understanding of the whole process and it helps us out immensely because there is absolutely no way you could do a festival without volunteers."
In addition to the live music, guests have the opportunity to enjoy a wide range of other activities including: square dancing, the late night Zydeco dance tent, a drummer's circle with a bon fire, instrument workshops, supervised swimming at the lake beach, hiking, biking, camping and vendor shopping. For more information visit greatblueheron.com or call 761-7190.