Tapping into Roots & Rhythm
A Q&A with two of the festival's organizers
Jamie Stunkard and Gary Moss have been tuned into Roots and Rhythm since its founding in 2006.
From the beginning, Stunkard (S) was on the Roots and Rhythm committee. He’s had a part in shaping the community since 1981 with his health-food and deli spot, Nature’s Grace.
Moss (M) is an elementary school teacher who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a founding member of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. He became involved with Roots and Rhythm first as a volunteer, sorting recyclables.
The Festival, now in its 14th year, will take place on Saturday, June 14. I got to sit down with the committee members to learn more about the festival that gave Honesdale its rhythm.
TRR: How has Roots and Rhythm grown over the years?
S: The first year, I was asking around and the businesses were going, “Eh, I don’t know, this sounds a little shaky.” But now, everyone is like, “Oh yeah, Roots and Rhythm, it’s good for the community, and we want to support that.”
It’s become a name; you say Roots and Rhythm and people know what it is. Local families will make it a weekend for their relatives to visit. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder with people now; there’s like 5,000 people there… it’s [just] as many people [who live] in the town.
M: I’ve always tried to be a part of it… It has grown significantly, I have seen it, especially just talking to people that attend. We’re getting a wide reach. People are coming from all around.
I started out as a volunteer. Sorting recyclables, you know? The whole idea, like what Jamie does here with [Nature’s Grace], is about making the community a healthier community.
TRR: Speaking of healthy communities, Roots and Rhythm is known for its sustainability efforts and has been deemed a “near-zero waste” festival. How did you get there?
S: We did it in steps. It was probably about five or six years ago when we were first trying to do it… Stu and Cheryl Badner [of Corporate Waste Consultants], who are involved in a lot of sustainability efforts in the area, kept on pushing us. Every year, we just kind of took it a step further as far as… trying to get less and less in the dumpster and more of it in recycling. Now we got a farmer who picks up what’s compost[able] and puts it in his compost pile. The Department of Agriculture actually gave us a certificate award for it, because not many festivals are able to do that.
M: Zero footprint, right? When the festival is over, the next day, you walk in the park and you would’ve never known it was there. I even like to think that it’s not just a music festival and an art festival, but there’s that degree of education. You see it with the volunteers who are helping monitor the processing of the waste—I don’t even like to use the word waste, because it’s compostable material. This [foodwaste] can get used again [once it turns into soil]. It’s a positive thing.
TRR: The festival is free for the public. How do you make that happen every year?
M: [The festival] doesn’t just happen in a vacuum, it needs community members. It needs folks. Roots and Rhythm is always looking for new volunteers, new sponsors, because it’s a free festival.
S: Then there’s the raffle—we call it the foot-long ticket. There’s all sorts of prizes from around the area, [and] part of it is just cash in hand, like a $500 prize. We draw out the raffle tickets in the evening. The guitar is its own separate raffle.
M: I began building custom electric guitars several years ago, but have been tinkering with guitars for over 40 years. I built this year’s raffle guitar in the Fender style because it is iconic, familiar to people and a personal favorite. All of the cutting and shaping is done by hand, the old fashioned way, in my workshop.
TRR: What can we expect to see this year?
S: Of course, the music on the main stage, that’s always the big thing. We always have a post-party afterwards. We get someone from the main stage, pick somewhere downtown and throw a big party. We’re still working on where that’ll be this year.
M: Last year there was actually two different events.
S: Yes, there will probably be two again. One goal of the festival is to provide a free concert, to provide music that is something from outside the area, bringing in names that people aren’t familiar with, but some bands that are really up-and-coming. The Black Lillies, [Wayne Hancock, Rosie Flores and The Chris O’Leary Band] are going to be the headliners.
M: [The music is] consistently just really great. It used to be called alt-country and now it’s more Americana. Honesdale, to me, is a “Small Town, USA” type of town. That’s part of the draw to me: the thought of having these kinds of bands, Americana bands that really have their roots in all of the genres that make American music, is so great.
We’ve had Sara Borges and the Broken Singles a couple years ago; [that] was fantastic. Larkin Po last year, he had the slide guitar going and the dobro, it feels good and it draws a wide audience. It’s a whole family-friendly kind of thing. Grandpa could be over there, grooving and tapping his foot, all the way down to the little grandkids dancing on the grass. It’s universal, a satisfying-to-everyone kind of experience. It’s not narrow.
S: In the morning before the main events on the main stage, we also feature musicians in the area on Main Street. We have different venues up and down Main Street; that way, we can draw in the businesses and the people coming into town will be exposed to the town itself.
What we’ve been trying to do these last couple years is include some artists who are doing their work, live, right there at the festival. Each year what we have what we call our visual artist, this year it’s going to be Sam Green who’s from Basin and Main. A lot of her work is using sustainable products, and she’s actually going to be creating an installation for the festival.
M: She had an installation called the Paper Caves. The exhibit visited Miami and there’s two going on in NYC right now. She’s getting recognized nationally, so it’s neat to have her as our hometown artist.
TRR: This is the 14th year. What does Roots and Rhythm 20 look like to you?
S: Maybe some year we’ll be totally [powered by] sustainable energy. Right now, we power the whole thing with a generator powered by bio-diesel. There are festivals out there that are solar powered, but right now it’s kind of cost prohibiting. Maybe down the line it’ll become more available.
Last year, someone built a bunch of birdhouses and put some solar panels on them. People would put their phone in there and charge their phones.
M: I’m going to go ahead and say this, I don’t know what Jamie’s going to think. How about a two day event?
S: Yeah, let’s go for it.