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Virginia Key Grassroots Festival: Bands, Yoga, And Sustainability, Too


As of this morning, the second annual Virginia Key Grassroots Festival is already easy-grooving on Virginia Key Beach. The four-day event, which started last night, features bands, camping, yoga, and the usual array of slightly crunchy entertainment. But still, it's not just another run-of-the-mill hippie jam-down. Taking place at historic Virginia Key Beach Park, the festival's capitalized on the social justice history of that site, Miami's first black-only beach during segregation.

Now, Grassroots goes beyond another string of live music sets. Organizers have billed it an all-out "lifestyle festival," with a particular focus on sustainability. "It's a festival that engages all of the senses," says the festival's sustainability coordinator, Hilary Davis. "It's holistic entertainment."

The Miami festival is an offshoot of a larger series of festivals under the same brand, one in the summer in upstate New York and one each in the spring and fall in North Carolina. A group of musicians created the first New York edition in 1991 as an event to raises awareness of and raise funds to combat the AIDS crisis, and as the festival's expanded, so has its charitable efforts. "There's always been an altruistic focus to the festival as a whole, and definitely a group of people as founders who are very environmentally conscious," Davis says.

That's of particular concern at Virginia Key Beach, where officials are undertaking massive projects to preserve its delicate habitat. Raising awareness of these efforts by bringing in attendees, but without leaving behind much of a footprint, is part of the aim, Davis says. "We want to expose people to and get them aware of this natural resource so close to them, but make sure we're not damaging it while doing so," she says.

To that end, Grassroots' stages, campgrounds and entry and exit points are limited to specific parts of the park. All dishes, utensils, and such for concessions are made of recycled materials, and will be collected on site for recycling. Grassroots reuses its stages and other festival infrastructure, made out of environmentally conscious materials, from festival to festival instead of building new structures.

There's an eye to sustainability as an economic concern as well, Davis says. "Instead of using big companies with a national base, we've tried to use local Miami businesses to source food, paper wares, and sound equipment to support the local economy. Sustainability is not just a purely environmental issue," she says.

The four musical stages feature 40 largely improv-minded acts with a global flair, from Rusted Root to Inner Circle, to local heroes like Spam Allstars and ArtOfficial. Meanwhile, the Miami-based Zen Village sponsors an area for yoga and other healing arts, and a food area features healthy selections from across the globe.

But the biggest addition this year is a festival within a festival, a sustainability fair featuring outreach by local green-minded businesses and organizations. That means everyone from specifically environmentally minded nonprofits like Surfrider Miami and the Center for Biological Diversity, along with earth-friendly businesses like Loco Fixie Bikes and Ready-to-Grow Gardens. A daily rotating program presents speakers every afternoon, and revelers can visit tables for more information throughout the run of the festival.

"There's this really vibrant network of green businesses in Miami that don't have a big platform for exposure," Davis says, "so we want to offer these four days of community gathering and engagement as a way to broadcast."

The Grassroots Festival continues through this Sunday, Feb. 24, and both weekend and single-day tickets, with camping passes and without, are still available starting at $15. Visit virginiakeygrassroots.com for full performer lineups and ticket information.