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When a new music festival pops up each time a promoter plays golf with a soft drink executive, it's comforting to know that a grassroots, community-conscious effort like Smilefest, slated for July 22-25, in Union Grove, NC, can not only survive, but thrive for ten years. Headlined by Galactic, the Derek Trucks Band, Yonder Mountain String Band, Burning Spear, Leftover Salmon, Acoustic Syndicate, and Keller Williams, Smilefest 2004 will feature more than 40 acts on three stages over the course of its long weekend.

Once again, Smilefest will be held at fabled and picturesque Van Hoy Farms, the near 50-year host of a globally respected international fiddlers' convention, and the storied site of the original meeting between legendary mandolin innovator David Grisman and Grateful Dead co-founder Jerry Garcia. The two became fast friends and prolific collaborators. And their combined folk, swing, rock, blues, jazz, classical, bluegrass, and jug band backgrounds opened the door for what today is termed "newgrass" by the latest generation of acoustic musicians. Successful artists like Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Acoustic Syndicate each owe a debt of gratitude to the partnership that began on the hallowed grounds that now host Smilefest.

In the spirit of that fateful meeting, and recognizing the innovative beauty that can derive from the juxtaposition of diverse ideas and sounds, Smilefest is committed to providing the absolute best in eclectic world-class entertainment, as well as a consistent musical message of diversity, inclusion, and shared responsibility. That commitment is evident in the wide array of this year's offerings from the fields of blues, alt-country, reggae, folk, bluegrass, rock, funk, world music, newgrass, and improvisational jam. And that message is what tends to set Smilefest apart from many others within the burgeoning festival community.

Established in 1995 by a loose collection of friends and acquaintances with a shared love and respect for music, Smilefest has evolved into a well-respected, socially responsible organization that seeks, above all else, to entertain, while also constructively spreading it's palpable positive energy beyond its festival gates. In an effort to harness and share that energy, the tenth annual Smilefest will include a robust expansion of its children's area, the Kids' Universe, and the introduction of a unique exhibition of worthy non-profit organizations, the Festi-VOL Village.

Long seen as a family-oriented gathering, Smilefest has always provided interesting, respectful, fun children's activities that both entertain and educate. This year, the inaugural Kids' Universe will consist of "planets" Environment, Service, Art, and Recreation. Far from a stuffy classroom setting, children will explore the interdependent relationship between diverse people, ideas, and activities. Featuring nature walks, hands-on musical demonstrations, a canned food drive parade, free play, science programs, art projects, and a slate of visiting musicians, The Kids' Universe is sure to provide something to capture the interest of every child.

As the food drive parade will be for children, the Festi-VOL Village will stress the importance of responsible community action among adults. The Village will be a unique and vital interactive experience, providing revered non-profits the opportunity to educate and recruit socially concerned attendees to serve their causes once they return home. Capitalizing on the charitable involvement of many Smilefest artists, the Village will also feature meet-and-greet opportunities that should enhance the area's foot traffic, thus benefiting the exhibitors. Participating groups will include Habitat for Humanity, America's Second Harvest, the Appalachian Trail Conference, the Waterkeepers Alliance, Carolina Donor Services, public radio station WNCW, and HeadCount, a national jam band-based voter registration concern.

The Village's most unique feature will be the staging of an on-site Habitat for Humanity build, which will encourage festival attendees to join in the assembly of several transportable structures for use by local Habitat families. Smilefest construction volunteers will be able to directly affect the quality of life of these families, while also learning the exact techniques necessary to help contribute to whole-house builds in their own home communities.

This commitment to serve the community beyond the festival gates is a reflection of the folks that make up Smilefest, organizers and attendees alike. According to director Bob Robertson, "Smilefest might have started out nine years ago as a bunch of friends that wanted to find a way to share some really good music. But just like those friends have become vital and valuable contributors to the community in general, Smilefest has evolved, too." Robertson adds, "We're thrilled that the music that brought us together still serves as a catalyst for action and a reason for folks to share ideas. The fact that the whole experience can open folks' eyes to the need to help others and educate kids just seems like a natural progression that we're more than happy to help along."

For full festival details, camping information, artist bios, and schedules, visit A limited number of $85 full-event tickets remain available on the website. They may also be purchased by calling (888) 594-8499. Tickets will be available at the gate for $100.

JamBase | North Carolina
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[Published on: 6/4/04]

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