Oliver Mtukudzi, one of Zimbabwe’s leading artists, and an international superstar, served as a fatherly figure Friday night during his set at the GrassRoots Grandstand Stage. Not only did he speak to an adoring audience about respect for fathers, and for peace, but provided the festival’s local luminaries–the Sim Redmond Band–with a sense of familial connection, musically and spiritually. That profound sense of respect for music, and for others permeated GrassRoots on its second full day.
Mtukudzi, better known as “Tuku,” performed with a small band of only three others, but the sound, shimmering and textured, entranced the audience that had gathered at the Grandstand Stage. “From where I am from,” he said towards the end of a set that lasted almost 90-minutes, “you are not allowed to sing unless you have something to say.”
The common thread among the bands at GrassRoots, now in its 20th year, was that bands do speak honestly about themselves, and are rooted in respect. Sim Redmond, for instance, who performed just before Mtukudzi, nodded to the singer and guitarist from Zimbabwe, and celebrated his bandmate’s birthday with the same love and joy.
Redmond’s band drew from Zimbabwe, but also might be considered part of a continuity of Ithaca Sound. Featuring a sunny groove, SRB drew from 70s pop at times; “Road Sign,” a new song from the band’s recent release “Open the Door” lifts a rift from “Thunder Road” and makes it the SRB’s own.
Elsewhere longtime favorites returned to GrassRoots. Pittsburgh’s Rusted Root performed late in the evening on the Infield Stage, the identical slot they had taken just last year. After brief absences, the phenomenal “Sacred Steel” family The Campbell Brothers and the inspirational folk punk of Blackfire returned as well.
Two local favorites stole the night in a day of festive reunions (Kathy Ziegler was joined on backup vocals by longtime friends Jennie Lowe Stearns and Mary Lorson, as well as The Post’s own Amelia Sauter and Leah Houghtaling; The Makepeace Brothers reunited with each other). Two acronyms, JATAS and JBB– offered blistering sets.