Thousands Attend Rootwire Music Festival

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Four thousand people visited Rootwire Music Festival at Kaeppner’s Woods this past weekend in what organizers are calling the biggest and best one so far.

“It’s definitely gotten a lot bigger than the first few years,” said Rob McConnell, who plays bass guitar for Papadosio, the band who originally formed the festival in 2010. “It’s got to the point where we have such a good crew of professional people on the production team and the front gate that instead of having to do all that stuff like build the stage, all I have to do is hang out and play music and practice on what I’m here to do.”

The four-day festival attracted musicians and artists from all parts of the world, including Korea, Germany, Canada, Mexico and Austria.

This year was the first time Andrew Wagner of Georgia served as art director at Rootwire, although he has worked as a live artist, painting during musical performances, in previous years. “In the gallery, we have over 30 artists, not including a lot of our staff who are renegade artists,” he said.

McConnell said he believes the artists were better this year, as well as the musicianship and bands. “Every year we get a little bigger budget to work with, so that helps,” he noted. “So we’re trying to take baby steps, but I think we took a pretty nice step this year. With more people comes responsibility.”

“A few sketchy people show up, but that’s part of it,” McConnell said of the arrests made by local law enforcement over the weekend. “We just have to take care of it and get them out of here and tell them they’re not welcome. Those arrested were less than one percent, so it shows the maturity of people here.”

Papadosio started out as an Athens-based band seven-and-a-half years ago, but moved to North Carolina a little more than one year ago in an effort to branch out and expand even more. Yet they like to return to their roots in Southeastern Ohio each summer by organizing the festival.

Future plans for the band include several fall tour dates, followed by a six-week break in January to try to record a new album and get in the studio to make some new music. “We’ve been a band for seven-and-a-half years, and ever since we started, we’ve been non-stop, so we know each other really well,” McConnell said. “We don’t even have to speak to communicate. It’s really cool.”

Next summer, McConnell said he’d like to see the number of people at the festival capped at 5,000 to 6,000. “Anything bigger than that and the energy just starts to get weird,” he said.

Julie North of Columbus led a meditation workshop at Rootwire, and was one of several who offered lectures on the mind, body and spirit.

“I have never experienced such gratitude from a group of people,” she said of those attending a class she taught at Rootwire. “I had a good time when I was here, and I felt like they were extremely well-read and extremely well-educated. Matter of fact, I’ve never met a group of people who were better read than the people I spoke to.”

North led a meditation workshop on Friday about, “connecting the heart and building heart energy, connecting heart energy to other people’s heart energy, the sharing of that energy and connecting it to universal heart energy.” On Saturday, she lectured on some of the changes going on in the world and how it affects humans’ mental, physical and emotional well-being.

“Most people are taught they have to follow the rules, go to school, get a degree, work 30 years at a job, retire, and move to Florida, and that’s not really working for people very well,” she said. “The system we’ve been operating doesn’t really allow for personal wants, personal desires, and our educational system doesn’t really allow for that. It’s changing, but most of these people weren’t taught they’re allowed to have a choice, so the meditation workshop was centered around freedom of choice.”

Ehren Cruz is a co-producer of Rootwire and coordinates the ceremonial center and administrates the workshops and visionary artists, and said the festival has grown from 500 to 4,000 in just a few short years.

“Having things such as a strong environmental team to keep everything clean and expansive land to make sure people stay comfortable is important, along with things such as enhanced lighting in the forest and just making it sustainable,” Cruz said.

Staff and volunteers from the Appalachian Ohio Zero Waste Initiative worked to sort compostable items from recyclables with the goal of diverting 80 percent from the landfill.

This year was Eli Biajalee’s first time at Rootwire. He hails from Chicago and called the festival an amazing experience “because it gives you the ability to express yourself, truly as you are with no judgments and be completely accepted in a beautiful loving community.”

John Gregory contributed to this report.