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Check out the upcoming Slyfest at Griffis Sculpture Park in Cattaraugus County

LADY OF THE LAKE –– Sculptures are scattered throughout the landscape at Griffis Sculpture Park in Ashford, the site of Slyfest 7. Photos by Lizz Schumer.
ASHFORD — The Griffis Sculpture Park in Ashford will host its first live music and performing arts act in eight years Sept. 7 – 8, as the Slyboots School of Music and Art staff teams up with the Ashford Hollow Foundation to present Slyfest 7.

Slyfest is an annual collaborative fundraiser put on to benefit the Slyboots school, located in downtown Buffalo. According to the school’s website, Slyboots is a “cultural arts education through avenues of world music, dance and art” that “strives to expose students of all ages to master musicians, dancers, performers and artists as a way to inspire creativity and foster respect for all humans in our global village.”

Griffin Brady, founder of both Slyboots and Slyfest, first started the festival in Fredonia, where he attended college at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

ROOM WITH A VIEW –– Participants at Slyfest 7 will have the hills of Ashford to overlook as they attend workshops and learn new skills.
“It was traditionally a three-day camping event, with a ton of art and music. This year, we’re scaling it down to get our foot in at the sculpture park. It really is the ideal location. It’s very music and art-oriented,” he said.

Brady, who called the sculpture park his “sanctuary,” said that the festival and Griffis Sculpture Park are a natural fit for one another and that he has been working to get the two organizations together for several years.

“I’ve been going to the Griffis Sculpture Park since I first came to Western New York to go to school,” Brady noted. “I first approached [founder] Simon [Griffis] a couple of years back when I was putting together Slyfest 4 and he was very encouraging, but it didn’t really come together then. The timing wasn’t right. But I’ve been very involved with the park, teaching at the Essex Center downtown and going out to the park at every opportunity. It’s a very inspiring place and it’s right in line with what I feel is important. This year, I decided to get this show on the road, put together a proposal and a budget and pitched it to Damien, the director of the park.

“The thing is, there hasn’t been live music at the park in eight years and, before that, it had been since they had people like the 10,000 Maniacs and the Band there in the early 90s,” he continued. “Part of their nonprofit charter is that they’ll host performance art and I said to them, ‘We’re here to help you fulfill your charter.’ I think, in the past, those performances had really been just outside vendors coming in and putting something on, but [Slyboots] is not like that. We’re here to help them out, to bring in workshops and classes and collaborate with the Ashford Hollow Foundation to offer yoga and classes. We’re going to bring people together to create something. It’s going to be a real family feel, on the inside and out, and it’s really something that could turn into an annual thing.”

The Slyboots school came about as a result of Brady’s thesis project at Goddard College, a low-residency college in Plainfield, Vt., where he earned his Master of Individualized Arts Degree with a focus on music, culture and change.

Brady’s concentration on cultural involvement and music were a natural fit for Buffalo, the artist explained.

“In Buffalo, there’s this chance for a lot of people to really benefit from this kind of program. There’s an incredible ability to effect social change. Buffalo is kind of rough around the edges,” he added.

“The Slyboots School of Music and Arts is located in this old building in downtown Buffalo that would otherwise have been plowed over and turned into a parking lot. I approached the owner and we basically pay rent and pay to fix it up. We’re turning a three-story building into a working music facility, but it’s like, we’re not officially there. We have studio space, performance space, all this stuff there, but we’re sort of under the radar.”

Brady said that he is excited about the sculpture park’s hosting the festival, because it will bring together two of the things he loves: the rural, natural setting of the sculpture park and the art and music to which he has dedicated his life.

THOSE ABOUT TO MAKE ART, I SALUTE YOU –– Visitors to the sculpture park are invited to touch, climb on and interact with the art, unlike in a typical indoor museum.
“I’ve never lived in a city before and, in the city, all you can hear is sirens and you can’t see the stars. That’s why the sculpture park has been so awesome; it’s really been my sanctuary,” he said. “They gave me the opportunity to come out, to be an artist-in-residence and to do workshops and so forth. That’s how I operate: I’m a dreamer.”

A dance troupe that Slyboots has collaborated with for the past 10 years, the SAAKUMU Dance Troupe, will participate in this year’s Slyfest, an addition that will kick off the Slyboots’ staff’s annual national tour.

“We’ll be on the road for 6 months, touring schools across the country,” Brady explained, adding that the Slyboots crew teaches at schools like Berklee School of Music, Colorado State University and a variety of other universities, high schools and elementary schools, nationwide.

“We’ve met a lot of industry people through that, through what we do and Slyfest is kind of a way to give back to those people in the industry and the music community. We pull those resources together to make this kind of magical weekend. There are so many people banding together to make it happen and we have a really evolving staff that changes over the years. It’s really my baby.”

Brady said that his main focus is to encourage people from all backgrounds and walks of life to make art, something the late founder of Griffis Sculpture Park also believed in.

“The thing about making art is that your dreams don’t have to be just dreams. You have to be sly about it. That’s our whole philosophy and it’s a very Ghanian mentality, too, that if you want to make art, if you want to make music, you’ve got to be persistent and covert. In order to make it in the arts, you have to use your creative mind.”

Attendees will have the chance to do just that during the festival, which will kick off at 2 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 7, with an opening ceremony. That will be followed by a succession of workshops offered by Ashford Hollow Foundation artists and teaching artists from Slyboots.

“That will happen six – eight times throughout the day, every hour or so,” Brady explained. “People can change stations each rotation or they can take the same workshop again.

Workshops will continue until the closing ceremony, which will take place before sunset.

The festival will continue on Saturday at noon with a live music festival featuring a wide variety of musicians and performing acts. That evening, the collaborative nature of Slyboots will create what Brady called the “Slyboots circus.

“That uses my jazz group and the Ghanaian drummers as kind of our orchestra pit and a team of artists, face painters, dancers, drummers, all these artists, put on a performance that ends with a big parade that the audience members who came to the workshops the day before can be involved with,” Brady explained.

“That’s how all the people who came can collaborate in our grand finale. It’s going to be a blast.”

The event will feature performances by Eric Borkety Ansuade, Jamil Adewale Kasumu, Deep Roots, The Slyboots Drumming Ensemble, Allasane Sarr, Ramforinkus, Universe Shark, Slip Madigan, Cinnamon Aluminum, Family Funktion and the Sitar Jams, Peanut Brittle Satellite, Effective Resolution, Shapes of States, Stuart Fuchs, Andrew Moore, Larry LZ Dillon and more.

The Slyboots team of artists that will teach workshops include Larry Griffis, Scotty Bye, Chris Svoboda, Mike Schroder, Hoopnosis, Kaitlin Frisicaro, Jason Stewart, Deep Roots, AppleJaxie Creations and Holly Rutkowski.

More information on Slyfest or Slyboots, including the price of admission, can be found on the organization’s website, www.OntheSly.org. For more information, visit www.griffispark.org.


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