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Artpark's Strawberry Moon Festival celebrates culture, connection, community

We all love a good festival. Sometimes just throwing a slew of strong acts together on a bill, popping up a beer tent or two, and having a party is enough. At other times, however, we’re looking for something a little bit deeper, even if we don’t realize it consciously. We’re in need of a ritual that seeks to connect us. To each other, yes. But to our natural environment as well.

That's the thinking behind Artpark’s inaugural Strawberry Moon Festival from 3 to 11 p.m. June 22.

“I’ve been thinking for years of a way to connect Artpark to nature and to our environment in more meaningful ways," said Artpark Executive Director Sonia Clark.

"The summer solstice is one of these transformative moments, an opportunity to connect. We’ve done things tied to the solstice for several years now, but this time, after I learned a bit about the Strawberry Moon and what it means to Iroquois peoples, I thought it would be a great opportunity to reconnect Artpark with the Native American communities in a deep way.

“The Strawberry Moon is a June moon, essentially. The strawberry is a symbol of birth, of marriage, and of life for the Iroquois. It just feels perfect for what we want to do.”

Strawberry Moon will be more than a simple concert, then. The program will concentrate on a celebration of Native American culture, featuring workshops, traditional dance demonstrations, traditional music performances and the wares of Native American artisans and vendors. The early part of the festival, from 3 to 5 p.m., will be free.

An all-day pass ($28) allows access to the evening part of the programming that starts at 6 p.m. when the main stage will be given over to performances by Canadian artists Sam Roberts Band and Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea, as well as urban First Nations DJ collective A Tribe Called Red and Thunderhand Joe & the Medicine Show.

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Also among the performers slated to take part in the festival is internationally renowned Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista. Baptista, whose credits include work with Herbie Hancock, Trey Anastasio Band and Cassandra Wilson, first came to Artpark in 2017 as part of the residency program Sound of Community, which featured five days of workshops, performances and the creation of a playable percussion sculpture, now a permanent resident in Artpark’s percussion garden.

Last summer, while my family was hosting a group of musicians from around the world who became friends with my son while attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston, we took a trip to Artpark and “played” Baptista’s sculpture. It was a moment that felt primal and spiritual. I learned later that Baptista had asked elders from the Tuscarora tribe to bless the sculpture upon its installation which perhaps explains why the moment we were all inside the sculpture and “playing it” felt so profound.

Connections Baptista made during his time here led to the conception of a collaboration with Buffalo percussionist and African percussion/dance scholar Griffin Brady, performers from Empower and People Inc., and members of the Native American community. That will be in a segment of the Strawberry Moon programming that Clark said will celebrate “peace, unity, inclusion and friendship.”

Clark said she hopes the fusion of different cultures and musics will reveal the deeper truth that we are all much more alike than we are different.

“We all have our human nature, we relate on a very deep level as humans,” Clark said. “Love and joy and family – it doesn’t matter if you’re Iroquois or an immigrant from Scotland or wherever, these are the things we feel as human beings that bind us together. This festival offers us an opportunity to highlight our basic human nature, to forget all the politics and the economics and everything that divides us, to celebrate the fact that we all seek that sense of connection.

“I want people to be able to say to themselves, ‘When I’m at Artpark, I’m accepted and I’m welcome and I’m happy.’ That’s the goal. The history of Native Americans in our region is marked by broken treaties, bloodshed, a trail of tears. But despite the sadness and the suffering, there is hope, and where there’s hope, there can be reconciliation.”

What to know as you head to Artpark’s Strawberry Moon Festival

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