Music meets magic in Shakori Hills

We immerse in the welcoming vibes, diverse music, and sustainable practices at Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival


PITTSBORO — Walking into Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival, held this past weekend, the typical parking and entry headaches of events like these quickly disappear. The kind, welcoming staff and volunteers embodying the festival’s peaceful vibe invite each visitor to become part of a larger community. Stepping into Shakori Hills, a mystical and warming communal spirit is palpable.

Children’s laughter, tribal drumming and the calming aroma of burning campfires fill the air. Artisans line the paths throughout the grounds, selling homespun clothing, jewelry and visually stunning art. Enjoying a burrito from one of the many food vendors with his wife and two kids, first-timer Brian Mayor told me, “I’m here for all of it.”

Anchored by a stellar lineup of artists spanning various genres, the festival had something for everyone. From folk and bluegrass to world music, jazz and Americana, the musical offerings were as diverse as the attendees.

Headliners included Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange), the Sam Grisman Project (led by the son of bluegrass legend David Grisman), Jupiter & Okwess, and Donna the Buffalo, promising a varied and unforgettable musical experience, with many of the nearly 7,000 attendees camping on the spacious, wooded grounds.

While music is the main attraction, patrons also enjoy healing, centering and relaxation opportunities. Skilled practitioners offer massage, shiatsu, Reiki and other bodywork therapies to attendees, while workshops on sound healing, guided meditation and yoga for relaxation. These activities help attendees unwind, rejuvenate and find inner peace amidst the festival’s vibrant energy.

Sustainability is more than a trendy term at this festival — it’s a fundamental practice. The grounds are immaculately maintained, and all waste is carefully sorted for recycling or composting.

Musicians enjoy meals made from locally sourced produce, served on compostable dinnerware. Guests refill their water bottles from deep wells on the property, minimizing plastic waste. This commitment to sustainability is not just a feature but a promise for future generations.

Family-friendly activities abound at Shakori Hills, each designed to spark joy, curiosity and personal growth: storytelling sessions, yoga classes for kids, and holistic workshops on chakras and meditation. Additionally, there are creative workshops on tie-dye and screen-printing T-shirts, interactive science displays at the Seeing Sounds Station, mask-making and puppet shows.

Drumming for Wellness NC provides a rhythmic experience, while the Kids Bazaar allows young artists to sell their handmade crafts. These events aim to entertain, educate and inspire children and parents alike, fostering a sense of community and creativity. With such a wide range of activities, there’s always a bright moment for families at Shakori Hills.

The festival, imagined in 1990 by Americana band Donna the Buffalo to raise awareness for the AIDS crisis, was founded as the Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance. Held the second-to-last weekend of July in Trumansburg, New York, a small town 10 miles north of Ithaca, it draws around 20,000 attendees each summer.

In the early 2000s, the band frequently toured through North Carolina and saw the potential for the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival to grow and expand. They found the perfect location in Shakori Hills, an almost 80-acre plot outside Pittsboro, known for its scenic beauty and vibrant atmosphere. The Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival, first held in 2003, carries on the original vision of the Finger Lakes festival.

The music and serene natural beauty of Shakori Hills draw thousands to the four-day festival every spring and fall, but the main attraction is still the irreplicable experience and welcoming environment full of art, love and purpose — and it all happens right here in Chatham County.