We had an incredible, perfect, just right (but hot!) Green River Festival this past weekend, July 16th and 17th 2011. When we saw the preliminary lineup a few months ago it took us micro-seconds to decide that we had to go: Emmylou Harris, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Eilen Jewell, Patty Larkin, Rani Arbo, Toots and the Maytals, and many, many others. We have friends who go every year and back in May we got the last room at the hotel they always go to, the Oxbow Resort Motel in Charlemont (though their mailing address is Shelburne Falls). We got early bird tickets to the festival, parking passes, and there was nothing left to do but get more and more psyched for several months. And then it exceeded our expectations when it finally happened!
Sarah, Dave, and I met in West Concord after work on Friday and hightailed it West out Route 2. We had several options for dinner but decided to go through Greenfield, all the way to Shelburne Falls, and head for the West End Pub ... and see the mysterious Bridge of Flowers and Glacial Potholes there. It was a fine driving evening after we got past Gardner or so, and we cruised all the way into the small, old New England mill town of Shelburne Falls, where we crossed the Deerfield River (into the village of Buckland), grabbed a parking place, and walked a bit on the Bridge before moseying into the pub and grabbing a table, where we had Berkshire Brewing Co. beer and some fine burgers.
After dinner we crossed the Bridge for real and then detoured down to the Potholes overlook. What a fun little town! We've got to go back there. We saddled up and it was just 10 more minutes to get back onto Route 2 and West to the Oxbow. The room was exactly what you'd expect for a small hotel on the Mohawk Trail, the swimming pool was cool, and we slept like babies that night.
In the morning we needed coffee and cruised back up the trail to a place recommended by the guy at the front desk, the Trail TOC Diner ... nice peach bread, totally acceptable coffee, and nice omelettes. Back to the hotel and Dave and I went out and completed their 6-hole par-3 golf course in a surprisingly few number of strokes, though we were a bit dismayed at the number of balls that got themselves lost. We got all packed up by 11:00 or so and ready to leave. Our friends (who all brought their young kids) were in the pool by then and we left them behind ... screw them, we wanted to see Zoe Muth!
Got to Greenfield Community College in time to join a long line waiting to get in at noon. They opened the gates early and we claimed a nice patch of grass with about an hour to go before the music started. Time to get roasted while the temperature climbed into the 90s and the sun tried to fry us out.
Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers came on right on time with her wonderful country band and calmed everything down with her Seattle-twangy originals. Ethan Lawton was just fantastic on mandolin. I talked to Zoe after her set and commented that she had a wonderful mix, and it was unusual to my ear to hear a mandolin leading a country sound. She liked that, and when I asked her how she ended up signing with Signature Sounds she was eager to tell me about opening for Eilen Jewell in Seattle and how Eilen recommended that she do that. Hope her career takes off, what a fun set and a nice person.
Terry Adams and the New NRBQ came on next and played some hot stuff, not quite R&B and not quite rock but totally fun. Many people were enthralled by Terry and that was fun to watch. He had three keyboards: an organ, an electric piano, and a fuzzed-out electric piano with a wah-wah. He should have stuck to the piano IMO, on which he was sublime. Bit of a down set for me but then they closed with Johnny Cash's Get Rhythm and this was one of the rocking-est, funnest moments of the Festival. Whoah, I can still see him pounding that piano and grinning like a banshee.
Now was one of the hard choices that a Festival can present: stay at the main stage and watch Kermit Ruffins (star of Treme), or off to the Dance Tent and see Miss Tess. The decision was to ramble and after catching up with Cousin Kate back at her camp in Umbrella City I headed down to the back field and saw an incredible set by Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade With Sweet and Low Down (featuring Rachael Price from Lake Street Dive). Music can be so wonderful! The surprise for me was how talented Miss Tess is on the guitar and her guitar (which I've since learned is a "vintage Weymann guitar") had such a sweet sound, a slightly bowed body, and a giant pick guard. I was enthralled by it but managed to get distracted by Christopher McDonald (I think) on piano and Rachael Price ... or was it her dress that enthralled me?
Miss Tess was a lot of fun, but I split from there early so I could get back to our seats at the main stage for one of the showcase events: Carolina Chocolate Drops. Scott came up and watched this set with us and it was priceless. They did some of their great songs like Your Baby Ain't Sweet Like Mine, Hit 'Em Up Style, and Corn Bread and Butter Beans, but mixed in some new stuff and were obviously having a great time. Their new mouth artist (Adam Matta) just had our jaws dropping to the ground with his ability to do a bass and a treble line at the same time, Rhiannon Giddens did some supreme wailing and clogging, and Dom Flemons delighted us by pulling out the jug and tooting it. I could have left right after this set and been totally satisfied with the weekend, but this was just the beginning.
Next up was the Old 97s with their straight-up alt-rock sound and no prisoners were taken here. Loved their set, but I'm not a big fan of their music. One great thing about their set was they spanned 6:00 ... the scheduled (dependent on weather) balloon launch time! The weather was great so they were inflated and took off while the band was playing. Many people in the crowd just turned around and watched this, and the Old 97s lead singer Rhett Miller was cool enough to interrupt his song with a stammered "That's awesome!" when one of them broke free of the ground.
Now came one of the bands I was most exited about, Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears. I had done some research into bands at the festival I didn't know and was just blown away by some of Black Joe Lewis's songs, like Sugarfoot and Livin' In the Jungle. He's a cross between James Brown, Delbert McClinton, and The Blues Brothers and his band (mostly white BTW) took this set seriously to say the least. They did not miss a beat and neither did we ... the crowd jammed up to the stage on this one (we were in the jam of course) and everyone danced and raved. They ended with Sugarfoot and then walked off as we all hollered.
OK, time for strategy! We wanted to be mobile for the last couple of acts and so picked up our camp and dumped everything back in the car before sliding back up close to the main stage for Toots and the Maytals. He opened with Pressure Drop and got the whole crowd in the palm of his hand right from the start. His rhythm section looked like a Hopper picture (ok, a reggae Hopper picture): they were so beyond cool they were stone-faced but playing a bottom like you wouldn't believe, a trio of old black guys on drums, bass, and rhythm guitar looking like they were doing anything but playing some drop-dead back-beat.
We stuck around for 4 songs and then headed down the hill for Rubblebucket! Oh, on the way we stopped and did some serious gawking at the balloons. They had all come back (did they come back in the air or where they driven on trucks?? I have no idea but there they were) and were being illuminated by their burners, in sequence and all at once. It was just marvelous! We sat on the hillside and watched for a while and then bee-lined for the front of the gathering crowd in the Dance Tent.
Rubblebucket is another band I had never heard of but was incredibly psyched to see after watching some of their videos. Scott had told us they were his favorite band of last year and despite of that we decided to see them. They came on late with eight musicians (singer, trumpet, trombone, keyboards, bass, drum kit, percussion, and guitar) and proceeded to rip into the night with some aggressive power-pop. They mixed in a few songs one might call ballads but everything they started off to play took a quick left turn and then did a sudden Moebius flip before becoming really eclectic. The horn players (Alex Toth on trumpet writes most of the songs) then put down their horns and started on some harmony with Annakalmia Traver on lead, and then Annakalmia would drown them out with her baritone sax, and then Ian Hersey on guitar would play a mind-bending riff, and then you'd notice that the best player on the stage was really Darby Wolf on keyboards, but maybe that was because his Leslie was twisting things around and around. In all it was just a cacophony of quality sound that all worked and had us all dancing and dancing and dancing. Towards the end, Toth, Traver, and Adam Dotson on trombone brought their instruments out into the crowd and danced and played with us while we all writhed and shouted. The amazing thing for me was that as loud as the band was, the crowd was even louder and when the band stopped that's when my ears started to ring, when the sound came from behind me (I was right in front of the stage, natch) and the whole tent and surrounding area was howling. I was probably one of the oldest people there, but there were a whole lot of us older guys mixed in with the startlingly young crowd. Why weren't these people in bed? Why would anyone be in bed if Rubblebucket was an option??
They finally closed with one of their major songs, Came Out Of A Lady, were persuaded to do one more, and then ran off the stage. We dragged away and made it back up the little hill and to the car with our friend Tristan, who had stayed until the bitter end. Our ears were ringing like you wouldn't believe, but it was another fine drive up the East side of the Berkshires to the Oxbow with the windows open on a warm summer night. Back to the Oxbow and it was too late for the pool but we all gathered outside and had a few beers before bed and recapped the day's highlights before collapsing into bed at a bit after 1:00.