- Signature Sounds took over the festival from the Franklin County C of C
- Jim Olsen was still in charge, but there were some significant (to us concert-goers) changes
- They were going to have a beer tent, so this meant more severe rules about "bring no alcohol"
- They had decided they needed better food vendors so instituted rules about the size and style of coolers you could bring in(?!?)
- They apparently decided they needed to cram more people in, and so instituted rules on the size of blankets you could bring
- There was much teeth-gnashing about the new rules, us included of course; we didn't know how draconian they'd be about enforcing them and anticipated the worst
- We bought early-bird tickets, but then they revealed their lineup like it was the Dead Sea Scrolls and it sucked!
- OK, it didn't suck if you like pukey acts like Josh Ritter and Lucius, but the only world-class act IMO was Dave and Phil Alvin
- There was some difficulty in getting reservations at the Oxbow (which had been so welcoming an experience last year), but we did and PaulK enlisted too
- R&D were shut out on tickets when the festival sold out against all odds (but they were able to pick up scalped tickets)
Well, that may sum up the hoo-ha but it was really more extensive than that. Rebellion and riots were plotted, and on top of that we got signals that we would have to wade through a wedding party when we finally made it to the Oxbow! The good news was that Dave was coming this year, and he and Sarah and I made reservations for Friday too, though the others went for just Saturday night.
We met at West Concord after work and boogied on out West on a beautiful summer evening. Things were looking good! We stopped in Shelburne Falls and had to wait for 45 minutes or so to get a table at the West End Pub, but this gave us time to tour the Bridge of Flowers and take some deep breaths of western MA air. It actually approached "chilly" that evening but that was fine with us, especially after last year.
Got to the Oxbow at 9 or 9:30 and were installed in room 20, a nice room with a couple of queen beds, a good air conditioner, a decent shower, and very few channels on the cable ... just as we expected. What we didn't expect was that the pool was out of commission! They had had a leak and the pool was drained. We knew this would be a big deal to the kids, and so called Scott and then posted it to the email thread. This was bad, but the stranger thing was that there was no sign of a wedding party after we'd been led to expect such!?! Oh well, soon to bed.
Woke up and had some nice blueberry muffins in the help-yourself breakfast room, though they were low on coffee. Dave and I grabbed the clubs and played a fun 6 holes on their "golf course." They have no greens except for the places where they've put indoor-outdoor carpet (leave the natural greens, the carpet sucks!), the fairways were mowed pretty well but were very narrow, and the layout of the course did not go along with the signs on it. But we could understand how much work it must be to even maintain the course to this level, and we had a great time, though we lost a good number of balls in the deep grass where it would be mowed on a normal American course. We ended up both averaging a little over three strokes per hole.
Then throw stuff in the car and off to the concert! We got in line on Colrain Street at about 10:45 and immediately realized that the people taking the shuttle bus into the site after parking in the free lot (as opposed to those of us in line, who had paid for nearer parking but couldn't get to it), would get in line first. No big deal, but I grabbed the chairs and walked in so I could get in line, while Dave and Sarah took over the car. They eventually got in when the lots opened at 11 and joined me in line for the wait until noon. We early arrivers near the front of the line chose to wait in the shade, and that seemed to shape the direction of the eventual gargantuan line.
By noon the line stretched for miles, and people were still waiting to get in long after the first act went on. They didn't do searching/measuring at the gate luckily, otherwise rebellion would have ensued. I saw (and drank) plenty of items violating the rules throughout the weekend ... perhaps next year they'll crack down more but I think the "rules" are mostly there so that the festival can be licensed. Anyway, we got in early and got our preferred seats, about 50 feet from the stage, center.
Waited a while and then the music started! We were psyched.
First up was Paul Burch & The WPA Ballclub. As it turned out, the ballclub was Fats Kaplin on fiddle (I had a brief chat with Fats later). They were good. But after a few songs we screwed down to the "Poet's Seat" stage because ...
Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem were playing and we hadn't seen one of our favorite bands in too long. They thought they were going to be doing a kid's show (this used to be the kids tent, the rules were askew) but most of the audience were adults, and so they played what they wanted to play! This included Traveling Shoes, They All Asked For You, a beautiful new song by Rani written on the occasion of leaving her son at school for the first time, and of course I Want To Be Ready. The whole tent was filled with devotees. Putting them on the third stage early in the afternoon was one of the egregious programming mistakes made by the new administration IMO. People were there to see them.
Next back up to the main stage for Poor Old Shine. As happened several times during the crowded festival I missed a bunch of their set while waiting on line for potties and food, but I saw enough to really appreciate them. They morphed onstage into their new group persona, Parsonsfield. They're still finding their sound and thought they needed a break from their harder Americana sound to a folkier vibe. Whatever, they were good.
Next was The Lone Bellow, and I was really looking forward to these guys. They feature funky arrangements and beyond-great ensemble vocals. I was even more impressed than I thought I'd be. Their songs tell stories in a visceral style and these guys do not hesitate to sing as loud as they can. And when they sing at the top levels of their ranges their voices merge extraordinarily. This is a band that has to be heard to be believed.
Still hanging out at the main stage, with a little food, waiting for the line at the beer tent to die down (it never did, they need more taps). The James Hunter Six was up next, a super-tight alt-blues band of limeys that was excruciatingly entertaining. Hunter has great vocal style and though his act ran out of new things to do by the end of the set, this was not to be missed for those of us who'd never seen him before.
OK, time for Norah Jones. She played with Puss N Boots, a trio with Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson. Norah exudes star quality but has no ego and so was happy to share the stage. Whatever, she couldn't help but dominate the set and we soon forgot that there were other people on the stage with her. For me, one of the high points of the festival (perhaps the high point) was when she swayed back and forth with her bell-like Stratocaster and sang Cash's Cry Cry Cry. This was akin to Elizabeth Cook stopping the festival two(?) years ago with her take on Hot Burrito #2.
Popped down to the Four Rivers Stage, which was set up where the dance tent used to be (great decision to have a stage rather than a tent), for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I only saw a song or two by them, and then crawled on up to the main field through the crowd to get dinner and to see a few songs by Lucius, who were very forgettable: simple, loud bass and boring, overwrought vocal arrangements.
We hung around for a few songs by Trombone Shorty. I'd looked forward to seeing him and he definitely showed some talent. But what he showed was more stage presence than musicianship. Great vocals when he got around to it and pretty good trombone when he stopped whirling it around and put it to his mouth. Whatever, we were out of there early.
Got back to the 'Bow and we were the first ones there! This gave us a chance for quick showers though to wash off the festival grit, the sunscreen, the bug spray, and even more festival grit. Then the others showed up and we had too much fun, dragging our chairs into a circle on the "patio" outside the rooms and gabbing and gabbing while the beers and the margaritas flowed. People finally started to fade and I ended up in bed before 1:30, though not by much.