Saturday, July 11, 2015

Green River Festival 2015, Friday

Sarah and I took the day off on Friday, July 10th to get ready for our trip out to Greenfield.  Dave had to work until 11 and we picked him up in a summer/tourist/truck/traffic/heat-clogged Boston at a bit after 11, then hit the road for the West.

Made very good time out to Greenfield, where we eased into the small city, found a great parking place, and walked over to the People's Pint on Federal Street for a fine lunch.  Tried their cask old ale and their Pilsner while Dave tried a couple of their pale ales and Sarah tried their ciders.  I had a peanut noodle salad with pulled pork, which was fantastic (and I didn't finish).

Back in the car soon and left the hot city for the slightly cooler Mohawk Trail, pulling into the Red Rose Motel around 2:30.  This is just a few hundred yards past the Ox Bow, which is closed for 2015 and may re-open soon under new ownership.  But we loved the Red Rose: met their staff, fit our stuff into the room, emailed the others that we'd arrived, and went for a swim in their pool.  By then it was time to leave for the concert (gates at 5) and none of the others had arrived yet, so we headed out.

Took the Old Greenfield Road into town over Charlemont Mountain and had no problem popping out on Coltrain Road right at the entrance to the Greenfield Community College.  Parked and grabbed a fine patch of grass for our chairs, halfway between the soundboard and stage just to the right of the electrical conduit.

First up was a band I'm really excited about, Twisted Pine.  We'd seen them at Freshgrass last Summer and then at the Academy of Music in Northampton for the Signature Sounds bash last Fall.  They came out and it was quite a shock that they were missing Adam Moore, their bassist, lead singer, and dominating personality.  He's listed in the program so I guess this was a *very* recent development.

So Dan Bui moved from mandolin to bass (he could barely reach the top of the fretboard), they had a new mandolinist (Jeff Lewis), and Rachel Sumner (guitar) and Kathleen Parks (fiddle) took over the vocals.  And believe it or not, they were debatably better than they had been with Moore!  I think the vocals were too crowded with Moore dominating and the incredible talents of Sumner and Parks not being used to their full extent.  Bui is a fantastic bluegrass player and was a fine fill-in on bass, and the new guy was pretty good himself.

They did a few classic bluegrass tunes to warm up, and then knocked us over with Kathleen Parks's new song, Lonestar, then Rachel Sumner channeling the 16th century with an excellent work-up of Child Ballad 6 (King Willy), and then Ricky Mier showing some slick composing and playing on his banjo-and-fiddle tune, Cassiopeia.  The interplay between him on banjo and Parks on fiddle is amazing and is one of the things I appreciate most in a neo-traditionalist bluegrass band.  OK, it's way too early to classify these Berklee products as neo-traditionalist or anything else, they have an amazing reservoir of raw talent and I'm looking forward to listening to them for years.

The balloon inflation was starting on a calm and pretty warm night down on the lower field, and I took a short detour down there to watch and stroll around.  Stopped by the Four Rivers Stage and got a quick glimpse of Jose Gonzalez and Banda Criolla, then popped back up the the main field and grabbed a vegetable wrap.

The balloons started taking off, and it was time for the next act, Heather Maloney.  We've seen Heather several times ... she played the GRF last year with the band Darlingside.  But I definitely thought this was the best performance I've heard from her.  She was accompanied by a drummer and another guitar player. and she really sounded fantastic.

Next up was the Pine Hill Project, Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky's outfit.  We'd seen them in Cambridge recently, but this time they didn't have quite as good a band.  They were accompanied by a conga player/percussionist, and excellent guitarist Duke Levine.  I've loved Shindell's and Kaplansky's music for a long time, but I have to say I've been very underwhelmed the two times I've seen this outfit.  Shindell started trying to play an electric a few years ago and is not as brilliant on it as he was in his old style.  And they persist in playing covers, which they don't add as much to as you'd hope.  They did do an excellent Ten Year Night (Kaplansky's song) and Next Best Western (Shindell's song), and their cover of I Know You Rider (the only "Dead" song we heard all weekend) is fun.  But they could do better.  They're less than the sum of their parts.

And speaking of doing better, the Eilen Jewell band came out next and did one of the performances of the weekend.  Another bass surprise here: no Johnny Sciascia (I hope this isn't permanent), but the guy they had filling in was excellent himself and the rest of the band just knocked it out of the park.

They concentrated on songs from their new album and showcased Eilen's guitar playing, which has suddenly blossomed to my ear.  Of course, Jerry Miller is no slouch himself and Jason Beek was as good as ever on drums and backup vocals.  I've seen these guys many, many times, and may have enjoyed this set better than any of them (though sets they did in the Narrows Center and in Passim come to mind as soon as I type that ... oh well!).

The tide had come in on the GRF earlier in the evening, as people got out of work and frantically filled the place, buying food, watching the balloons while sprawled out on the hillside, and enjoying the fantastic music on two stages.  The tide had started to go out by the time Eilen ended though, as it was getting pretty late and the evening actually started to get a little chilly.  Scott and Michelle had arrived and stopped by our seats during the course of the evening.

We saddled up and headed back to the Red Rose, where we met the guys and ended up sitting and talking late into the night over at the picnic area, well away from the rooms.  I had a sweatshirt on by then but the temperature kept dropping and the wind picked up.  We went to bed with the windows open ... no need for air conditioning ... and had a fine night's sleep, though Dave got a little cold and crinkled on the pull-out couch.

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