Landlord Rhianna's dogs were cruising for affection, the cat next door gave a few plaintive meows when he saw people out being mellow, and our friends slowly woke up. Gates were going to open at 12 and music was going to start at 12:45 or so. So we targeted leaving at 10:30 for the Trail TOC Diner. Paul and Diane were ready to go too by then (the others were in or about to visit the pool) and so we took off back East on route 2 and had a breakfast that couldn't be beat, a Western omelette with lots of jalapenos for me and plenty of coffee.
That was just the ticket and from there it wasn't far to the line of cars trying to get into the lots at Greenfield Community College. I jumped out with a chair and a book when the line paused and tried to grab a good spot in the line of people waiting to get in. I was alarmed to see that the line already had several hundred people in it and stretched almost all the way back to the academic buildings. Whatever, we set up our chairs in line, waited and read, and Paul and Diane understood the urgency (well, by our aesthetic) and weren't far behind us.
Time to get in finally and the line started moving. Several people had hung out by the entrance ("Oh we have to wait here in the shade!") and then cut in line to get in. Sleazy, but this wasn't as urgent a stampede for closeness to the stage as in some concerts; in fact, most of the people dying to get in before everyone else were doing it so that they could grab a spot in the shade on the fringes of the main field. A minority of us were doing it to grab a spot in front of the soundboard, and we were able to do so, planting our chairs about 30 feet behind where we had been the night before. We saved space for Paul and Diane and they showed up soon after.
OK ... Saturday at GRF! First thing for me was the CD tent and I bought more used CDs than you'd want to think about (they were 5 for $20). Check out the food offerings, get a wristband from the beer tent to avoid later lines, watch the hordes of people filling up the pace, and soon it was time for music.
Note that this weekend was beautiful, sunny, early summer weather, but that both Saturday and Sunday were very, very hot. The sun was blaring down on the main stage and even with outrageous amounts of sunscreen, more water than they could imagine in California, hats, hoods, sun panchos, and parasols, we suffered from the heat and the sun all weekend. It was high 80s on Saturday and mid-90s on Sunday. As Sarah says, it only *felt* like it was 140 degrees.
First up on the Main Stage was the Suitcase Junket. I'd heard some tracks by this band on the radio and was intrigued, especially when I heard it was really just one person. Matt Lorenz has played in several New England bands and recently has been trying to start his own act, with great success. He plays a wicked guitar (regular acoustic or resonator ... both of which he sang into at times), and has an array of percussion instruments, including a high-hat hitting a bin full of forks and bones, a beater with a baby shoe on the end hitting a gas can, a cooking pot, a suitcase of course, etc. He's also got some great original songs and was just a jaw-dropping opening act. He, as with many artists throughout the weekend, was tickled pink by the number of people listening seriously to him and enjoying his music in the hot, hot sun.
The next act was perhaps the band I was most excited about seeing that weekend, the Stray Birds. Charlie Muench buttonholed the sound guys while Oliver Craven tested all the mikes, and Maya de Vitry (in a sexy red dress and cowboy boots) made sure the instruments she shares with Oliver were arrayed just right. They're perfectionists and can approach perfection in my mind; I just love them.
They didn't sing any of the "old" stuff (meaning a few years old at most) from their first album, but did a great number of originals and recent tunes. Muench is just note-perfect on bass, Craven is the combination of soulful and laid-back that you want in a lead singer ... and he's not afraid to take the lead and to emote on his cowboy songs. And de Vitry is not only a great fiddle and guitar player, but has written some funky, heartfelt, *original* tunes that they've arranged incredibly well. She may actually look weirder than the early Gillian Welch when she sings :). They arranged themselves around one mike, dipping in and out for instrumental and vocal solos, and then singing the piss out of those tunes all together, harmonizing to the hot, early-afternoon sun. You have got to see these guys.
Dave left at that point for Polaris on the Four Rivers Stage, but I stuck around to see a bit of the next act, Langhorne Slim & The Law. I'd checked out these guys on YouTube before the concert and was not that impressed, but they were really good live. They played some swampy, blue-eyed soul with plenty of pop mixed in. Your grandmother would probably have liked them, especially when Slim mixed it up with the crowd, crooning onto his remote mike, and kissing old ladies and babies. They were fun!
... but I took off after 5 or 6 tunes (and after downing LOTS of water) and headed downhill for the other stages. I missed Hayley Reardon on the Parlor Room Stage, so checked out a couple of songs from Polaris on the Four Rivers Stage. Kind of formulaic Brit-rock with tortured bass leading up to showy guitar bits, but good if you like that kind of stuff.
Strolled among the vendors, ran into our friends on the field, and hobnobbed with them for a while ... it was much cooler walking around as opposed to sitting and broiling.
Then I got a good spot for the Milk Carton Kids on the Four Rivers Stage and they were as good or better than I expected! Other people may have used this simile before, but they're like a cross between Simon & Garfunkle and Welch & David Rawlings. Joey Ryan even plays a tenor(?) guitar that is shaped and sounds remarkably like Rawling's, though it has different sound holes and a handkerchief on the upper frets. Kenneth Patengale is a spookily-great singer and guitar player, and has a deadpan sense of humor that had the crowd cracking up. They were in suits on that hot day and he said that they had fired their staff for telling them that it was a "business-formal" occasion. These guys may have played the most enjoyable set of the weekend for me.
BUT! Had to take off before they were done because I needed to get back up the hill. Stopped by the Parlor Rom Stage on the way and saw Arc Iris (particularly Jocie Adams, in glitter jumpsuit and fairy cape) for a tune. Their keyboard player was going nuts and I could see Dave down front (as well as a bunch of other 20-somethings) digging the hell out of it.
Got back to my seat at the Main Stage in time to drink a bunch more water and to groove to J Mascis. I knew he had a big name on the grunge rock scene (Dinosaur, Jr) and I really liked what I'd seen of him on YouTube. His set was very good: aurally aggressive (your grandmother ran away screaming), laid back (when he broke a string he apologized and reached for another guitar, no drama), and catchy and tuneful at the same time. This was a beautiful time to mellow out to weird sounds while the afternoon sun slowly turned a little bit less hot and more orange. I got a chicken fajita from La Veracruzana with a bit of guacamole and some of their hottest sauce and was in love ... had a few more of those that weekend!
Time to take off again. I wanted to catch a little of Lydia Loveless but wasn't sure of the timing. I went by the Parlor Stage first and was just in time to pull up a patch of grass in front of the stage (my shorts got muddy from sitting on the ground, but who cares?) and see Charlie Parr, Kris Delmhorst, and Matt Lorenz (The Suitcase Junket) doing an "in the round" thing.
I've commented on Lorenz above, and he was perhaps even more entertaining than he'd been to open the afternoon, and I could see his setup better. But the great part of this was Charlie Parr, a wizard on slide steel and way-blues songs about seeing the sun when you're far down, and Kris Delmhorst, whom I've seen several times before and am enthralled by. She'd held back the emotion when I'd seen her perform before but shone in this setting, playing Bees, asking for percussion help from Lorenz on her second tune, and then just melting us all with Homeless. These guys were an odd lot but were so much what you want in an "in the round," stepping up the ante all the time (though have I mentioned it was a hot, mellow day?) and causing each other to think, "That was great, oh I know how to top that!" I stuck around for three songs from each of them, which was pretty near the whole set.
Tore myself away and realized I'd totally missed Loveless so went back up the hill for Booker T. Jones. If you've never heard Booker T. and the MGs than I pity you. His sweet spot is where R&B became soul music. Dave was up front for this and grooving away, as he should be. After the big-time intros, Booker T. came out and hammered the heck out of an electric piano/organ setup and sang some tunes from our collective memories. He also had his son Ted on guitar and played some guitar himself. One of the first songs he did was a cover of a tune by "a skinny guitar player who I met at the Monterey Folk Festival," Hey Joe (actually written by Billy Roberts) ... which was awesome.
BUT!!! Stray Birds were playing again and after weighing the options I had to head back down to the Parlor Room Stage to hear them. It also worked into the equation that even though the sun had started to go down it was still dang hot and I needed a break. I sat down on the hillside and watched Charlie and Oliver do the same thing they had at the Main Stage, driving the sound guys crazy and getting the sound exactly perfect. Then they went on and played another excellent set. Sarah joined me for a bit for their set but then headed back uphill to catch more of Booker T. ... and more water.
At one point between songs Oliver said, "Wait ... are there balloons lifting into the air behind us??" He had seen something in our eyes and when the answer was "Yes," he and Maya put down their instruments and ran off the stage to go look. Charlie was at first dismayed by this lack of professionalism, then realized that it was a damn festival and we were all there to have fun, so he went and joined them for a quick look.
I'd thought that the crowd for Marco Benevento might already be filling in by the end of the preceding set, but the hillside at the Parlor Room stage remained pretty empty at that point. There were an incredible number of people wearing Dead t-shirts and other gear this year, probably related to it being Dead50. There was also an incredible amount of pot smoking! I'd maybe seen one or two people in previous years sneaking off to adjoining fields, and had a good idea what they were doing. But this year there were actually people passing joints and pipes in their seats at the Main Stage!?! Had pot suddenly been legalized?? Even if so I thought it a little rude of people to smoke it in a crowd with likely a lot of non-smokers around, and lots of kids too. Oh well.
Wandered a bit and saw a little of the last circus performance of the day and got some close-up looks at balloons being inflated and wafting away. There was a bagpiper serenading them as they cut their ties with the ground. I got some pictures of the aliens who'd suddenly appeared at the GRF and had marched in the Mardi Gras Parade uphill. At the height of the afternoon there were seemingly more people on the GCC grounds than I'd ever seen before. The whole set of fields were jam-packed with people, vendor stands, stages, balloons, circus performers, and aliens.
Then Dave joined me and is was time to smoosh up in front of the stage, standing with the late-arriving crowd. Marco Benevento is twice-removed from the Grateful Dead. That is, he's played in bands with people who've played with the Dead. That's close enough!
And this was another finest set of the concert. Scott joined us for what he first thought was just a quick look ... he was excited about seeing tUnE-yArDs on the Main Stage. But he was amazed and after a few songs uphill he was back downhill for the rest of it. Benevento was accompanied by an excellent drummer and by Dave Dreiwitz (whom we'd seen him with in JRAD) on bass, and those guys ... with the aid of lots of sampled tracks ... just blew us all away with songs, sounds, and jazzy, synthesized beats. Benevento is an incredible keyboardist and knocked us over with some of his runs.
Marco was playing an old upright and had a really large number of filters and effects. Not all of the switches he needed would fit onto the piano ... they were crammed in every free space. Dreiwitz was holding down the funk and the drummer (after a stoned attendee insisted that his tom-toms weren't miked right and that they had to be fixed) was awesome. In the crowd, dancing up in front with us, were the guitarist from And the Kids (who weren't playing the GRF this year) and Jocie Adams and her keyboardist from Arc Iris. Marco invited the women up to sing with him.
And then the aliens invaded! Scott was back for that and we were all pretty smooshed in already in front but dancing wildly, and then the whole crew of aliens bulled their way in and made it even more wild and crowded! Marco asked some of them up on stage too and it was wonderful how many windows between performer and crowd and reality and dancers and life on Earth were being shattered! This was incredible fun and I wish I had pictures of that, but I was dancing too hard. The stage announcer actually had Marco come back up for an encore; there was a lot of love between the performers and the crowd in that set.
But it was finally over ... and then it was time to dash back up to the Main Stage for Rubblebucket!!! This was one of the acts we most wanted to see. When they'd announced the lineup back in April and we saw Rubblebucket would be back we just couldn't resist. The crowd had thinned out a bit by then and there was room for our friends to all rush forward and join us in wild celebration. I had told myself that I shouldn't feel obligated to jump up and down to Rubblebucket, but before I knew it I was doing that, and so was everyone else all around me. Their sound is amazingly infectious.
And they put on a fantastic show. This was the sixth time we'd seen them and we were amazed by how professionally they run their shows compared to the raw, explosive talent we'd seen when we first saw them. They opened with Silly Fathers but only did a few of their early songs, Came Out Of a Lady among them. They concentrated on their later stuff and did some great tunes I hadn't heard before, as well as the best tracks from their new record, Sound Of Erasing and Carousel Ride, as well as a weirded out mix of Save Charlie.
They had the core of Kalmia, Alex, Adam, and Ian as well as a keyboardist I think we've seen with them before, a great new bassist who joined in on all the dance moves, a drummer/percussionist, and a flugelhorn player who joined them for the last few tunes. Of course they jumped off the stage and mingled with the crowd. But then they got invaded by the aliens too! The aliens were moving almost as well as the band while the crowd jumped up and down and roared in delight.
OK, we could have gone down hill for a little more music but we were spent by then and it was time to leave. Gathered our stuff and headed back for the car after a long, long, hot, fun day. Made it out of the parking lot (with a glimpse of Antibalas rocking the Four Rivers Stage) and through the traffic, and then headed West while everyone else turned East. Got back to the Red Rose just before the others, but then joined Scott, Michelle, and Tristan for a long session of yucking it up as the night got later and later. A train came by on the tracks on the other side of the Deerfield River and spooked us all. Finally made it to bed by 1:30 or so. One more hot day to go!