Monday, July 13, 2015

Green River Festival 2015, Sunday

That Saturday was wonderful, and we had another day to go!  Dragged myself out of bed as soon as I could on Sunday the 12th and was feeling more than psyched for another day after a quick shower.  Had some iced tea on the veranda and another peanut butter bagel and then packed up to go.  It's a good thing we're used to this and were able to dress/provision for the day, stow all extraneous stuff quickly, pack up computer/phone/iPod/speakers with a minimum of confusion, and throw it all into the car.  We put all our spent bottles, etc. in one empty cooler, consolidated the rest in another cooler, and had a third cooler ready to take in with us when we got to the festival.

By the time we were ready to leave the others were just getting up.  Paul and Diane were a little more delayed than we on Sunday morning, and so we told them we'd meet them there and took off.  Dave had brought the room key back to Rhianna and we were sorry to say goodbye to the Red Rose, which was so friendly a place.  They had had a bunch of concert-goers over for the night themselves and they were just straggling off when we were.

Hit the Trail TOC for another breakfast with plenty of jalapenos that couldn't be beat.  Novac Djokovic and Roger Federer were playing at Wimbledon for the championship of the world as we ate breakfast (Djokovic won), but we couldn't let that delay us and hit the road for GCC as soon as we could.  Gates were at 12 again, and we were a little later than we had been Saturday, but perhaps got a little better place in line.  When they let the crowds in we were able to grab a spot a few rows in front of the soundboard, left, and Paul and Diane soon joined us.

The Lonesome Brothers were on first, soon after we set up.  They're a couple of Pioneer Valley guys who've been around for years: guitar, bass, and a drummer doing original rock tunes and a few covers.  We were prepared to dig them for a bit and then move on to the other stages but ended up hanging around for a good deal of their set.  Their playing together was tight and nuanced and their songs were really good.  Another delightful musical surprise in a weekend of them!

From there I hurried down to the Four Rivers Stage for a large iced coffee and to see Joe Pug, who's had an interesting start to his career.  He's written some great songs and was a darling of Americana radio for a spell, then disappeared while he apparently tried to decide if he really wanted to do this.  He's come back and is still writing excellent songs and this time I hope he keeps at it.

Wandered around a bit after his set among the vendors downhill.  They really had a whole bazaar set up this year downhill where you could buy anything from wood carvings to quince jelly.  I found a silver ring that was a possibility but let it remain at that.  There were many things that made it a great weekend, and an indication of the preparation that had gone into the festival was this quaint selection of vendors, though truthfully this was a small detail for me.

Twisted Pine was up next on the Four Rivers Stage and I was up close.  They opened with a couple of Bill Monroe songs, but then did almost exactly the set they had done Friday night, including King Willy, Cassiopeia, and Lonestar.  All the repeats was a bit of a disappointment, but I'm sure they're struggling at this point with the sudden loss of their dominant sound, and they did these as well as they had Friday.  I had a great time being right up front and seeing how the singers cued each other, how Bui on bass could set the tempo (they listen to each other, those conservatory students!), and how they centered around Mier's banjo sound, the really important instrument to a great bluegrass band.

When Sumner was introducing King Willy she mentioned shortly how Scottish music had become Appalachian music, and one of several rowdies in the crowd (people were going strong, even at 2:00) shouted out, "How do you know that?"  She didn't miss a beat and responded, "Well, I learned it in college.  And as a matter of fact, there's my teacher, hi Dan!"  He was taking photos in the pit and was kind of embarrassed to be identified, especially when the others said, "What, Dan's here???"  That must be a proud teacher.

OK, enough of that and time to get back uphill for some hydration.  The day was already at least as hot as it had been Saturday and the temperature was climbing.  But first I stopped by the Flying High Frisbee Dogs! and saw a little border collie with a cute neckerchief not quite live up to his billing.  Oh well, it was fun.  Then I cruised by the Parlor Room Stage and there was Dave, grooving to Surly Temple.  I sidled up next to him and fell into their spell immediately.

This is Jim Henry's rock outfit ... guitar, bass, and drums (Guy DeVito and Doug Plavin) ... and they were fantastic themselves!  They played all cover tunes but Henry (whom we had seen often accompanying Tracy Grammer) gave his imprimatur to every song they played.  They did Coming Into Los Angeles, The Maker (Daniel Lanois), I Live On a Battlefield (by Nick Lowe, The Pine Hill Project had played it Friday night), Hey Joe (which Booker T. had done Saturday), and lots and lots of other hits.  The early afternoon crowd at the third stage was digging it and there were lots of smiles all around.  This was yet another unexpected and enchanting moment in the weekend.

After a short detour to the hidden field, Dave and I split up and I reassessed what was next for me.  OMG, no time to get back uphill, I had to return to the Four Rivers Stage for a bit of Parker Millsap!  We'd seen him at the HOB - Boston opening for Patty Griffin and been very impressed.  He was just as impressive at GRF and had a huge crowd watching him already.  He's got some very heartfelt songs that work about gayness and Christianity and life, and had everyone in the palm of his hand.  He's got a beautiful, piercing voice and had a pretty good band to back him up.  This guy is an amazing talent and with the right packaging could really take the world by storm.

BUT ... I was running out of fuel and had to get back up to the Main Stage after three or four songs.  I needed water and over the course of the next hour drank two and a half liters, judging by the empty bottles.  The afternoon sun was just blistering but I could barely move after I settled into my seat and started drinking water.

But (I say again), that was no problem!  The band that had just come on stage was arguably the best of the weekend and would have glued me to my seat anyway: the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  I really can't describe how excellent they were.  Sarah and Dave were both up front for them and were just rocked by their togetherness, stage presence, and virtuosity.  They had a bass fiddle on a few tunes (and a melodica) but besides that stuck to tuba, trombone, trumpet, sax, electric piano, and drums, with some excellent vocals too.

To a fan of everyone-play-at-the-same-time music and the-bass-is-playing-the-melody music, they were a sinkhole of unbelievable sound.  I'm sure a casual fan would enjoy them too ... everyone who could stand up was dancing ... but to someone who listens to music they were simply awesome.  The trombone player (who sang as well, have to fill in their names here) was jaw-dropping, I've rarely heard a trombone played like that.  The trumpet player was awesome, how could you play such leads without slurring on one or two notes?  The tuba player was the band leader and played his big horn as easily as if it was a mandolin.  The drummer was worthy of a solo show himself, and the keys player made brilliance seem normal.  These guys were really good and I would have been jumping up and down and shouting if not for the heat.  Just an awesome set.

I should mention the √©minence grise here.  When we'd been waiting in line to get in a huge, blacked out bus with Tennessee plates, towing a trailer, passed us slowly and parked.  Steve Earle was on site and he took the opportunity to see as much as he could.  I spied him and Eleanor Whittemore watching Joe Pug, and he was a fixture in the wings watching Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Punch Brothers.  Dave reported he was also watching Arc Iris that afternoon, and who knows what else?  He was no "star" sitting in his bus waiting to go on; he was out there in the sun digging on some fantastic music that might lend him a riff someday ... or that he might just enjoy.

Dave showed up at the end of Preservation Hall, and we booked down to the Parlor Room Stage to check out the Brothers Comatose, who had done an excellent cover of Brokedown Palace for the Songs Of Their Own project.  This was yet another unexpected treat!  They played with a full band  (banjo, mandolin, etc.) and were distinctly West Coast bluegrass, as opposed to the kind we get in the East.  Their songs were excellent, well sung, and unabashed, singing about tripping down the mountain, rolling a joint to forget your lover, and other ways your mind can be on a separate path from the reality you're faced with.  I particularly liked their fiddle player.

Back to the Main Stage and the Punch Brothers were up next.  This represented a great time for a dinner break.  I could go on with reasons why I don't enjoy this band, but won't.  Suffice it to say that they're excellent in their own way, but sound to me like bluegrass music played for and by people who don't really like bluegrass music.  There was just some great, technical stuff laid down by Chris Thile, Noam Pikelny, Gabe Witcher, Chris Eldridge (especially), et al.  But I'd try to listen and find my mind wandering.  Oh well, my feet wandered too and I got some beer and dinner.

Geez, where had the time gone?  It was that time of the weekend where the festival shrinks and all the people from the satellite stages return to their seats for the main act.  A bunch of people also pack up and leave at this time ... Monday morning is not far away.  You rarely see a closing act of a festival that's one of the best acts of the day.  Steve Earle and the Dukes did not blow us away, but they were a solid ending to a very, very good weekend of music.

A funny moment before their set was when the Mastersons had set up their rack of instruments, stage left, and then the festival organizers brought up all the volunteers for a bow on stage and they started encroaching on the bit of real estate that Eleanor and Chris held sacred.  They looked at each other and then decided wordlessly to stand guard and keep the hoi-polloi away from their most precious possessions.  Can't argue with that decision, but it was a human/humorous touch.

They opened with four songs from their latest, Terraplane, including Better Off Alone, Ain't Nobody's Daddy Now (the song I most wanted to hear live), and Steve's excellent duet with Eleanor Whittemore, Baby's Just As Mean As Me.  They did a quick nod to The Hits, covering Guitar Town and Copperhead Road.  Then they did a few from all over, including Earle's cover of Hey Joe (third time on the weekend)!  It was clear he'd been listening.

Earle still wasn't singing as well as he used to, but the playing by Whittemore on fiddle and tenor guitar, her husband Chris Masterson on ripping lead guitar, and Earle's long-time bassist and drummer was top-notch.  Earle even showed some emotion on Little Emperor, though he blew it right back to hackneyed by drawling the formulaic Go Go Boots Are Back.  Oh well, this was at least a very good set.

The festival was over, oh no!  I like to see a lot of music when I go to a festival, and I felt that I'd been pretty successful: my final count was 25 acts (including two twice).

I've been to the Green River Festival six times now and I have to say that this was my favorite.  I just had a great time from start to finish.  There were several things that made it stand out for me: the variety of musical styles, the quality of almost every band, some incredible band and individual performances, and the complete entertainment.  There wasn't a dead spot all weekend, from the bands playing their hearts out on all three stages, to the perfect weather for the balloons, the frisbee dogs, the circus tumblers, the dancing aliens, the food, and everything else.  There was also the delight shown by the performers, who time and time again seemed to have been expecting a zonked-out midday festival crowd and instead were adored by hundreds of dancing, cheering people. Yeah, the heat was ridiculous, but I survived.

We packed up for the final time and joined the long line of cars leaving the parking lot.  Soon made it to 91 North (with a little fancy footwork), and we were on our way home.  It only took us an hour and 45 minutes to get back, not bad at all for a summer Sunday.  We have to do this again next year!

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