We had such an absolute blast at the GRF in 2015 that there was no question at all when tickets for 2016 came up ... we got the early-early-bird price ASAP. And then they announced the lineup and it featured the "Wheels Of Soul Tour" that's happening this summer: North Mississippi Allstars, Los Lobos, and Tedeschi Trucks Band!!! In the past few months they've announced a lot of other great bands, but we were already there.
Some hassle about getting a hotel/place to stay this year that would a) have a pool, b) be reasonably close to Greenfield, and c) be cheap. But we eventually found a non-four-star hotel in Brattleboro VT (the Black Mountain Inn) that checked all the boxes.
We'd been on vacation since the Dead & Company show (see previous post), but showed up back in Woburn on Thursday and smoothly changed gears to Festival. We were on the road by late morning Friday, July 8 and after a wonderful lunch in Motley Gardens, we continued through Keene and over the river to Brattleboro.
Installed our stuff in the small room quickly and headed on down to Greenfield! Dave grabbed a chair and headed up to wait in the people line while we were still stuck in the car line. But then he called me and said to come on up, that the car line was just for people getting parking passes, which we had already. The officials at the head of the line were not pleased when I told them that my son had said it was ok for us to cut ... but they didn't argue and we were well-positioned in the parking lot and waiting in the people line before you knew it.
Gates opened a while after 4, we grabbed a great spot of lawn 35' in front of the soundboard, and GRF 2016 was in full motion!
First up was Charles Neville, from the renowned Neville Brothers. He's living in New England at this point and had a very well-rehearsed band including two family members: Khalif Neville on keyboards and Talyn Neville on drums. Those two were perhaps not top-top talent, but Neville also had a fine bass player (who's name we didn't get) and a wonderful, creative/funky fiddle player in Sarah Hubbard. They were also joined by guest vocalist Samirah Evans on their last few tunes. And they did the first "Grateful Dead" song of the weekend, Hey Pocky Way.
And this was such a great start to the Festival! Charles Neville was wearing tie-die and a beret, like the cool hipster he is, and he was playing the alto saxophone of the Gods. I moved up front during his set and was so glad to experience what I've touched on at times: hearing his instrument rather than the PA's amplification of it. Not that the PA was bad (see below). but that up close and personal his tone on the sax was ethereal.
And let me say that the sound system all through the three days of the GRF was exceptional. We've been there something like 8 of the past 10 years, and one of the best things of the Festival is their attention to detail and quality. From the first note of the Charles Neville set to the last note of the Tedeschi Trucks set, an all three stages, they brought us the sounds that we wanted to hear. I often say, "Why don't we have speakers like that?" when I see a good setup, but to light up the vast expanse of the GRF with such quality tunes is a delight.
At times the sound on the Green River Stage (the main stage) leaked over into the the Parlor Room Stage (the third one), but this was never that bad. It was also so much fun to walk down the hill towards the Four Rivers Stage (the second one) and be grooving to the sound on the main stage but then have that just vanish and instantly be hearing the sound coming from the 4 Rivers Stage, loud and clear across the distance of several soccer fields.
Next up was The Dustbowl Revival, and these guys were great! Their emphasis was on having fun and it just so happened that they had a vast number (8) of incredibly skilled musicians on the stage while they had that fun. On guitar, washboard, and vocals is Liz Beebe (I would have run away with her if I hadn't already committed to following Sarah Hubbard to Colorado in a whirlwind conversation a few minutes before seeing Liz), but her and Z. Lupetin's great vocal stylings are just the surface of what this band offers. You need to hear these guys!
Geez, I'd already sampled great food from La Veracruzana (same as last year, my favorite food vendor), great beer from Berkshire Brewing Company, and heard two amazing bands, and the Festival was just starting! Now it was time to be brought down a bit by the latest incarnation of NRBQ. They feature the vainglorious Terry Adams and this year had a horn section. But they really don't rock and I wandered off soon...
To the 4 Rivers Stage for their Latin Night set. The band I saw (Dave showed up too) was Xixa, and this sure was eclectic. Yeah, they were a Latin band and did a couple of smooth, rhythm-heavy ballads. But their lead guitarist was kitted-out like a death-metal demon (silver knuckles on every finger, makeup), and both he and the other guitarist had chunky silver-turquoise medallions. They mixed it up a bit and sawed those axes, and though their grimaces were not as scary as they would have liked, this was a fun set.
Great stuff on the 4 Rivers Stage, but it was time for another in a long sequence of porta-pottie/water/refill pauses (I was successful in drinking as much water as beer over the weekend). And the rain was hanging over us like ... well it was right there: a bunch of dark clouds, mist, and fog that didn't go away all weekend. The rain pretty much held off on Friday, but see below.
OK, time for the real thing ... Peter Fucking Wolf was going to be leading us into the night. But first I ran into Gary (BBC) and asked him about my long-time-but-rarely-seen, dear friend EJ. He said, "Well, he's right over there." I was over there in a second and the two of us had to retreat behind the soundboard, we were so anxious to talk to each other. It was so great to see EJ, and I hope to do so again!
But as you all know, the point of this blog is documenting the music as well as the experience, and this set of music was extraordinary. I'm an old J. Geils fan of course, but really dig the stuff Wolf has been doing lately as well, and I was primed to see this guy. And then his set far, far, exceeded my expectations.
The hallmark of this GRF was incredible guitar playing (see Sunday), and the bar for that was immediately set very high by Kevin Barry and Duke Levine, accompanying Wolf along with a drummer and a bassist. They absolutely ripped the shit out of the heavy sky, and Wolf was an unbelievable front man. His jacket was off and on many times during the course of the night, and his mike was swinging at the most dastardly times. He showed the timing of a James Brown and the [small] stature and sinewy grace of a John Lincoln Wright.
Wolf did songs from throughout his career, to the great delight of the crowd. A couple of his recent, more folky songs, but also things like Looking For a Love, Cry One More Time (with a shoutout to Gram Parsons), Pack Fair and Square, and Wolf's bluegrass arrangement of Love Stinks (which had many jaws dropping). Barry and Levine were just burning up the Friday night and Wolf was hopping back and forth, freaking out on the beats pouring off his accompanists, blowing like Magic Dick (well, not quite), and blasting out the baritone vocals on his breaks. This was the kind of stuff you don't ever want to stop, these guys were singing the blues!
Whew!! The set ran late with a couple of encores, but was finally over by 10:30 or so. We were very delighted that our great GRF friends had showed up at various times of the evening and all saw Wolf's act ... the gang was all here and rocking.
We grabbed our stuff and hurried on out to the car, where our well-planned parking space served us well for exiting as quickly as one could. Soon back on route 91 up to Vermont and landed back at the Black Mountain Inn. The adults (and random kids) gathered at a picnic table off in a corner of the grounds and gabbed and whooped it up into the night.