The hotel had a nice little American hotel breakfast going in their funky common room (jukebox from the early 80s, the largest cappuccino machine you've ever seen), and we took turns sampling that. The morning also featured Gerald ("Jerry"), a middle-aged black cat who was not to be ignored.
But we packed up soon and were out of there, heading South on 91 towards the horizon line. Unfortunately, the horizon line was pretty close as we navigated through banks of fog and sudden, intense showers all the way down there (25 miles or so). I had to turn my wipers on and off more times in that stretch than is humanly possible.
Whatever. We were in line (and then soon in, got a spot pretty much just where we'd been the night before), the skies were misting, the air was cool, our rain-gear was ready, and we were all set for another long Saturday at the GRF.
We'd run into our friend Suze (who was taking photos) on Friday night, and I asked her what band she was especially looking forward to. She of course prefaced her response with the disclaimer that it's hard to choose, they're all good, but recommended Lula Wiles as the band that would most hit us from the blind-side. And that's how Saturday started.
Lula Wiles is a great trio of women, including Berklee products (and 2014 Freshgrass contest winners) Isa Burke and Ellie Buckland, with bassist Mali Obomsawin. I loved their vocal arrangements, which often featured the "chorus" taking over the "melody." This was fresh stuff, delivered with a trio of smiles. As always at GRF, you could just see the young band thinking, "OMG, this is more people than have ever heard us before!"
Burke is a very solid instrumentalist and Buckland has a sweet voice. Obomsawin showed some talent too, though she sometimes couldn't keep up with the more experienced pair on the tight harmonies they'd sketched out. This was a great Saturday start, and when Ellie expressed dismay that she hadn't brought a raincoat (verily, it looked like the skies were going to open sometime that afternoon), Sarah delighted her by showing up at the signing session to offer her blue raincoat (we had extras). It fit Ellie perfectly.
So that was just the start! I trucked down to the 4 Rivers stage to see Hannah & Maggie, this year's "Simon and Garfunkel" pair (see The Milk Carton Kids last year). The two had met in the Smith College a capella group and their voices were fantastic, especially on that misty morning. They had a lot of good songs about the magic and sorrow in daily life, but the voices were what made their act. Individually they were excellent, and they harmonized wonderfully.
Stopped by the Parlor Room Stage after that and caught a bit of Mister G, though he was having a hard time coordinating movements among all the kids he had on stage. You have to rub your belly and *then* drop to the floor, not the other way around!
Back up to the main stage for some grub and some Anthony D'Amato, who definitely had one of the silliest hats of the show and was accompanied by a rocking guitar/bass/drums trio. He's got some slightly over-serious songs without a lot of hooks, but was better than expected.
OK, time for Amy Helm. We've seen Amy several times (Levon Helm Band, Olabelle, etc.), and were prepared for a great set by her and the Handsome Strangers ... we thought. She came out with a new bass player (Adam Minkoff ... don't know how anyone could be better than Byron Isaacs??) and stalwarts drummer David Berger and guitarist Daniel Littleton.
And they produced the set of the Festival to that point! OMG, this was great stuff, with Amy giving her whole soul to an incredible setlist. They did some of her songs, like Roll Away, Sky's Falling (my favorite, this is a great song), and Gentling Me, her great cover of Sam Cooke's Good News, and some old stuff like Little Richard's Slippin' and Slidin'.
Daniel Littleton is a force of nature. He plays a rack of beat-up old guitars, and incorporates powerful feedback from his small six-string acoustic and tenor guitars into his sound. Sure he'll pick up a Stratocaster or other old thing, but what he's most trying to do is play as many sounds as possible that'll fit in with the hoots and hollers Amy is doing over at center stage. We were lucky enough to be right in front of him (we'd moved up front for this set), and we (and everyone else within hearing distance) were suitably agog at his wooden pyrotechnics.
They clustered around the mike for a few songs (including a folky arrangement of Springsteen's Atlantic City!), but the most powerful statements were when Amy was punctuating her vocals on the bass and tom-tom drums. Of particular note was a striking cover of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down with Berger milking the harmonium.
And the Kids were on next, and I didn't stick around for much of their set. Hannah Mohan is an impressive guitarist, but I just stayed for a tune of two and then started ramblin'. Picked up some food and stuff and then caught repeats of Lula Wiles on the Parlor Room Stage and The Dustbowl Revival on the 4 Rivers Stage. Actually, they both played several songs they hadn't done earlier, such as a cover of Lucinda's Crescent City by Lula Wiles (sung by Ellie) and some good ol' country blues by Dustbowl Revival and Liz Beebe.
Time to settle down again at the main stage for Shovels and Rope. I was eagerly anticipating this band, which I expected to be a great hit with the GRF audience, as they were. We moved up front again and saw a transcendent act by Carrie Ann Hearst and Michael Trent. Their set was interrupted by instrument changes of course (that's one of the great things about them, that they share instruments and well, everything), but was more atmospheric (at a loud level) and moody than straight-forward country blues.
They did the most popular songs from their first record: Birmingham, Cavalier, O' Be Joyful, and a set closer of Hail Hail. And they also did short takes on The Devil Is All Around (with some political comments), Coping Mechanism, and Ohio. But their set centered on getting their sounds to meld and ended up with them shouting in each other's faces, while sweat rolled down their arms on a cool July day. As I expected, GRF *loved* this and when we turned around to look, the whole field as far as we could see was up and dancing at 5:45 on a Saturday afternoon!
And then the rain came. Well, it was never far away. The day had been cool and misty but really not *rainy* through Amy Helm's set. It was one of those afternoons where there were always a few drops, and some of them came in sequence, but not really persistent. Soon after Amy's set though, the rain started coming down in a way that made you say, "Uh-oh." The sky brightened a bit for Shovels and Rope, but after that the rain was a serious issue for the rest of the night.
But fuck that, next up was The Suffers! I've blogged about being blown away by them opening for Lake Street Dive, and they were just as good if not better. Kam Franklin is a fabulous singer and a great entertainer, and the rest of their 10-piece band will rock your soul. Too bad the heavens totally opened during their set and the rain was so hard it almost drowned out the music. But they took it in stride and probably thanked Dog that they were under a tent. Long tour to go for them, and hopefully some fame on the end of it, they're great!
The light was pretty much gone and the water was coming on down from on high at a serious rate at that point. I had a poncho on but was basically soaked, and everyone was in the same state. I sucked it up and went off for another ramble, catching a few songs by the catchy Australian group Oh Pep! at the Parlor Room Stage and then squishing over to the 4 Rivers Stage for some of The Felice Brothers. They were odd, doing a guitar ballad, a couple of Irish drinking songs, and a country-rock song in the time I saw them. Pretty good, but not enough to make me stay...
Headed back to the Parlor Room Stage after that and met up with Dave. The Alchemystics were just coming on and they had a lot of people on stage. We saw a couple of rap/reggae/blues songs that I found pretty entertaining but Dave found a little without focus.
The main thing was that *we* were losing focus as the rain continued and we got slightly colder and colder. We all had dry clothes back in the car, but knew if we changed into them that they'd just get soaked too and then we wouldn't have any warm clothes for the eventual ride North.
Our plan had been to catch a few songs from the very-successful Dawes after Shakey Graves (a TV star) finished blasting the main stage with random noise, and then to head down to 4 Rivers for a late-night set by Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, which all who'd seen her on YouTube (like me) were really psyched for. But the rain combined with the temperature drop were just too much. We knew we had to retreat at that point if we were going to live again and rock out the next day!
P&D ended up staying for Sister Sparrow (they won the prize for endurance that night), but we were out of there and back at the hotel in Brattleboro, driving through fierce rain squalls the whole way up. As it turned out, there was no rain up in Brattleboro and we were able to hang out outside, munching after-dinner snacks and watching the kids play soccer in the parking lot.
Had to stop that quick so others at the hotel could get some sleep, and an expedition headed off for the bowling alley. Not us though ... we had to get to sleep so we'd be ready for Sunday at the GRF!