Went over to breakfast and said hi to Jerry the cat, who ran the Black Mountain Lodge, even though the very nice owner and her daughter thought they did. A couple of hard boiled eggs and excellent home-made cranberry muffins, and then back to the room for some iced tea and a shower ... and I was ready for another day! Well, we still had to do some drying of chairs, hats, and stuff before leaving.
The weather forecast was ominous once again, but we sucked it up, packed it up, and hit the road for Massachusetts before the others were totally awake. Got to Greenfield CC about the time we had on Saturday and this time Sarah headed for the people line, getting an excellent spot, while Dave and I crawled into the parking lot with the rest of the car parade. Got the same great spot, facing out of there, and chilled in line for 45 minutes or so until they opened the gates and let us in.
Good thing we had such a great position in line because the hordes absolutely descended once they let us in. The line at 12:00 was as long as it had been Saturday, we assumed ... we couldn't see the end of it as it snaked up the hill into the college campus itself! And inside the field area the frantic rush was on to set up chairs and throw down blankets or farther back, umbrellas. People were unfailingly polite of course, but this was a you-snooze-you-lose fest.
And this after the Biblical rains of the day before! We'd been thinking Saturday that some people would stay home with the gloomy forecast (and possibility of lightning), and we'd been thinking the same Sunday after Saturday was such a downer weather-wise. But the whole area was instantly as full as I'd ever seen it at that time of day, even though they'd moved the vendors' carts back into a bit of the parking area so there would be more room on the field. The GRF has become a must-see event, and we couldn't argue with that sentiment with the lineup they had set for that Sunday.
Sarah stopped by the information booth to inquire about the rain coat she'd left with Ellie Buckland on Saturday. Ellie had actually had it cleaned, dried, and folded for Sarah, wrapped up in a plastic bag with a nice note! What a charming touch from both ladies. And Dave showed his Good Samaritan side also, helping a collapsed concert-goer to medical assistance during one of the incendiary sets of the afternoon. When Dave got back to his place in front of the stage, his Ginger Libation had been knocked over! Oh well, he did the right thing and that's plenty of reward itself.
Set up our chairs, bopped around the main field a bit, and then headed directly down to the 4 Rivers stage to see the opening act, Sonya Kitchell. I'd heard a few tunes of hers on the radio but was unprepared to love her set as much as I did. She was on an electric guitar (picked up an acoustic once in a while), had a lead player, a bassist, a drummer, and a keyboardist, and proceeded to rock the hell out of the early afternoon.
Sonya looked like the folkie I'd heard on the radio, wearing a beautiful tiara of flowers and sporting a conservative, dark brown print dress. And she sounded like a folkie in some ways with her delicately crafted songs. But the stories the songs told were gritty, and her playing, especially when she got down with the other guitarist, had more crunchy rock than soft landings. And I was delighted when she ended her last tune with a guitar lead that degenerated into feedback, and then leaned up her guitar in front of the amp, blaring the feedback across the lower field! There were some people who didn't know what to make of her, but I loved it. And she expressed delight that the rain held off for her set, which sentiment was universally shared.
Wow, what a start! Next up was a bit of a slow spot, and I had time to tour the craft tents and to find some river rock earrings for Sarah. Winterpills took over the 4 Rivers Stage and were just like every other time I've seen a song or two of their's before bailing.
The Parlor Room Stage was taken over by a tribute for Jeff Martel, a long-time GRF guy who'd died in a traffic accident. Jim Henry was one of the large cast of characters they had for his tribute. And up on the main stage it was pretty slow too, as a 30-year tribute to the GRF turned out to be a succession of talking heads ... we thought they might have a musician or two. Oh well, ate some more stuff from La Veracruzana and then headed back down to the Parlor Room Stage for what turned out to one of my favorite sets of the weekend.
Bridget Kearney (bass player for Lake Street Dive, of course) has a side project with a New England Conservatory mate of hers, Benjamin Lazar Davis, and their writeups (and what I'd seen on YouTube) had them featuring Ghanaian and Trinidadian rhythms, and some odd time signatures and sounds. Not exactly my cup of tea (and I was ready to bail for Birds of Chicago on the 4 Rivers Stage). But when I saw them live, Bridget couldn't help but shine brightly as the great, poppy, lyrical, talented, perfect musician she is and I stayed for the whole set, riveted by her music. The crowd at the Parlor Room Stage was as big as I saw it the whole weekend for that set.
They did one LSD song (Hello? Goodbye!), and a bunch of others she'd obviously written. Some were in odd times but they were unfailingly catchy and infectious. Bridget was on electric guitar and for most of the time played it like a bass, bouncing with inflection on the upper strings and wringing the soul out of the songs. Benjamin played an acoustic and picked out the melody, while banging out the rhythm on a kick drum and at times a high-hat. But then Bridget would suddenly rip off a mind-bending lead on the high strings, sometimes adding a filter that made her sound like she was playing a drum herself.
As I say, this was one of the most magical hours of the weekend for me, and I didn't want it to stop. But when it did I didn't wait to applaud, I moved up the hill quickly and around to our seats while the North Mississippi Allstars lit into their first song!
Don't know if you've heard the Dickinson brothers, but they play loud rock and roll from deep down in the Mississippi swamp. Luther Dickinson (whom we'd seen with Phil and Friends a few years before) was on guitar, brother Cody Dickinson was on drums, and they had a bass player. That trio nailed the GRF crowd to their seats for the next hour. The rain may have started during their set, but no one was paying any attention to it.
They burned up the place, making it hotter and hotter. They did Next Time You See Me and Sitting On Top Of the World, and a tidal wave of blues, feedback, and rock rhythms that all piled up on top of each other. Good thing they were a small band, they were dealing so much sound that if there'd been more of them our heads might have exploded!
I have to admit I slipped off in the middle of their set, though this was difficult, to hurry down to the 4 Rivers Stage to see Margo Price. Margo is one of the bright young lights of country to my ear. When I was trying to describe her to my non-country-fan friends I couldn't help but tell them that she was like Merle Haggard, Not that she sounds like Merle Haggard, I'd go on, but she's got that same mesmerizing quality to her singing and the set-pieces in her songs ring with the same truth that Merle's did. Their eyes had glazed over already.
Margo's set was far from perfect though. She was up there in a dress and a hair-weave that didn't really work (especially in the humidity), playing a guitar that went out of tune easily, and having interruptions all over the place. She broke a sting, the rain started up as heavy as the day before and people reacted in a panic, and her pedal steel player had to move his rig to right behind her to stay dry.
But even with all these distractions, her set had a few moments of recreating the sound I'd heard on the radio, and I was very glad I'd seen her. When she's up there on Mount Rushmore or whatever, I can say I saw her when.
OK, back up to the main stage to settle in for the acts of the Festival. Next up was Los Lobos, and OMG, they were better than I'd ever seen them, though the rain persisted off and on throughout their set. David Hidalgo was just firing up the late afternoon on his assortment of guitars (their equipment was on stage all afternoon, protected by tarps, which were unveiled to help set them up quickly). Louie Pérez spent the set mostly at center stage, playing an incredible rhythm guitar, but finished up on the traps. Cesar Rosas was in fine voice and was playing mind-altering leads, and Conrad Lozano was not holding back the big bass notes. Not to mention Steve Berlin on funky woodwinds and Enrique González on drums.
They opened with Down On the Riverbed, played some songs from their new record (which Hidalgo apologized for, he knew the people were there to hear their classics), did a funky The Neighborhood that almost couldn't be recognized until the chorus, and finished their set with Bertha ("It was pouring rain but not a drop on me"). I've heard that song a million times, but this arrangement was tuned exactly to their sound and was fantastic!
Wow, that could have been the Festival-crowning act right there, but it wasn't. By that point on a Sunday the GRF crowd is usually starting to pack up and leave, and we'd thought that the rain would hasten this annual exodus. But it didn't happen this year; when we looked around, the field was still jammed full of standing, raving people, and when we looked toward the stage, we saw a stream of people going left and right, and up and down. We almost got trampled a few times, though we were standing in front of our chairs, by frantic concert-goers rushing past us to try to get up to the front. Most of our friends had come up to our seats for the last two acts and we were packed in like sardines between that and the milling crowd.
Geez, after saying all this about the other bands, what more can I say about Tedeschi Trucks Band, except that they were hands-down the best band of the Festival? As much as I've gushed about other guitar players, Derek Trucks stepped up to the plate and played a thrilling, consistent, amazing set, probably better than I've ever heard him. Susan Tedeschi exceeded anyone else we'd seen on vocals: Kam Franklin, Cary Anne Hearst, even Peter Wolf. Her voice FILLED the evening air, you could probably hear her beautiful and powerful singing back in Boston (she was facing East). And add incredible performances by Kofi Burbridge, the firm of Greenwell and Johnson on drums, Mike Mattison, Kebbi Williams, et al.!
The rain stopped and the sun peeked through the clouds over Susan's shoulder, as it set towards the ridge behind her. They had David Hidalgo out for a tune and Luther Dickinson for a few. On one song the lead vocals featured a duet between Mattison (the third most impressive member of the band IMO) and their new vocalist, Alicia Shakour. And then her father, Mitch Shakour came out and shared the piano and the organ with Burbridge! This made 14 (counting Dickinson and MShakour) incredible musicians on the stage, playing awesome rhythm and blues together.
They did Glory Bound, Made Up Mind, *nothing* from the new record I believe, and lots of new stuff. But no one paid much attention to what they played, it was how they played it. It was so riveting I could barely breathe. We were at our seats for that set, perhaps 35 feet from the stage, and barely out of the turbulent crowd but dancing up a storm ourselves. And from that distance we probably got the best available sound.
So they finally ended and that was it for the Festival. A steady rain was falling again, and we packed up pretty quickly after a last porta-pottie trip. They were barely approachable at that point and the field that had started so lush and green was now one big, trampled mass of mud and smooshed grass, covered with discarded cups and bottles. Did these people think they were at Gathering Of the Vibes or something? We picked up what we could and got out of there to our well-positioned car. We exited the sneaky way and hit route 91 for the North, arriving a half hour or so before the T family ... all our other friends had gone home.
How to sum up? I still think the 2015 concert was about as much fun as it gets, but 2016 was not far behind. If not for the rain, maybe it'd be in front. We've been there enough times so we know when to dodge the lines and how to quickly make timing decisions about what act to see next. The theme of the concert to me was excellent guitar playing and excellent sound. I can't get over how well it carried and the quality of the loudest notes. It was a great decision to move the vendors back and leave more room for the crowd to act confused, as it does. I met friends there, and we all had a wonderful experience! I'm already looking forward to next year.