Another pretty good sleep on the small and squishy Red Rose beds, and then another brilliant, beautiful early-Summer morning (7/16) that threatened to get very hot very quickly. We still had plenty of peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, cinnamon-raisin bagels with cream cheese, iced tea, and orange juice, so had a fine breakfast on the veranda along with the normal morning repartee.
We all agreed that Saturday had been exhausting but very worth it, and we were psyched to see the LSD spinoff bands that afternoon, and of course JRAD. Dave had been working on some possible setlists. Note that usual band members, Dave Dreiwitz and Marco Benevento, were going to be substituted for by Jon Shaw and Jeff Chimenti respectively; so that was quite a significant trade-off and fueled further speculation. If LSD was going to be sticking around for the afternoon, might they stick around for the evening? Can you imagine Rachael belting out Caution or Lovelight (she (AND Teresa) had sung the part of Grace Slick two summers before with the Jefferson Airplane reunion)?? Would Larry and Teresa be hanging around? If Alicia Shakour melded with the band so well on Two Souls In Communion, can you imagine Teresa doing the same thing??
But in the meantime, we had to get there. Luckily we’d be coming back to the hotel that night, and so didn’t have to do major packing to get ready. We hit the road at 10, just as we had Saturday. Scott had toyed with coming with us so he could be in time to grab a family spot in the shade, but opted out.
It was another jolly trip to Greenfield over the Old Road and, as expected, the Greenfield Police still had orders to not let non-vendors onto the College entry road before 11. But this time they let us queue up on the shoulder and things were much more sane. By 10:47 or so they figured that was close enough to 11 and it was time to hang out in the shade with some cold drinks, so they waved us on in … a very mellow morning and mellow guys, why don't we live out in Western Mass?
In the meantime of course, Sarah had walked in and set up a camp in line at almost exactly the same space as we had yesterday. We also had exactly the same neighbors in front of us and behind us in line! Much jollity ensued. P&D showed up soon and we encouraged them to join us … most of the other people “in line” were actually representatives for larger groups who were waiting in the shade or circulating around. This is its own particular society, and we all were having a fun time, though roasting in the sun. As mentioned, that morning featured a full parade of obscure and traditional GD/related t-shirts, and the parade started early.
OK, it was finally (close to) noon, they opened the gates, and it was every one's opportunity to go, go, go! We front-runners were a choreographed group though, and we all got in and gracefully grabbed our preferred spots. We got almost the exact same patch of grass that we had gotten on Saturday and had the same neighbors. Steve showed up later and said, "What, did you guys reserve these spots for the weekend?" Well, yeah, though it took some effort.
Sunday at the GRF and it was one of those magic moments! I got into a Dead-heavy conversation with the guys at the beer tent and wandered around through the great vendors and the hordes of people piling in. The line outside was never going to end.
I was psyched to see the latest incarnation of Twisted Pine; they've gone a step beyond the entry-level band they'd been before. They've pared it down to a four-piece, with Dan Bui back to his incredible mandolin, a new tall bass player, and Rachel Sumner on guitar and Kathleen Parks sticking to the fiddle (none of this scratching her ass about what to play next tune). And they've also put Kathleen in a slit-to-here red dress and red lipstick, possibly thinking that a newgrass band needs sex appeal.
Had a chance to move up front for once and was really digging their sound. They did a few originals and I waited until they finally let Rachel sing one. She's my favorite, a Kathy Kallick clone. But then I screwed downhill because, as before, I was on a mission!
Wait a minute, who was that woman who was rushing uphill by me as I rushed downhill by her? Her hair gave her away: it was a sun-glassed but not made-up Rachael Price who was on a mission herself, no doubt heading for the backstage bus/makeup artists after helping the guys set up. I thought for a second about saying something to her, like proposing marriage, before I remembered that I was already married and we were both in a hurry.
Got down to the Parlor Room Stage and Sarah and Dave were already there. We'd conjectured that at that time of early afternoon, standing at the left side of the seats about halfway in would offer the best combination of shade, ventilation, and sound, and that's where we ended up. Rachael (now in full regalia) ended up there too by the time Madam Uncle came on (the two Mikes' band), and the crowd was not far behind.
So that afternoon I missed the end of Twisted Pine's set, all of The Dustbowl Revival, whom I'd liked so much last year, and all of The Infamous Stringdusters, whom I'd have loved to see. But this was because the Parlor Room Stage was hosting the three LSD spinoff bands in a row, and I was so glad I saw them! I'd make that sacrifice again a thousand times.
First up was Madam Uncle, as mentioned, and they opened with just Mike Calabrese and guitarist Lyle Brewer on a few raunchy, crunchy numbers. Then Mike Olsen joined them to make it even raunchier and crunchier. This was their college band reincarnated, and they played some early stuff, including one song that had been released on the mythical first Lake Street Dive record (which is very much not for sale).
I'd grabbed a seat next to Sarah, and Rachael was sitting a few rows in front of us, being supportive like a good bandmate. The guys played a really short set, but it was a great glimpse into Lake Street Dive's raw genesis and roots.
The guys had Rachael up for the last number, and as soon as they were done Sarah, Dave, and I took turns scooting down to the porta-potties, beer tent, and water station while the others saved the seats. The crowd was already packing in tight. I caught a song by Sweet Crude on the Four Rivers Stage while I waited in line down at the bottom of the field.
Got back and traded off, while they re-set the stage for the set I was really looking forward to. Bridget Kearney played GRF last year with her accompanist Benjamin Lazar Davis (in the present day, introduced as "Ben" and wearing heart-shaped sunglasses), and was enthralling. In the interim she's put together a solo record (Won't Let You Down) that you have to hear. I swear she's the fifth Beatle at times. She came out with a flower tiara that kept falling down over her eyes, a comfortable looking dress, and some shades that had people saying, where's Bridget?
Besides Ben on guitar, she was accompanied by a brilliant keyboardist (who's name we didn't catch), and by her producer, Robin MacMillan, on drums. They were a fantastic, tight band (even when the tiara got in the way), and they basically did Bridget's whole album: Won't Let You Down, Serenity, Daniel, What Happened Today, Love Doctor, Wash Up, etc. It was fantastic and I couldn't help but hoot and holler, sentiments expressed by many others in that suddenly small and rocking tent.
Dave's only complaint (he was still standing) was that Rachael was standing right in front of him and obscuring his view with her hair-do. She finally got bothered one too many times by guys who just couldn't resist trying to engage her in conversation ("Hey, I'm listening to the band!") and she retreated backstage. But the message of support was delivered to her bandmates: we're a team!
Bridget was just fantastic and the coolest guitarist ever. Last year when we saw her on guitar she stuck mainly to the bass strings, but this year she was all over that sucker and ripped off some crunchy leads herself. And the other guys were great too. She then got the whole band up on stage and for the last number, So Long, one of her most Beatle-esque ballads. She was joined by the two Mikes (tambourine and trumpet), Brewer, Rachael, and her band for quite a perfect set closer.
Woohoo! This was fantastic stuff and she was probably glad to get backstage and throw that tiara far away, though it was well intentioned.
Time for another frantic round of scooting to water and porta-potties. This time I caught two songs by Kat Wright, including a rocking Fleetwood Mac cover (Go Your Own Way). Then it was time for Rachael's side project! She's been playing with another NEC graduate, Vilray. He plays a small finger-picked guitar, though he later switched to a Stratocaster, and has written some songs that sound like jazz standards from the 30s or 40s, they're so happy and grooving and snappy in that way.
The heat was building in the tent but the two of them were riveting in their own right, hitting all the harmonies perfectly ... or close enough ... and basically leading everybody in having a good old time. Rachael and Vilray shared a very old-school mike and the one sound engineering glitch of the Festival occurred in their set, when the mike stopped working. The sound guys fixed it right away and were kind enough not to say, "*We* didn't tell you to use that old POS!"
No guest appearances in their set except for a saxophonist (from The Sweetback band) who stayed on the sweet and mellow side. They kept it traditional and presented some wonderful music that was probably the farthest away from the LSD sound of the three acts, though of course ... it was Rachael.
Wow, that was a great afternoon of music, and we were so lucky to have seen the three spinoffs back-to-back-to-back. Wonder if they'll ever share a stage again? The electricity in the tent had been throbbing (as well as the heat), and we took a second to gather ourselves back up. Slowly got out of there and wandered up the hill, where we re-hydrated for sure and got some dinner at the vendors.
Back to the seats and though I'd been thinking about catching some of Robbie Fulks back at the Parlor Room Stage, I stuck around for The Funky Meters and was very glad I did! Tristan and family came up for this one and we were treated to some astonishing funk and soul.
The Funky Meters is of course the descendant band of The Meters, one of those New Orleans bands who influenced everyone. The current lineup has originals George Porter, Jr, and Art Neville and played a long, almost seamless set of elemental soul. Porter was just jaw-dropping on bass, reaching the outer limits of what the instrument could do, and the rest of the band was dancing on top of his sound.
OMG, it was that time of the Festival again. The balloons were lifting off on the lower field, the sun was about to set behind the Main Stage, the wisps of clouds were starting to turn shades of purple, pink, and orange, Jim Olsen was introducing volunteers, and the stage was being set up for the final band.
The whole Festival seemed to change gears. It was time for JRAD! Dave had decided that he was going to be up at the stage for JRAD or die in the attempt, and he had had the foresight to go up there before The Funky Meters came on and then not move from his spot. Even so, he was still a few rows from the very front. Between sets I played "Charlie and the MTA" and threw him a water bottle (or tried to) over the heads of the other Heads, packed in to the very front. They were psyched up there!
The guys came out, tuned up, and started jamming. No introduction needed, they were just floating from the beginning and the crowd started floating along with them. The jam took a left turn, as is expected when you're listening to JRAD, turned into Loser(!), and we were off something serious. Here's the setlist as posted by a taper (there were lots there) ... I post this list because the notation is closer to what I heard than Costello's list, though he's usually spot on:
Feel Like a Stranger >
They Love Each Other tease > Row Jimmy > band intros
Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo >
The Other One > Dark Star tease > Aliens >
He's Gone bridge > Ramble On Rose
Good Lovin' > Let It Grow jam >
Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad > And We Bid You Goodnight
Not Fade Away
Ack!!! We'd anticipated this set so much since December and here was actual fucking JRAD playing in the gloaming of a GRF Sunday and the moment and the band were just fucking perfect. Again, this band takes GD music and turns it on end and shakes things out of it that you always knew were in there but needed professionals to expose. Loser as an opener! Alligator (Tristan's son was grooving to this one)!! TOO!!! Let It Grow and then wham, we were in GDTRFB and not feeling bad in the least.
They were scheduled for two and a quarter hours and they started and ended right on time. So it must have been 2:15, but it sure seemed to me like it was way too short. It was so good while it lasted but then it was seemingly over in an instant. I could have stood there and danced and danced for hours.
And speaking of dancing, the crowd was moving as much as they would have been to a Rubblebucket or something. Seriously, there were some wild gyrations going on all over, and though we weren't jumping up and down like we would be to the Bucket, we were sliding into alternate realities with alarming frequency.
There was a bit of chanting at the end of NFA, but Joe was his usual gracious self and let us all know that they were done and it was time to go home. "Drive safely, enjoy Game Of Thrones!" he said (season premiere of the popular TV show was that night), waving to us. And then they left the stage with the same lack of drama with which they'd come on. They were hippies and so were we all.
Oh no, the 31st Green River Festival was history! We sure took our time leaving, hanging out on the field for another beer or two and chatting with others who didn't want to leave. Finally though, we packed up our chairs for the last time and slowly brought them out to our prime parking space.
Drove slowly out of there and back to the Red Rose, where we were the only remaining revelers. All our friends had gone home already, but we had a longer drive than any of them and were very smart to take it easy for another night, especially since we'd have been returning to more house chaos. The proprietors at the Red Rose, who usually attend the Festival themselves, did not make it there that Sunday either.
So how was the Festival? One observation was that I considered the 2016 Festival to be a guitar showcase, with Luther Dickinson, David Hidalgo, Derek Trucks, et al. This year was a drummer's Festival, with the incredible rhythm of Fulaso, Mike Calabrese, and then finally Joe Russo just to name a few.
For some reason I was not as able to concentrate on the music as at other GRFs. Others made this same observation and we thought maybe the sudden heat or the crowds were to blame. As I say, you couldn't really rely on serendipity to get you to the right state/stage at the right time, you had to plan everything. It wasn't as free-flowing as before.
But in all, I had a thrilling time and the music was fantastic. I'd have to rank it near the top of all the GRFs I've been to for quality of performance and of sound, let alone for having some of the greatest bands of the present day. In all I saw at least bits of 27 bands (one of them twice) and I enjoyed the heck out of the whole experience. Am I going next year?? Maybe I should call up the Red Rose now...