Michelle had apparently decided back in November that we would *not* get shut out of the Red Rose this year, and we all signed up for rooms there back in November!?! This turned out to be a great thing because it afforded us even more time for the anticipation of Green River Festival 2017 to build.
We traded several off-the-wall theories about what bands they’d feature this year. And when they announced the first ones back in December we almost fainted. Not only was Lake Street Dive going to return for a headlining performance, JRAD (by Dog!) was going to be the other headliner!! We got early-early-bird tickets as soon as they were available of course (@$80 for three nights as opposed to Saturday at the gate for $70) and watched the lineup fill out over the next couple of months: The Mavericks, Larry & Teresa, Pokey LaFarge, The Infamous Stringdusters, etc. And the crowning touch was when they announced that not only would Lake Street be performing as a band as the last main-stage act on Saturday, but on Sunday the individual members would be performing with their side projects.
Many excited emails shot back and forth between our group, and when they announced the daily schedule, much angst over how to fit in all the bands we wanted to see ensued. A little research into bands I hadn’t heard of made this even worse, I wanted to see everybody (well, almost everybody).
Oh well, mid-July finally arrived and we gave it our best shot. In the meantime our house had been torn apart (massive renovation) but we sucked it up, dragged our coolers and lawn chairs from under mountains of debris, made a stack of peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, a jug of iced tea, stocked up on ice and beer and cider, and hit the road on Friday the 14th while the painters were going at it on our walls.
First stop was Quincy. We picked up Dave around 10:30, hit the Pike Westbound, 128 North for a few exits, and were soon out Route 2 past the prison, on our way to Greenfield. We pulled into that estimable city through the back door on Route 2A, found a parking space, and meandered over to The People's Pint for a great, leisurely, relaxing lunch. It was a surprisingly cool day after some early summer scorchers and we all had our sweatshirts on. Their lunch special was barbecued chicken tacos, and that's what I got, along with a couple of excellent beers including a wonderfully flavorful variant of their herb gruit.
Sarah and Dave were looking for Ginger Libation, which has been featured at the Festival in the past few years and they are loyal followers. The bartender at The Pint told us where we could pick up a few bottles and we stopped at Ryan & Casey Liquors on our way out Main Street to do just that! Loaded up, we continued to head West, this time over the ridge beyond Greenfield and out the Mohawk Trail, to the welcoming Red Rose, where we met the crew and settled into room 9.
The Red Rose doesn't really have a lot of room for people to spread out in, but we were ready for that and had our food stuff in their frig soon enough (after plugging it in and getting some duct tape from the car to make sure it closed), got the air conditioner pumping to dispel a little must, and got our act together in short shrift. We were out of there soon and on our way back up the Trail and over Old Greenfield Road toward the Festival by 3:30 or so!
Geez, there we were, back in line for the GRF ... deja vu all over again. They were letting the cars into the lot just as we arrived and we got what we've decided is the best parking place for ingress and egress. We queued up with our chairs and stuff, recognizing some of the people (who were as excited as we were, we were all veterans) and of course some of the vendors frantically setting up beside the line. They wrist-banded us and let us in by a bit after 4:30 and we quickly set up our chairs on our customary patch of grass to the left of the conduit to the soundboard, a few rows back from the line demarcating seating area from standing area. They had smartly expanded the standing area this year, so this sweet spot in front of the soundboard was only 15 rows or so, as opposed to the 20-30 we'd seen in past years.
Woohoo! First up was Western Centuries, who came on right after 5 while people were still frantically arriving after a long work day, and were rapidly filling in the beautiful GRF fields. The most prominent name in this band is Cahalen Morrison, who has had a hand in several excellent roots records over the past few years (Morrison & West), Jim Miller (from Donna the Buffalo), et al.
Friend Suze was there taking pictures from the get go ... she'd been in line in front of us and recommended the new Twisted Pine.
Some settling in and fetching food caused us to not pay a whole lot of attention to their act, but up next was The Sweetback Sisters, who've just released a new record (King Of Killing Time) and had some excellent songs in store for us, such as the title track, Cindy Walker's It's All Your Fault, If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me Her Memory Will, and their incredibly rocking (in a Sweetback way) I'm Gonna Cry (written by band member Jesse Milnes). Of course they mixed in a few hits, such as Chicken Ain't Chicken.
OK, up next on the Main Stage was Big Al Anderson (of NRBQ fame) and so we figured it was a good time for diversity. We went our separate ways and I stopped by the Parlor Room stage, which had been turned into the "Next Wave Stage" that evening to showcase a bevy of young local bands. I caught a couple of song snippets from Court Etiquette which were very good, but then proceeded down to the Four Rivers Stage, which on Fridays is the de facto Latin stage.
Dave and Sarah ended up down there too (as did Michelle and others, can't believe we were all down there at the same time and I only ran into Dave), and we all agreed that Fulaso (short for Funky Latin Soul) was fantastic. They were the band that most exceeded my expectations that night, by far. I can still see them playing: an incredible percussion core of traps, congas, and a third member on bongos, güiro, and other percussion, and a quartet of horn players who produced a wonderful sound. They had an alto and baritone sax and a trumpet and trombone, and their groove was deep and throbbing and relentless. Added to this was an excellent bassist, the bandleader on keys, plus the dynamic Erica Ramos on vocals, who shimmied us into Latin heaven (she also took her turn on the güiro, a very democratic band).
Wow, I meant to not stay there too long, but Fulaso was just riveting. It was one of those moments when you thought, "Why leave, what could be better than this?" But Dave and I finally tore ourselves away and hastened back to the Parlor Room stage to see Nomads vs. Settlers, the young band that had most caught my ear during my YouTube research. Only caught one song of their's before the set ended, but it was a good one. They've got a great mixture of a loose, slacker kind of vibe and some make-you-take-notice talent in their solos. Would have liked to have heard more of them. Sarah luckily was there too!
Back up the hill for the close of Big Al Anderson's set after that, and some more jockeying between water station, porta-potties, beer tent, food lines, etc. Ultimately we all made our way back to our seats, the sun set, and by Dog, The Mavericks came on! What a great cap for a rockabilly/Latin/indie night.
This was the first time I'd ever seen Raul Malo live, and he nailed me to my seat. As with most great vocalists he was just testing the pipes for the first few songs, and then he started to let it rip and didn't stop until the whole ecosystem was reverberating with his voice.
Let me take a sidebar here and say that the GRF sound technicians did it for us all once again. The sound was just fantastic throughout the whole weekend (though the Parlor Room stage setup had acoustic problems, see below), and challenges like a Raul Malo (or a Rachael Price the next night) blasting the Main Stage PA were handled with absolutely no hiccups. Sarah complimented the soundboard guys after it was all done and they were surprised that anyone had noticed them. They were the stars of the Festival as much as anyone.
Of course, abetting Raul was Eddie Perez on guitar and jerky dance moves, as well as the entire crackerjack Mavericks band. I was beyond counting how many people they had on stage, but the sound, the lights, the snapping leads from Perez, and above all the wailing but soothing voice of Malo were rocking our world, and then Big Al joined them for a balls-out encore. If you've never heard Raul Malo, you need to!
Yeeha! What a start to a great weekend ... saw at least some of seven bands that night. As I say, it had been a little chilly earlier in the afternoon and it was kind of raining/drizzling through the whole evening. I was telling the folks back at the Red Rose that I felt like I was a pampered plant and God kept misting me with his spray bottle all night. So my glasses got a little obscured but it was all good, not like it had been last year!
The whole gang was there at the Rose (except for P&D, who arrived late) when we got back, and we eventually retreated to the picnic area for a quick beer. They'd caught some of the show but had to get back in time to get to bed. We were all really tired for some reason (maybe the sudden cool temperature), but agreed that Saturday would be another hot day and that we'd better get ready for that!
Figured out where to lay all our wet stuff and soon to bed.