Sunday, July 16, 2017

Green River Festival 2017 - Saturday

Not that bad a sleep on the small beds at the Rose, and a beautiful morning greeted us.  Soon enough we were out on the front stoop, eating peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, drinking iced tea, drying stuff on car hoods, discussing whom we'd seen the night before, and talking about strategy for the day.

In the past we'd tried to fit in breakfast before the Festival, but we realized that it would be better to eschew that in favor of an early start, and hence the PB&B.  We planned to leave at 10.  In the meantime, Paul wanted to talk jobs, Sarah wanted to talk house, Tristan wanted to talk smack, and the kids were hanging around, getting a little closer to listening to their parents and weird friends as if they were normal people.  Is it strange to be so motivated by seeing great music acts?  Sure, but there are a lot of stranger things around.  Anyway, the crew all got down to the pool by around 10 and we got packed and on the road,  P&D were not going to be far behind us.

Took the Old Greenfield Road route again.  It had been a very rainy and temperate Spring and early Summer, and the greenery everywhere was wonderful, especially in the woods over the ridge West of Greenfield.  Twisting streams delineated the sides of the roads, gorges filled with ferns tailed off to our left and right as we twisted uphill, and the lilies were a delight, springing up in bunches ranging from 10 to 100 in patches of light over the hills.  We headed down into town and finally under the highway and into suburbia.  Colrain Road appeared in front of us, and we took a left and were soon in a line of cars approaching the circle at the entrance to the Greenfield Community College.

OK, this was a bit of a traffic clusterfuck, and the Greenfield cops soon realized their traffic control techniques were just making things worse.  It was around 10:30 and when we got up to the circle we were told (as all of the other non-vendor cars had been) that the gates weren't opening until 11 and we should go away.  We let Dave out at that point of course, and he walked into the college to get in line.  I turned around and then parked on the shoulder behind several other cars, patiently waiting our turn (Sarah got out and walked at that point too).

But soon the cops tried to wave us on, telling us that we were blocking emergency access.  It wasn't *us* on the shoulder blocking access, it was all the cars on the road waiting to be told to go away!  I tried to explain this to the cop who was waving us on, and what could he say but, "I don't know what to tell you sir."  As I say, they realized they were participating in a clusterfuck and soon just gave up and let us in (after I'd pulled onto the shoulder on the other side of the circle).  Oh well, everyone involved kept their sense of humor and soon we were in, in a reasonable simulacrum of the order in which we arrived.

Parked in the same good spot as the night before and soon joined Sarah and Dave in the rapidly growing line and slathered on the sunscreen.  Saturday was long sold-out (not sure if Friday and Sunday ever reached sellout numbers) and the place was swarming with people by noon.  LSD's bus pulled in around then, and they let us in soon after that.  We hurried up to the same old spot between the soundboard and the standing area and managed to plant our chairs just in time, though one guy we'd met before had the chair closest to the conduit in our row.  P&D showed up soon afterwards and we were able to squeeze them in too.

OK, time for beer wristbands (and a beer) and to check out the setting-up-in-a-frenzy food and record vendors.  I then resumed my seat and was watching people, wearing my Dead & Company Fenway 2016 t-shirt, and wishing I had a lighter color on ... the day showed promise of getting blisteringly hot and the fringes of the field that were in the shade were already packed.  Everywhere was filling up, and the organizers asked us over the PA to be considerate and not take up any more room than we needed.

Then a volunteer security guy started staring at me, and came a little closer, and stared some more, then moved in to say something.  I wondered what I was doing wrong!  He leaned in and said, "Saturday or Sunday?" and I told him, "Both!"  I realized instantly that this was a fellow Deadhead and we gushed about the Saturday and Sunday shows at Fenway the month before (though I was wearing a 2016 t-shirt).  In true Deadicated fashion he rhapsodized about what a special moment it had been for him when they played Ripple on the acoustics.  It's wonderful how music can be so meaningful to people who just listen.  This was Steve and he was around the next day too ... we told him to feel free to use our seats when we weren't there and he did, and joined us in some crazy dancing to JRAD the next night.

Yeeha, time for the show to start!  First up was Dan Bern (with a fiddler and drummer), who tempered our enthusiasm a bit.  He seemed to think that caricature was the important thing to his act, specifically seeming like a cross between Woody Guthrie, Dylan, and a few other funky folk singers.  Wasn't this why people listened to folk music?  Anyway, I'm sure he was a hit later at the kids' tent.

I was off to the Four Rivers Stage soon anyway, bound to hear Hammydown, who'd impressed me some with her videos.  Abbie Morin was holding forth on a borrowed guitar and had a bass player and drummer and they played some angry-young-woman indie tunes that were pretty good.  Someone finally fixed Abbie's guitar and she wailed some fine leads on it when she got it in her hands.  All in all this was fun, but the really good stuff was still to come.

I left soon before Hammydown's set was over and caught a bit of Dietrich Strause & Blue Ribbons over in the Parlor Room tent.  I'd seen him before, opening for Lorrie McKenna, and was totally unimpressed.  But the Blue Ribbons seems to be a good, traditional country-blues outfit and his turns on piano were very nice.  Might have liked to see more of them.

Back up on the Main Stage and realized I'd better eat something before the Festival really got going.  Crammed down a bean burrito from the excellent La Veracruzana people and enjoyed a few songs from The Suitcase Junket while doing so.  I'd been in the merch tent when Matt Lorenz had arrived with his crew, one of them proffering a large valise.  He was met with blank stares except by me, who said, "That's the biggest SUITCASE I've ever seen."  He slapped me five and said to the tent in general, "See, THIS guy got it at least!"  Matt's put out a new record recently and if I hadn't seen him before and knew what to expect, I would have been riveted by his set.  He's the real thing and definitely plays the good stuff ... by himself.

But I had a mission.  Up soon on the Parlor Room Stage was going to be Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams and I, everyone in our group, and maybe hordes of the other Deadheads at the GRF, were determined to see their whole set.  As noted, we've seen Larry live with Levon Helm, Phil Lesh, David Bromberg, Richard Shindell, et al.  And Teresa is not lacking in talent either to put it mildly.

So after listening to a few tunes from the shady hillside and lowering my body temperature a bit, I insinuated myself into the back of the crowd clustered around the end of the center aisle during The Sweetback Sisters' (Saturday) set and slowly moved closer and closer as people bailed.  The Sweetbacks were as great as they had been Friday (mostly a repeat set), but people were milling and I was moving up and before I knew it I was in position to grab a seat, then row-hop up to the front as other seats became vacant.  At the end of the set I moved up and claimed a stretch of seats in the second row on the aisle, where I was soon joined by Sarah, Dave, and P&D.

I've got to say some negative things about the Parlor Room Stage setup they had.  This stage has changed a lot over the years from a small kids tent to the great open setup they had the last few years, though that left the performers and the audience mostly exposed to the sun and the weather.  The beast setup for this stage would be to take advantage of the slope between it and the Main Stage area and make it into a quasi-amphitheater (though there's a muddy area they'd have to worry about).

They certainly had the speakers to do that this year, those were some big stacks and I was drooling over them.  But for people sitting on the hill the sound was loud but muffled, and sightlines were terrible.  They'd put a low, rectangular tent over the stage area and crowded it with uncomfortable plastic seats.  For the people inside the tent, if you could ignore the cramps in your ass and legs, this meant you were out of the sun (though ventilation was limited) and the sound was fantastic.  But unless you were in that packed tent or crowded close enough around the edges, this was a bad setup.  I say open it up again and go back to taking advantage of the topography to make a nice experience for everyone.  Maybe they will next year, they seem to put a lot of thought into things like this and happened to get it wrong this time ... can't get everything right.

And part of the problem was that the whole GRF was a throbbing mass of people by that point and people were spilling downhill and clogging up the lower fields.  The weather was beautiful, the show was sold out, and the Festival was going at full tilt.  No balloons yet actually (possibility of thunderstorms?), but they came later.

And the Deadheads were there, as predicted!  I saw an incredible variety of Grateful Dead/spinoff t-shirts, possibly even more than you see at GD shows themselves.  I didn't see anyone else with the Fenway 2016 shirt that day, but the next day I wore my Golden Gate Wingmen shirt (Jeff Chimenti was playing!) and I saw two other people with that rare shirt.  And there one SMC t-shirt sighting (not me)!

Another thing about the Parlor Room Stage was that over the last few years, it's been at the entrance to the designated pot smoking area (as we call it).  This year that field was roped off and guarded by volunteers, possibly to discourage people from going over there to smoke, or possibly to discourage locals from sneaking in that way.  But pot is now legal in Massachusetts and people didn't miss the lack of a "designated" area.  There was the smell of weed everywhere throughout the grounds, and several over-enthusiastic smokers at the Main Stage even offered to share their pipes, though we sometimes had kids with us.  Oh well, kids have to experience the world sometime.  And it was nice of the people to share.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, Larry came on in his usual denim shirt and jeans, though he must have been a little warm.  Teresa had a sensible loose top and jeans herself.  They were accompanied by a bass player (who looked familiar) and a drummer, lit into their first tune, and immediately brought the level of music at the Festival right up to the top, they were fantastic.

Larry switched between guitar, mandolin, and fiddle of course, while Teresa strummed the rhythm and the bassist and drummer grinned and grinned.  Their second song was one of the best covers of the Louvin's You're Running Wild that I've ever heard live, they later did a sparkling version of Larry's (and Julie Miller's) Midnight Highway, and they did almost as good a cover of Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning as when we had seen them with Phil in Port Chester.  Here's Teresa gathering herself to kill the last few verses of Lamps:

And of course they upped the ante laid down by the Sweetbacks with their "Cry Cry" song by singing "Cry, Cry, Cry!"  Though the tent was hot and cramped and uncomfortable, the sound and playing was amazing and the tunes were rocking.  I was transported and could have watched them play for a long, long time.  They didn't do some tunes I'd hoped for (Did You Love Me At All, When I Go Away), but what they did play was so stellar that my whole consciousness was centered on them.  This was great stuff!

OMG, they ended too soon (Larry pointed to my shirt and gave me the thumbs up while we were applauding) and we all turned and gawked at each other ... how lucky were we to be in the front rows for a set like that in the middle of such a fantastic Festival?  And the best was yet to come.  But fuck sitting around, time to run up to the Main Stage for ...

San Fermin (named after the running of the bulls tradition in Spain??)!  I'd seen them on YouTube and loved them, they're kind of jazzy, kind of soulful, kind of avant garde, and entirely entertaining.  This was a real change of pace and perhaps their thoughtful, stick-with-us-and-you'll-be-rewarded vibe was not the best for the cusp of the Saturday show, but they're really good and I loved what I heard.

BUT (I say again), after some listening and some hydration it was time to run back to the Four Rivers Stage for one of the bands I most wanted to see, Tank and the Bangas!  I had heard the name but hadn't heard the band until I did my YouTube research, and they blew me away.  They won the NPR Tiny Desk Contest unanimously (quite an achievement), and they spin a mix of NOLA funk-soul, hip-hop, R&B, pop, rock, whatever, that is really intoxicating.

Tarriona Ball (Tank) has an amazing voice and amazing control of it, she can go from rapid baby talk to soul screeching to wrenching R&B honesty and right back in half a second and she does that over and over until your mouth is hanging open.  And the rest of the band is made up of incredibly versatile and talented musicians as well, such as her backup singer Anjelika Joseph and drummer Joshua Johnson.

Perhaps the live venue was not as ambient an atmosphere as is needed for them to really weave their spell, but they sure had us and the biggest crowd at the Four Rivers Stage that I've ever seen rocking and jiving and just hanging on Tank's every word.  And she sure had a lot of them, piled on top of each other.

Another note on the crowd: as I say it was jammed at the bottom of the fields, as it was up on the main field.  You could tell that people had come in through the gate, had literally nowhere uphill to set up, it was wall-to-wall people, and so had migrated downhill.  Many people were camped out there for the duration with their blankets and coolers ... they'd given up on the uphill areas ... and this meant that the downhill area was overtaxed.  The lines for the porta-potties and beer were incredibly long, stretching to the horizon, and at one point I went back uphill to take a piss and then returned, and made out better than the people who were still anxiously waiting in line downhill.

Ack!  So much to do!!  Tank went into her tour de force, Rollercoasters, and I knew that would be the last song of their set, so screwed for our seats uphill, where I re-hydrated, gobbled down some more fine food from La Veracruzana, and caught a tune of Amadou & Mariam, a Malian group.  And then it was right back down to the Four Rivers Stage for one of the headliners in my mind, Pokey LaFarge.

Pokey's got a new record out and they played a bunch of tunes from that (opening with Riot In the Streets of course).  He's a bit more concerned with instrumentation over the past few records, and I prefer the more raw sounds of a few years ago, but he's still just a dynamic singer and performer, and he plays one of those smooth rhythm guitars that make your whole body move in mysterious ways.

He had a lot of people on stage, and some cracker-jack horns, but I was right in front of Ryan Koenig and he was rocking the harmonica, the old-time banjo (the only banjo I saw there in two years), and the backup vocals.  They have a particular kind of funk that reminds you of Mark Twain, it's Midwestern!

I was lucky to have timed it right to get up front for them, which had been impossible to do for Tank and the Bangas.  That was another measure of how crowded it was that day and how crowded the Festival has gotten lately: you used to be able to sneak up front for the act(s) you really wanted to see, but now there are people packed in everywhere and you've got to really time things exactly to make it to the front.

Geez, the day was getting on and after Pokey I dragged up back to the seats and settled in for the rest of the evening.  Nothing was going to make me move, especially when Houndmouth (another band I was looking forward to) came on and did a long set of excellent rock, heavy on the guitars, the horns, and the drums, just the way I like it.

Time for the last set, and though I never left my seat, I stood up and looked around at the subtle colors in the late evening sky, the amazing rainbow of the crowd, and the balloon illuminations going on down below.  It was a beautiful evening and it is a beautiful world.  Up on the stage the boffins were scurrying around, getting things ready for ... oh yeah, Lake Street Dive!

Even if you've been under a rock for the last few years you must have heard of these guys and if you haven't, just a little taste will have you begging for more.  They play some of the catchiest songs I've ever heard, mostly originals, and have a style that exposes every note they play and every harmony they pile on top.  It doesn't hurt at all that they have one of the best bassists I've ever heard, Bridget Kearney.  Mike Olson's trumpet playing can be criticized, but besides that they are over-the-top excellent in all aspects of what they do.  And they're Boston products!  They met at the New England Conservatory (we'd seen them perform there this past winter), and spent more than 10 years slaving away in Boston bars before making it big.

They came out like the huge band they are, spread out to all corners of the stage and backlit by spotlights, with Rachael Price wearing her most shimmery dress.

They opened with the incredible Bad Self Portraits, and had the GRF crowd in the palms of their hands.  Here's some other songs they played:  Spectacular Failure, How Good It Feels, Seventeen, Side Pony, Call Off Your Dogs, etc., they can fit in a lot of songs.  They did George Michael's Faith early in the set and Paul McCartney's Let Me Roll It for an encore, but besides that stuck to originals.  Unfortunately, they didn't do any of the new originals that I've heard online ... can't wait for them to release those, or Prince's When You Were Mine, that had knocked me out at NEC.  They stuck to the tried and true songs and the sellout crowd was raving.

In the latter part of the set they clustered around the mike (no pun intended) for some slower songs, and then opened it up again for the last few and the encore.  What showmen and what a band!

Well, that was some fun!  We were feeling fine and had just had a long, long day of music.  We took our time getting out of there but even so, and even though we had a great parking space, we would have had to tag along with a long, slow line of cars to get out of the lots.  So instead we set up the chairs again and had another beer and chilled some more.  Several people honked at us, like hey, they're just sitting there having a good time, that could be us!

Finally saddled up and were lucky to be turning right, out to the West while everybody else was turning left to the highway.  Made it back to the Red Rose with no trouble at all and this time the gang had a long session out at the picnic tables in the cool Western Massachusetts night.  There was a lot to talk about!

So that was at least a bit of 12 bands for me, basically running around (and sitting) from 12:45 to 10:45.  Sunday looked like it would be a less frantic day, but I was beat, as were we all.  Soon to bed and to sleep.

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