Monday, July 13, 2015

Live Shows: Green River Festival, Greenfield Community College, Greenfield, MA 7/11/15

Rubblebucket
Photo by Ken Sears
Green River Festival is something I've been meaning to get to for years now and just haven't gotten around to. This year, I finally made it to the festival on Saturday, and I doubt I'll be missing it ever again. In its 29th year, it's quietly become western MA's prestige festival, drawing national and local acts. The festival is insanely well run, with a wide variety of food trucks numbering in the dozens, free water stations, and alternate activities besides just music. They had an arts and crafts area for kids, shuttle buses to bring festival goers to a swimming area, and hot air balloon rides. Saturday was sold out, but at no point did the grounds feel claustrophobic at all. There was still even room in the fields for frisbee games and kids to run around. It was also the only festival I've ever been to where beer wasn't just limited to a cramped tent way off in the corner. Beer was allowed everywhere you were. It's a small thing, but it just shows how laid back the entire event is.

But, let's get to the music. The first artist I caught was Charlie Parr on the Four Rivers Stage. I had never heard of Charlie Parr before Green River, and I'm really glad I have. Hailing from Minnesota, he's one of those folk/roots artists that perfectly captures the authenticity of the style. The performance was just him on guitar or banjo, but the songs felt fully fleshed out with a full band even though he was only accompanied by his own foot stomps. 

Polaris
Photo by Ken Sears
I was too old for The Adventures of Pete & Pete when it first aired, so I don't have the same nostalgic feelings many others in the audience had for Polaris, who served as the band on the show and performed the theme song. Luckily, Polaris are a fantastic 90s indie band in their own right. They do sporadic performances, and Green River was one of their few 2015 shows. Fronted by Mark Mulcahy, who sounds like a cheerier Lou Reed, the band played some of the best songs you would ever hear on a kid's show, including "Hey Sandy," the show's theme song, and "Summerbaby." Even if you have no nostalgia for 90s kids shows, Polaris stands up purely as a fantastic jangly 90s indie band. If they do any more touring after this, you'll want to check them out.

Langhorne Slim & The Law
Photo by Ken Sears
Next I headed up to the Green River stage for Langhorne Slim & The Law. Langhorne Slim is one of the premier artists in the blossoming folk/punk scene, dancing along the border between poppy folk songs and harder edged rock. It's a great mix, and Langhorne Slim is a natural frontman. The songs bounced between the energetic, upbeat pop of "The Way We Move" and harder rock songs. He was the first artist of the day that truly pulled the crowd in. It's easy to see why: The man puts on a great show. For a band that typically plays 500 seat venues, they're making the transition to festival audiences quite well. Expect huge things from them soon.

J Mascis
Photo by Ken Sears
J Mascis is a western MA legend, and he made his Green River Festival debut on Sunday. A solo J Mascis show is always interesting, because you never quite know if you're going to get purely acoustic or if he's going to pull some pedals out and bring the Dinosaur Jr noise to the show. It started off pretty and acoustic, but during Dinosaur Jr's "Little Fury Things" he brought out a wall of noise that many in the crowd did not expect, especially during a solo performance. It's always fun when a solo artist can be the loudest/noisiest of the day, but with Mascis, you expect it. He was joined by Polaris's Mark Mulcahy for some of his set, which makes sense considering Mulcahy plays and sings on Mascis's 2014 album Tied to a Star. He also played a cover at his wife's request so that the audience would have at least one song they recognized. Ironically, it was the one song he played that afternoon I didn't know.

Lydia Loveless
Photo by Ken Sears
Unfortunately I wasn't able to catch all of Mascis's set because I had to head down to the Four River Stage for Lydia Loveless. Our obsession with Loveless is well documented on this blog, and I was thrilled to finally see her live. Live she's even harder to pigeonhole than her albums, careening between country, rock, and punk at a breakneck pace. Her band includes a heavy metal bassist and a noise rock guitarist, which adds to her whole sound. She joked about being so accustomed to playing tiny clubs at night that she wasn't used to seeing the sun and didn't know how to handle the large space of the festival. It did show a bit, but her just rolled out of bed look and attitude just fit right into her whole sound and mystique. Songs like "Really Wanna See You" and "Wine Lips" might work best in a bar around midnight, but she still put on enough of a show that new fans swarmed the merch table immediately after.

Back on the Green River Stage, we caught the rest of Booker T. Jones' set. Booker T is obviously a legend, best known as the frontman of Booker T. & The MG's. The man turns 71 later this year, and hopefully the younger bands caught his set, since you never would have guessed his age. Playing mostly funk and soul covers ("Respect," "Purple Rain," Hey Joe") Booker T. put on a workshop of how to last into your later years as a touring musician. He's the type of artist I might never have seen outside of a festival. Everyone at Green River on Saturday is better off having seen him play.

tUnE-yArDs
Photo by Ken Sears
tUnE-yArDs are the hardest to describe artist at the entire weekend of Green River. Led by Merrill Garbus, a New England native and alumni of Smith College in nearby Northampton, MA, it was a hodge podge of bizarre, mostly made up of human voice and drumbeats. Garbus stayed behind a hybrid drum set and keyboard for her set, joined by a guitarist, drummer, and background singer. She utilized a ton of loop effects, and barely stood still for her set. One highlight was "Gangsta" from 2011's WHOKILL, using looped vocals for the songs's police siren effects. She is one of those artists you don't think could translate live, but after seeing her, live might be the only way.

Rubblebucket
Photo by Ken Sears
Rubblebucket were one of those bands I never truly gave a shot to, dismissing them as a jam band. I have no idea where I got that idea, but holy crap was I wrong. Sure, they have some jam band elements, but they are another indescribable sound, mixing dance with ska and indie rock. Playing after dark, they had the good fortune of adding illuminated hot air balloons as a backdrop adding to their heavily visual show. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Kalmia Traver almost never stopped moving while she danced, sang, jumped around, played keyboards, saxophone, jumped into the crowd, and expelled more energy than my six year old at a birthday party. They had an insane light and smoke show during their entire set, with highlights being "Carousel Ride" and "Came Out of a Lady." At one point they brought an entire armada of aliens on stage to dance. At another the trumpet player rode an audience member's shoulders throughout the crowd. It could have all been dismissed as gimmicky, if Rubblebucket weren't so good.

The Green River Festival may be done for the year, but they will be back in 2016. Join their mailing list on their website to make sure you get in for next year. It's been the best kept secret in the New England festival scene for decades. It won't be for much longer.

2 comments:

  1. The space is spectacular and this venue is just what we needed for our event. It is the best place to have an event and we had an awesome experience here. The staff at LA venues is excellent; they are so attentive to all of your needs.

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