Initial Musings on the Freshgrass Festival
While it’s fresh in my mind, I want to tell you a little bit about the fourth annual Freshgrass Festival, held each September in North Adams, Massachusetts at Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). I have not had a chance to look at the 1,500 photos I took, so those will follow in my full review.
What a fantastic festival!
I really had no idea what to expect, other than some great music from musicians that are well-known to me as well as from some who were not. This is a three-day festival, but I was unable to attend Friday night. Next year I will.
Upon entering the grounds of the museum, I was immediately struck by the warmth of everyone with whom I made contact. From the woman at the press check-in table to the young man checking bags, each person had a big smile and friendly words to offer.
The museum is housed in former mill buildings; I love the re-purposing of old buildings where you can see what they were in their heyday. I was not able to tour the museum because I had a large bag (i.e., my camera backback) but hopefully next year I can do that before the music starts. These buildings provided a great backdrop for the music.
There were two stages; a main stage set up in Joe’s Field and a smaller stage in the courtyard between a few buildings. The timing was such that the acts did not overlap much so I was able to see every act that appeared, at least for the first songs they played. I did not have to make any tough choices – win-win!
There were 23 acts (including three Berklee College of Music bands that each played for 15 minutes or so) performing on Saturday and Sunday! Admittedly I did not see every act’s full set, especially on Sunday where there were some sound check issues that delayed start times on one stage or the other.
The act that blew me away was Martha Redbone Roots Project! I knew of her but had never heard any of her music. A combination of blues, Appalachian, and Native American music, she has a unique style and I cannot wait to see her again soon. Her band is fabulous as well.
Some of my favorite musicians appeared – Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Sam Bush, The David Grisman Sextet, Emmylou Harris, and Hurray for the Riff Raff – and I loved seeing their sets, especially David Grisman who I had not seen live in about twenty years!
There were some musicians who I knew but not well, and enjoyed their music too; Darol Anger, Railroad Earth, and Claire Lynch to name a few. And then there were some I had never seen – Valerie June (organic moonshine roots music – who knew there was such a thing!), Alison Brown, and The Gibson Brothers – but not for a lack of desire.
One of the most fun sets of the day was provided by the Berklee All Stars, a trio of bluegrass bands composed of Berklee students. One of the bands, Twisted Pine, won the band contest and their banjo player, Ricky Mier, won the banjo contest!
Many types of bluegrass were in evidence, from traditional to newgrass to psychograss to ‘organic moonshine roots’ to Chinese bluegrass. I might have been less excited about my time at Freshgrass had the music been only traditional or only newgrass, but I felt that the lineup was extremely well curated with something for every taste.
I have not named every act in this review; do not take that as a sign I did not like someone. I heard no music I disliked, something I cannot say about every festival I have attended.
There were 4,000 people in attendance on each of Saturday and Sunday, and 2,500 attended Friday evening. I’m guessing that was just about the capacity of the festival, which is an ideal size. I saw a lot of happy faces this weekend!
Look for the photos and a more in-depth review of the individual artists to follow.
I am already excited to go to Freshgrass next year!
Posted on September 23, 2014, in concert reviews, music, Uncategorized and tagged Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck, Bluegrass music, David Grisman, Emmylou Harris, festival review, Freshgrass Festival, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Martha Redbone Blues Project, Mass MoCA, Ricky Mier, Sam Bush, Twisted Pine. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.