My First Day at the Freshgrass Festival
Where do I start about a day when I heard thirteen different bands (I know, there were 14 bands that day but I ended up leaving before the headliner started)?
As I wrote in my initial thoughts on the Freshgrass Festival, this is a well curated festival, featuring bluegrass, newgrass, psychograss, country, and everything in between. Some acts were well-known, such as Sam Bush and The Infamous Stringdusters, while others were not as well-known, like Cricket Tell The Weather and The Deedle Deedle Dees. All have the kind of talent that brought them to New England for a bluegrass festival.
I am going to go in the order in which the bands performed. Something I particularly enjoyed was that the set times were staggered so I didn’t have to miss much of any act’s set in order to get to the photo pit for the first few songs.
First up at the Courtyard D stage (or the side stage, as I may refer to it here) was The Deedle Deedle Dees. They refer to themselves as a ‘teaching’ band, and the children in the crowd loved them! So did the adults… (Note to self: take more photos of the audience when you can.)
Next up, but first on the main stage (a/k/a Joe’s Field – I have to research to see who Joe is), was The Novel Ideas, a Boston-based band that I would classify as Americana more than bluegrass. Their stage presence is excellent and they related well to the largest crowd they have played in front of so far.
Back to the Courtyard stage I went to see Cricket Tell The Weather, the band that won last year’s band contest. I thoroughly enjoyed their style, which is mostly bluegrass but offers a fresh perspective. Cricket Tell the Weather is: Andrea Asprelli, fiddle; Jason Borisoff, guitar; Doug Goldstein, banjo; and Jeff Picker, bass. Cricket’s extended family is Dan Tressler on mandolin.
I returned to Joe’s Field for Claire Lynch, who I have seen perform (possibly at the Lowell Folk Festival). Claire has a truly lovely voice that can be both soulful and uplifting depending on the song. Mark Schatz (who I was thrilled to see) on bass, Matt Wingate on mandolin and Bryan McDowell on fiddle are the talented members of Claire’s band.
Back I walked to the Courtyard for Haas Kowert Tice, who I was excited to see. I have seen Paul Kowert with the Punch Brothers a number of times and have also seen Brittany Haas with Crooked Still. This is a powerful trio that plays mostly traditional bluegrass but with a progressive twist. They connected with the audience and delivered a rousing set.
Next on the main stage was a trio of Berklee College of Music bands. High Rock Mountain, Isa Burke and Ellie Buckland (with Molly), and Twisted Pine each played a short set of foot-stomping music, and received much deserved applause from the crowd. It is so satisfying to see young people who are both talented and driven. Twisted Pine won the band competition and the banjo player, Ricky Mier (who I saw in Virginia last month with Hot Day at the Zoo), won the banjo competition. I look forward to seeing all three of these bands play in the Boston area. This set was one of the highlights of the day.
I knew of The Gibson Brothers but had never seen them perform until they took the stage in the Courtyard. Brothers Eric and Leigh played a set of traditional bluegrass that was extremely well executed. Their harmonies are tight; their instrumentality is augmented by Mike Barber on bass, Clayton Campbell on fiddle, and Jesse Brock on mandolin.
Alison Brown followed at Joe’s Field. She also possesses a terrific voice in addition to her banjo virtuosity. Alison, with her husband Garry West who plays bass with the band, head Compass Records, which is a sponsor of Freshgrass and distributor of the music of some of the artists I heard this weekend. What made this set unique was their transformation of pop tunes into bluegrass tunes; one was Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’.
The most unusual act of the weekend (at least that I saw) was Valerie June who performed on the Courtyard stage. She described her style as ‘organic moonshine roots music’ which sounds accurate to me. I was not sure what to think after listening to her set, but as I have listened to her music during the week I have developed an appreciation of her and would like to see her again. She wins my prize for the most interesting act to photograph!
I returned to Joe’s Field for the last two acts of the day (I did not stay to see The Infamous Stringdusters at the Hunter Center). As dusk was settling, Sam Bush and his band performed his brand of newgrass. I have seen Sam perform several times over the past twenty years and he never fails to impress me. This set was no different. He is a virtuoso on the mandolin but his band is equally talented; they are Todd Parks on bass and vocals, Scott Vestal on banjo and vocals; Stephen Mougin on guitar and vocals, and Chris Brown on drums. They performed a longer set than most acts, and received a standing ovation.
The last act of my day was Railroad Earth, a band I saw perform last year and loved (although I hated the crowd that night). Based in New Jersey – not where you would expect to find a band that’s steeped in bluegrass – their style cannot be put into one category. Bluegrass on speed in one respect, ‘Country and Eastern’ (quote from the Freshgrass website) in another respect, they know how to work a crowd. The band is composed of Todd Sheaffer on lead vocals and acoustic guitars; Tim Carbone on violins, electric guitar, and vocals; John Skehan on mandolin, bouzouki, piano, and vocals; Andy Goessling on acoustic guitars, banjo, dobro, mandolin, lap steel, flute, pennywhistle, saxophones, and vocals; Carey Harmon on drums, hand percussion, and vocals; and Andrew Altman on upright and electric bass. What a great way to end my day!
I was happily tired by the time I got back to my car. It was a lot of music for one day, but I was so glad to have experienced my first, but the second festival, day of Freshgrass 2014!
Ticket courtesy of the Freshgrass Festival; all opinions are my own.
Posted on September 27, 2014, in concert reviews, music, Uncategorized and tagged Alison Brown, Bluegrass music, Claire Lynch, Cricket Tell The Weather, Deedle Deedle Dees, Freshgrass Festival, Gibson Brothers, Haas Kowert Tice, High Rock Mountain, Isa Burke and Ellie Buckland, Railroad Earth, Sam Bush, The Novel Ideas, Valerie June. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.