A Freshgrass Kind Of Sunday
I was lucky enough to attend both full days (there is a small line-up on Friday evening which I was unable to attend) of the Freshgrass Festival in the Berkshires. Saturday was a long but fabulous day, and Sunday was no less than that.
In fact, I was more excited about Sunday’s line-up. (Click here for my review of Saturday.)
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 Salvation Alley String Band (which I kept reading as Salvation Army), a band from the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. Their style is composed of bluegrass, country, and western swing, and I enjoyed them quite a bit. The members of the band are Ryan McGovern Quinn on vocals, guitar, and banjo; Andy Goulet on pedal steel, theremin, and upright bass; Brandee Simone on vocals, guitar, percussion, and autoharp; Matt Silberstein on upright bass, mandolin, and keys; and Matt Jugenheimer on drums. I hope to see them again soon.
The schedule on the main stage at Joe’s Field began with Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, a traditional bluegrass band that I had the privilege of seeing at the Lowell Folk Festival in 2011. Mike is an incredible fiddle player and the winner of many awards from bluegrass associations. He has a unique style of playing (don’t ask me what it’s called) that endears him to his audiences as does his engaging personality. His band is Glenn Gibson on banjo, Nathan Livers on mandolin and vocals, Tyler Griffith on bass and vocals, and Joshua Richards on guitar and vocals.
I walked back to the side stage to see Sam Amidon, a native of Vermont. Sam is an engaging young man whose current project is the reimagining of traditional folk songs. I cannot describe him better than Pitchfork did: that his performances “meld the rural and the urban, the organic and the synthetic, the oral tradition and the written score.”
Next at Joe’s Field was Darol Anger, a terrific fiddle player who I have seen perform a number of times in the recent past but always with someone else’s band. Darol’s style of bluegrass is often referred to as psychograss. Whatever you want to call it, he’s a wonderful musician who always (or at least the times I’ve seen him) performs well. He teaches at Berklee College of Music along with his banjo player, Joe Walsh. As at any good festival, the artists sit in with others and he had Alison Brown on stage with him for a few numbers. This was a fabulous set!
Hurray for the Riff Raff, one of my favorite bands, appeared next on the Courtyard stage. I have now seen them perform a half-dozen times and they keep getting better. Even though they are currently playing almost the same set at each show, I do not tire of hearing songs such as ‘The Body Electric’, ‘Blue Ridge Mountain’ and ‘The New SF Bay Blues’, the last being a song Alynda Lee Segarra plays solo at the beginning of the set. Most of the set is taken from the most recent release, ‘Small Town Heroes’, an album that is worth owning. Alynda Lee has surrounded herself with fine musicians who are as talented as she is and love to perform as much as she does. I’m waiting for this band to do a headlining show in Boston – it’s their time!
WOW!!! Martha Redbone Roots Project is the band with which I fell in love at first listen! Several people I met at other shows told me I should see her, and couldn’t the last time she played a gig in Boston, so I was not about to miss her set. Martha’s music blends Native American rhythms with funk, Piedmont blues, and Appalachian folk to produce her unique sound. Her band is fantastic and includes, as the emcee said, one of the best looking bass players to grace the stage. She recently released an album of William Blake poems set to her music. It’s such a good album. Do yourself a favor and get to one of her shows! I was disappointed that there was only one album for sale at the festival…
At the Courtyard stage, Liam Ó Maonlaí performed next. He is the front man for the Irish band Hothouse Flowers, who I saw perform once and loved despite it being a rainy night outdoors, and I was looking forward to his set. He played solo, starting off with only his voice as his instrument and adding the bodhrán (an Irish hand drum) and plastic flute for other songs. He sang in Gaelic and he explained the lyrics to the audience so we had an inkling of the meaning of the songs. Liam has a beautiful voice that is well suited to both his solo and Hothouse Flowers work.
I stayed at the side stage for Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, husband and wife banjo virtuosos who are currently touring as a duo. I have seen Béla perform many times in various iterations, but I have seen Abby only once. Clearly, they have incredible chemistry both on and off stage. Béla seemed content with Abby taking the lead for most of the set, at least in terms of the singing and talking. They are both incredibly personable and at ease talking about their life with toddler Juno, writing and performing music together. They are releasing an album in a few weeks and the set drew mostly from that.
I was extremely excited to see the next act, The David Grisman Sextet. I last saw David perform almost twenty years ago and was long overdue for a dose of his music. He has had a storied career, playing with people such as Jerry Garcia, Doc Watson, and Vassar Clements, to name a few. His mandolin playing is superb, and he is backed by a fabulous band. His style is fairly traditional bluegrass, and I loved watching his expressive face. At one point, someone in the crowd yelled for the music to be louder, and he commented that they should sit back and enjoy ACOUSTIC music the way it is intended to be heard. Bravo, David! Darol Anger was asked to come play with the Sextet for a few numbers too! What a plethora of talent on that stage!
The last act of the festival was Emmylou Harris. The sun was behind the mountains as she took the stage to loud applause (I was going to say thunderous, but I’m not sure it was that loud). I have seen Emmylou perform but only with Rodney Crowell so I was glad to be seeing her with only her band. She is true royalty of her genre, whatever genre that may be (country? folk? alternative? who cares since she’s so wonderful?). Emmylou is quite charismatic and I truly loved seeing her up close and personal from the photo pit. Her beauty and warmth emanate from the stage and combine with her talent to produce a performance that is a joy to experience. She has a great backing band. I did not stay until the end of the set, unfortunately – I had a long drive after two long days on my feet.
Freshgrass is a fantastic festival. The vibe is laid back; people go to have a great time hearing amazing music, not to see and be seen as happens with some other festivals. The volunteers are cheerful and helpful, and they help ensure that the Festival ran smoothly. If there were problems, they were not noticeable. I am already looking forward to going next year! It’s held at a wonderful time of year in the Berkshires – it’s not the height of summer so it shouldn’t be too hot, but it also shouldn’t be too cold (I understand that on Friday night, the temperature went into the upper 30s by the time the music ended for the evening). It’s not yet foliage season though, so there are no hordes on the roads.
Put Freshgrass on your radar for next year’s fifth annual event!
Ticket courtesy of Freshgrass Festival; all opinions are my own.
Posted on October 1, 2014, in concert reviews, music, Uncategorized and tagged Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck, bluegrass, concert review, Darol Anger, David Grisman, Emmylou Harris, Freshgrass Festival, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Liam O Maonlai, Martha Redbone Roots Project, Mass MoCA, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, Salvation Alley String Band, Sam Amidon. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.