Good Vibrations

Freedom singers, hula hoops, wrestling masks, hot-air balloons, orzo salad … the list of unlikely sights I saw crammed into one field at the Green River Music Festival yesterday is a mile long. This was my first trip to the annual event, and the mash-up of colors, sounds, experiences, and most importantly, good vibes has me thinking I’ll definitely be going back.

The festival is held in Greenfield, Mass.; it’s the Commonwealth’s newest city, and overall, a very progressive, growing place. I had a sneak peak into the planning of the event early last week, when I took a hot-air balloon ride as part of a media trip, but I didn’t know what to expect other than the musical line-up and that blankets and outside food were allowed.

I bought tickets initially because Lucinda Williams was on the bill, and also because I love music fests in general and the tickets were ridiculously cheap ($40). My companion and I arrived at about 3 p.m. on Saturday, and the field was already filled with a rainbow of people, tents, and beach umbrellas:

green river

We’d brought a sad little array of supplies compared to most people – just a blanket, a picnic bag with drinks, cheese and crackers, and Snickers bars, a bag with emergency jeans and raincoats, and a little peace flag I usually attach to the back of my kayak. Other concert-goers had full camping tents, coolers full of drinks and food, tables and chairs, and kites flying above their sites – next year, I’m going full bore.

There were two stages – the main stage and a dance tent, which was packed as full as the main draw most of the day. The perimeter of the festival was lined with vendors and food booths that were not offering the normal concert fare – we saw summer rolls, pad thai, fried bananas, fried oysters, greek salads, kettle corn, gourmet ice cream … the festival could have survived on the food component alone. I settled on fried clams and had a bite of pulled pork bbq sandwich with pickled onions and orzo salad. I didn’t get a picture of the latter until it was nearly gone, speaking to its awesomeness:

bbq sandwich

As for the music, this was one of the best mixes of performers I’ve seen in a long time, and I was exposed to some new sounds I plan on following, such as the alternative bluegrass band Crooked Still:

and the inexplicably INSANELY FANTASTIC Los Straitjackets. Now, the photo below will tell you a lot about them…

los straitkjackets

… but not the whole story. Yes, they have matching suits and guitars, wear full face masks, and choreograph their movements to the music. But Los Straitjackets also play Dicky-Dale-on-crack surf rock with incredible skill, and speak to the audience only in Spanish, even though their accents suggest they’re from, like, Minnesota or somewhere. Another act, a singer named Big Sandy, joined them on stage for a few songs, also sung in Spanish.

There were a few local favorites playing in the dance tent, too, such as The Primate Fiasco and The Gokh-bi System.

This guy enjoyed both:

As night fell, Mavis Staples took the main stage. Staples was a ‘freedom singer’ during the Civil Rights Movment, often performing with or for Dr. Martin Luther King. In addition to a great set, she told stories about King, her father Pops Staples, and experiences with segregation in her childhood. The audience hung on her every word.

At the end of the night, Lucinda Williams came on stage as the headliner, and gave us a great set that was, however, very sparse on her hits. She avoided Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Essence, and Righteously, but did kickin’ versions of Joy and Come On. My photos are crap because it was dark, here’s the best one:

lucinda williams

There were other things that made the Green River Festival a good time, too. First, it was family friendly but not overrun with hot, cranky kids. It was also very well-organized, parking was close to the venue, and overall I thought the crowd ranked very low on the concert-asshole scale. There was a lot of camaraderie, not a lot of pushing, and a chill feeling even at the hottest point of the day. I’m already planning my campsite for next year – maybe something with a roasting spit …

See the whole day on flickr here

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