Reaching for the microphone at the Solid Sound Festival on Saturday night, the band Wilco’s increasingly iconic frontman Jeff Tweedy only had two words for the audience.
“Such devotion,” he said, to a rise of cheers and hollers from fans.
Indeed, more than 6,100 festival goers converged at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Mass., the bulk of them die-hard Wilco fans, deserved the compliment. They’d just weathered a New England lightning storm and, muddy and damp, were still rooted in their places in front of the main stage. They waited, patiently, for the headliners to blow the roof off an event that had already offered 17 musical performances and 15 exhibits in addition to the current MassMoCA offerings.
A four-person comedy cabaret featuring national acts including The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac and John Hodgman (also famous for playing ‘PC’ in commercials for Apple, opposite Justin Long as ‘Mac’) had already packed the Hunter Theatre four times over, and in between performances throughout the day, local food vendors replaced hot dogs and overpriced pizza with African samosas, falafel wraps, local beers, and boxes of fresh nuts and berries. Ticket holders, all identifiable by their bright pink Solid Sound wrist-ribbons, were tired, wet, happy, and full.
This year marked the second Solid Sound Festival at Mass MoCA, a music and arts collaborative devised and ‘curated’ by Tweedy and his Wilco bandmates. The crowd – decidedly hipster, but representing a wide age range from children to seniors — hailed from an estimated 47 states and 13 countries, and funneled more than $2 million into the local economy. Those kinds of numbers in the historically beleaguered city of North Adams are seen by locals as nothing short of a phenomenon; though ensconced within the high brick walls of MassMoCA, once a 19th century factory building, the festival extended its colorful reach well into the community, from the city-sponsored ‘Solid Ground’ campground on the local softball field to the scores of school buses shuttling attendees to and fro’.
As the band that devised what they refer to as ‘our little festival,’ Wilco is a constant presence around every corner. A gallery of concert posters chronicled their touring past, and a giant brass sign bearing its name pointed the way to the main stage.
But Solid Sound doesn’t feel like ‘WilcoFest.’ On the contrary, the vibe emanated from the masses, not the managers; glow-in-the-dark beads provided by concert staff look beautiful against the night sky, for example, but they’re much more striking when passed back and forth, in big, sparkling handfuls, among strangers standing yards away from one another. Similarly, a song sounds that much more rich when sung by many. At one point, Tweedy took a back seat on the lead vocals of one of Wilco’s cult hits, Jesus, etc., allowing the crowd to serenade him without prompting for the bulk of the tune.
“You can rely on me, honey,” crooned a chorus of thousands. “You can come by any time you want.”
The message, unlike the skies, was clear. Thanks, Wilco – and You’re Welcome.
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