By Craig Harris
Mid-July and the summer music festival season is just beginning to heat up. For those who thrill to the experience of live music, this year offers treats beyond belief.
Originating as a hot air balloon celebration, the Green River Festival has grown into one of the premier events in western Massachusetts. The balloons are still there (providing 45-minute to an hour-long rides for $250), but it’s now the music that draws people to the three stages of the festival celebrating its 27th year. The festival takes place July 20 and 21 at Greenfield Community College.
“We’ve grown into something special an indie festival that focuses on a broad scope of roots music,” said Jim Olsen, president of Northampton-based Signatures Sounds, who books the festivals’ talent. “We love bringing in our favorite acts, people like Emmylou Harris, Arlo Guthrie, Los Lobos, and Richard Thompson, but, this year, we focused on youth-oriented acts. We wanted to update a little bit.”
A diverse range of artists will be performing at this year’s Green River Festival, including retro-rocker J. D. McPherson, gypsy swingers Caravan of Thieves, neo-trad string band Sprit Family Reunion, and singer-songwriters Slaid Cleaves, Ryan Montbleau, Todd Snider, Brenda Carlile, and Nashville’s Buddy Miller and Jim Miller, Louisiana’s Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole’s Zydeco, Tuareg-based guitarist Bombino, and Jamaican reggae pioneers, The Skatalites.
“We’re really excited about headliners Gogol Bordello,” Olsen said. “They bring together gypsy music with cabaret and punk music. It’s a very theatrical show.”
As headliners of Yidstock, the Klezmer Conservatory Band, will be setting the pace for a four-day celebration of Klezmer (traditional Eastern European Jewish music), at the Yiddish Book Center on the edge of the Hampshire College campus, in Amherst, from July 18 to 21. In addition to concerts, the festivities includes workshops, folk dancing, and Seth Rogovoy’s introduction to the essentials of Klezmer.
Begun as a memorial party for late Grateful Dead guitarist, Jerry Garcia, in 1996, the Gathering of the Vibes has become one of the most successful jam band festivals in the world. Taking place at Seaside Park in Bridgewater, Conn., from July 25 to Aug. 28, the four-day fest continues to build on its original spirit.
The Grateful Dead’s music will be resurrected by the Dark Star Orchestra and Max Creek. Warren Hayes (Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers Band) will be performing with Government Mules, Grateful Dead founding bassist, Phil Lesh will be playing lengthy sets (with Phil and Friends) on Friday and Saturday. The inclusion of great, younger bands, including Assembly of Dust, the Black Crowes, and Railroad Earth bring things up to date. Jazz and funk performers, including John Scofeld’s Uberjam, the Funky Meters, Deep Banana Blackout, and Steve Kimmock and Berrnie Worrell, widen the event’s exploration into improvised music. Music goes until 3 a.m. on Thursday, 5:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Community remains key to the Falcon Ridge’s Folk Festival’s success. While the music has consistently been superb, the fete has been just as much about people coming together. Although miserable weather dampened some year’s festivities, those shared memories continue to link those who have attended the festival over the past quarter century. Music in the campground is nearly as rich as that on the stages.
In celebration of its 25th anniversary, directors of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, at Dodds Farm, in Hillsdale, N.Y., from Aug. 2 to 4, pulled out all the stops.
“We wanted to bring back some of the people who have made us special,” Anne Saunders, artistic director, said. “People like Dar Williams, Ellis Paul, Eliza Gilkyson, Mary Gauthier, Susan Werner, Vance Gilbert, The Kennedys, and Nerissa and Katryna Nields. Moxy Fruvous, who were festival favorites in the early years, no longer exist, but Mike Ford and Dave Matheson will be reuniting. C.J. Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band will be coming back with their mix of R&B and Zydeco.
“Falcon Ridge will be continuing some of the festival’s most cherished events, as well. On Friday afternoon, the main stage will again showcase talented emerging artists (chosen through an audition process), while the evening will again conclude with a song swap featuring four singer-songwriters. Gandalf Murphy’s Grand Slambovians will be back, performing on the main stage and hosting their annual ‘Land of the Thousand Dances’ celebration in the dance tent,” she continued.
In addition to the main stage, there’s a workshop stage, a family stage, and a large dance tent, which offers beginning and advanced contra, square, and Zydeco dancing.
“We wanted to give people a variety of reasons to come,” Saunders said.