'This is a party': Signature Sounds is gearing up to run its first Green River Festival
The countdown is on! In less than three weeks, the Green River Festival, one of the most highly anticipated events of the summer, will take place on the weekend of July 12-13 on the grounds of Greenfield Community College. The festival, now in its 28th year, combines over 30 musical acts on three stages with local food, beer and wine, handmade crafts, a wide assortment of kid’s activities and, of course, hot air balloons.
The lineup features Puss ‘N’ Boots featuring Norah Jones, Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band, Trombone Shorty, Phil and Dave Alvin, Trampled by Turtles, Lucius, Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Lone Bellow, Ana Tijoux, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, James Hunter Six, Heather Maloney and Darlingside, And the Kids and more.
There are a million details to attend to as the big weekend fast approaches and this year, for the first time, nearly all those details are the responsibility of Jim Olsen, president of Signature Sounds Recordings of Northampton.
Olsen has been the talent buyer for the festival from the beginning, with the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce taking on responsibility for the overall running of the event. Then, the chamber announced last March that it was stepping down and handing the reins over to Olsen and Signature Sounds. The chamber continues to be involved with the organizing of the hot air balloons and in helping out with some marketing.
“We are so appreciative that the chamber offered us this opportunity to keep it going,” Olsen told me in a recent interview. “They had reached a point where it was just too big a production for them and they could have just said ‘no we aren’t going to do this anymore.’ But they were supportive and cooperative about us taking over and that has made the transition so much easier.”
That’s not to say it’s an easy task. Olsen, who also runs the Parlor Room performance space in Northampton and works as a part-time DJ on WRSI, says he’s thankful that the volunteer committees that the chamber put in place continue to oversee some of the work.
“The biggest challenge for us is just learning how to do this almost from scratch. We have been involved in the music production and promotion for years, but the actual event production piece, the paperwork for the town, the insurance and all those details, that has all been a learning experience.”
And with a change in the festival’s leadership, there is naturally going to be some changes in the festival.
Tickets prices cut 25 percent
One change that most concert-goers are already aware of is that ticket prices are down 25 percent from last year.
“We felt that last year’s attendance was down a bit,” Olsen said. “We worried that we were pricing some people out.”
There are also special $20 day passes available for students that can only be purchased at the Greenfield Community College bookstore. These student tickets will not be sold at the gate.
The festival is considered sold out if it attracts 5,000 people per day.
Changes have also been made to parking. In recent years, people had the choice of parking at a satellite lot located at 1 Kimball Drive and taking a free shuttle bus to the festival or purchasing a $10 daily pass to park in the campus parking lot. This year, the satellite lot and the shuttle won’t run until all the passes to the campus lot are sold out. Please note you need a parking pass for each day you attend.
“It was GCC’s and our preference to fill the lots on campus before shuttling people. In the case of a severe weather experience, one way to keep people safe is go to your car,” said Olsen. “It got to the point where it was silly that these lots would be half empty and we would be busing people in from a mile away.”
Olsen said sales are strong for the $10-a-day parking passes and they could be sold out by the time the festival gates open.
Beer and wine
And for the first time, beer and wine will be sold at the festival, courtesy of the Berkshire Brewing Co. of South Deerfield.
“This is something we have had a dialogue about for a long time and it got to the point where we feel that it should be part of the experience,” Olsen said.
He added that people have been bringing in their own beer and wine since the festival’s beginnings and that GCC was not comfortable with this not being regulated. He said the last thing festival organizers wanted to do was to get into a situation where they had to check every cooler.
Olsen understands that some people worry that selling beer and wine will take away from the family-friendly experience the festival is known for. “I think people overreact a little bit based on other events that are appealing to a younger audience. You mix kids and beer and it can get a bit crazy,” Olsen said. “But our crowd is an older, mature audience and I really don’t see it changing the flavor of our festival at all.”
“I think it’s a great addition,” Olsen said. “Let’s face it, this is a party and it’s great to be able to go back to your blanket and have a beer while watching your favorite singer.”
Most festivals that sell alcohol don’t allow patrons to bring in coolers. “What we have asked for this year is for people to downsize what they bring in,” said Olsen. “We are asking people not to bring the big rolling coolers and to limit it to a personal-sized cooler.”
The coolers people bring this year should be no larger than 16 inches by 12 inches and blankets should be no larger than 8 feet by 10 feet.
Organizers are not only doing this to regulate the alcohol situation, but to also support the food vendors. “These vendors work very hard and they pay to be there,” Olsen said. “If people bring in their own food, it kind of defeats the purpose.” Olsen added that they hoped that lower ticket prices would give people more money to spend on food.
The vendors will include local business, including Elmer’s Store of Ashfield, a new addition. Its owner, Nan Parati, will be serving up the food of her native Louisiana. Olsen said that people are at the festival for a long time, so they wanted to offer up as many good and healthy food options as possible.
As in past years, rules in place to minimize blocking views of the stage include requiring low-back chairs under 30 inches high. Also, tents are not allowed and beach umbrellas are only allowed behind the umbrella line on the upper field.
“We really want this to be a ‘best of the valley’ situation with everything we do with the crafts, the beer, the food and the music,” Olsen said.
The festival has always been a celebration of Americana and roots music, but it really stretches out this year, including artists like the hip-hop-influenced Chilean singer Ana Tijoux and the indie-pop band Lucius.
“Booking the festival is not an exact science,” said Olsen. “It is almost a year-long process and there is a lot of negotiation. I am really happy with this year’s lineup. It is really diverse and cool and sort of what we are aiming to do every year.”
Concert-goers will enjoy the music on three different stages. The Main Stage remains as it has always been but last year’s Dance Tent will be replaced by the Four Rivers Stage, which will be a second open air stage located in the lower field. Gone, too, is the Local Hero Stage. In its place will be the Poet’s Seat Stage, a small tent-covered stage also located in the lower field.
The Poet’s Seat stage will feature music for kids, a vaudeville show by the Gaslight Tinkers, local bands and some encore performances.
“We replaced the dance tent because of some feedback we received,” Olsen said. “Sometimes people would come and sit on the dance floor and that really bothered the dancers. So we figured everyone likes to dance in the open air, so let’s try that for a year and see how it goes.”
The loss of the Local Hero Stage means that there will be less than half the number of local performers than what the festival offered last year. “We felt that having a Local Hero Stage was a little tricky because it becomes a bit of a political ball of wax in terms of who is getting included and who is not getting included,” said Olsen. “Plus, we like the idea of being able to have a lot variety on that stage.”
In the past, Signature Sounds hosted a festival kick-off party on the Friday night before the festival. Last year’s party was a Rubblebucket show at The Shea Theater. There’s won’t be a kick-off party this year; Olsen said it was just too much, what with all of Signature Sounds’ new responsibilities, but he stressed it will return in the future.
And speaking of the future, now that Signature Sounds has taken over the festival, will it remain in Greenfield?
“It is very hard to find such a good site for a festival,” Olsen said. “GCC just fits the bill in many ways and they have been welcoming. So, as long as GCC wants to have us, we are happy to be there.”
Current ticket prices are $75 for a weekend pass, $49.99 for Saturday, $34.99 for Sunday. Children 10 and under are free. Gates open at noon each day. Tickets at the gate, if available, will be $60 For Saturday, $50 For Sunday.
Tickets can also be purchased at the Signature Sounds, 32 Masonic St., Northampton (weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), or Elmer’s Store, 396 Main St., Ashfield. To purchase by phone, call 877-987-6487.
Parking passes can be purchased at Signature Sounds, the Greenfield Community College Bookstore, 1 College Drive, Greenfield, and the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, 395 Main St., Greenfield.
For more information on purchasing tickets and parking passes and a detailed performance schedule, visit www.greenriverfestival.com. Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org