Sweet sounds for a cause
Plenty of planning goes into Upper Valley Music Festival
Claire Boucher sings a traditional Quebecois folk song at the Great Falls Discovery Center during Saturday's Upper Valley Music Festival held in Turners Falls. The festival featured almost 50 bands or performers in five venues. All musicians volunteered their time and proceeds from the festival go to benefit the American Cancer Society.
TURNERS FALLS — Just after the sounds of the third annual Upper Valley Music Festival stopped echoing off the walls in Turners Falls Saturday night, its organizers began to plan next year’s shindig.
“We started planning this year’s festival the day after last year’s,” said organizer Tommy Byrnes.
Byrnes, a Bernardston resident and owner/producer at Sovereignty Music Services, started the festival in 2011 as a way to use music to fight cancer.
“You can’t find someone who doesn’t have a friend or family member that’s been affected by cancer,” said Jessica Byrnes, Tommy’s wife. “Last year, we were able to raise about $2,500. It’s not a lot, but it helps.”
She said about 500 tickets were sold last year, and expected Saturday’s sales to surpass that. After the dust settles and expenses are paid, 20 percent of the proceeds will go to the Relay for Life of Franklin County, and the rest to the American Cancer Society.
The Byrneses were busy Saturday, running to and from the five downtown venues that played host to the festival, checking in on about 40 volunteers and making sure everything went smoothly. As they say, the third time’s a charm, and besides a couple of cancellations and last-minute fill-ins, things went off without a hitch.
“We didn’t really have any problems this year,” Tommy Byrnes said.
Though they started thinking about the festival right after the last one ended, he said about four months of intensive planning went into this year’s event.
There’s a lot to coordinate.
“Last year, we had about 140 musicians,” he said. “Some of the acts, our core group, play every year, and we always ask them back.”
Those 140 musicians comprised more than 30 groups and solo artists. They ranged from hard rock bands, to acoustic folk acts, to flutists, and everything between.
From veteran vocalists to fledgling fiddlers, the audience got to see some old favorites, and add some new acts to their repertoires as well.
“We have young, teenage acts playing side-by-side with world-famous classical cellists,” said Tommy Byrnes. “It’s a great experience for younger acts to get their feet wet.”
He said he received submissions from more than 100 groups. Though he’s no stranger to many of the valley’s acts, Byrnes heard some for the first time Saturday.
“Those guys rock!” he exclaimed as he exited the Rendezvous during a set by The Snaz, a teenage quartet from Brattleboro, Vt., writing and playing original rock-and-roll since 2011.
Next door, the emerging artists stage hosted up-and-coming acts in a brand-new venue.
“We’re hoping to open with a full menu for the Turners Falls Block Party,” said Chris Menegoni.
He and wife Bridgett Chaffee have been busy turning the old Burrito Rojo into Great Falls Harvest.
They decided to hold a soft opening during the festival, offering a few selections like tandoori chicken and blackened shrimp. They plan to source as much of their food locally as possible, changing the menu up as things go in and out of season. Locals themselves, they served some familiar folks, and new ones as well.
“It was great. I feel like we’ve crossed the threshold,” said Menegoni. “Up until now, it’s been all Skil saws and paint brushes.”
He said they weren’t up to their elbows in orders Saturday, but there was a lot of interest from folks at the festival.
Many of the attendees also spilled into other downtown businesses and eateries. Florescent green festival wristbands stuck out on people young and old, up and down Avenue A and side streets, and in the doorways and windows of shops and restaurants.