Green River Festival gets new ringmaster
Recorder file photo/Beth Reynolds
Caravan of Thieves plays at the Green River Music Festival July 20, 2013. Signature Sounds will be running the festival this year, taking over from the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.
After more than 20 years of booking musical acts for the annual Green River Festival, Jim Olsen of Signature Sounds will launch his own “balloon” with this July’s 27th edition: the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce’s festival will be taken over entirely by the Northampton-based recording and performance company.
“It’s just too much staff time and too much responsibility for our office,” said Chamber President Ann Hamilton of the decision to have Olsen take over the festival. “He’s in the business of promoting music, and he’s played a major role for many years. It’s a lot of work, and this gives us more time and opportunity to put our efforts elsewhere.”
Since helping Hamilton turn the chamber’s hot-air balloon festival into more of a music festival by recommending and signing up performers beginning in 1990, Olsen has played a growing role as the annual two-day festival itself has grown, attracting 8,000 to 10,000 visitors from around the country with music, crafts, food vendors and, of course, balloons.
This year’s event, July 12 and 13, will again feature 20 to 30 acts at the Greenfield Community College campus, with the lineup announced April 1 — the same day that tickets go on sale at www.greenriverfestival.com
“We’re sort of a sponsor at this point, a co-sponsor at this point, but we’re taking the lead in running it,” said Olsen, who still hosts a folk music radio show on WRSI and has included some of his Signature Sounds recording artists among the festival’s performers. “They’ll run the balloon portion of things and we’ll run the rest.”
That means handling rental of tents and portable toilets, along with security and lining up food and craft vendors, as well as trash removal and recycling services, plus doing more of the marketing and being in charge of ticket sales. But there will still be a volunteer committee of about 20 people organizing the event, which will still depend on a corps of 100 to 150 volunteers at the event.
“Many of the same people we’ve had on the volunteer committee will pretty much stay involved, and I will, too,” Hamilton said. “But he may take it in a little different direction. What we hope to achieve is that it remains in Greenfield. We came to an agreement, and Jim has every intention of having it remain the way it’s been.”
The festival, which last year featured Gogol Bordello, Brandi Carlile, The Ryan Montbleau Band, Heather Maloney and other performers on three stages, attracts people from around New England year after year, said Hamilton, as well as people who plan their annual vacation for what began as a humbler hot-air balloon fair.
“It’s become an institution,” she said of an event that costs $300,000 to $350,000 to put on and generally just breaks even “if you’re lucky.”
Olsen said he expects “a pretty seamless transition,” for attendees, since through the years, Signature Sounds has taken the role of managing the stage and doing publicity.
Since a good share of the tickets are sold in advance, and it’s held at a time of year when heat is more likely to be an issue than rain, weather isn’t a significant problem in running the festival, Olsen said.
“It’s sort of an act of God, so we have the festival one way or another,” he said. “The Green River Festival is becoming known, for sure, and the bands like it” — especially the national or international acts, who prefer being in “an unusual venue” instead of a generic performance stadium. “The college has great facilities, and they have air conditioning backstage, so we take good care of them, and it’s a good party.”
Olsen said the festival helps fill up local motels and gets the area known, which is a bigger reason to see it continue than expecting it to be a money-maker.
“We’re on the map in the summertime now, and it’s sort of an annual rite,” he said.
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You can reach Richie Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269