Sounds Local: Here comes the Upper Valley Music Festival
Pioneer Valley Woman Songwriting Collective
Whiskey of the Damned
The past couple of weekends have been busy ones in Greenfield. First there was the Green River Festival and then last weekend the Summerfest. The festivities will continue when the Upper Valley Music Festival comes to Greenfield on Saturday, July 26. Now in its fourth year, the festival will include nearly 40 musical acts of various genres playing on eight different stages throughout downtown. Tickets for the event, which begins at noon and continues until midnight, cost only $15 and all proceeds go to benefit the American Cancer Society. Children 12 and under are admitted for free.
The festival is presented by Tommy Byrnes of Sovereignty Music Services of Bernardston and his wife, Jessica. The festival first came about when Byrnes was planning his 50th birthday celebration; so many of his musician friends wanted to play that he decided to forgo the party and instead put on a music festival that would draw attention to our great local music scene.
The first Upper Valley Music Festival was held in March of 2011 at The Arts Block in Greenfield. It featured 19 acts performing on two stages. For the past two years, the festival was held in Turners Falls, but this year it will return to Greenfield, having doubled in size. It has always been a benefit for the American Cancer Society with all staff and musicians volunteering their time.
“We are firm believers in planning the details and getting it as close as you can get to where you think it needs to be, then throw it out to the universe and see what happens,” Tommy Byrnes. “So, apparently this festival was supposed to get bigger,” he added with a laugh.
Some of the musicians performing this year include: Wildcat O’Halloran, blues; Carrie Ferguson, singer-songwriter; Chris Scanlon, singer-songwriter; The Equalites, reggae; David Fersh, singer-songwriter; Eugene Friesen, World renowned cellist; The Gaslight Tinkers, old-time and Celtic fiddle music spiced up with afro-pop, funk and reggae; Groove Shoes, funk; The Sun Parade, psych, folk, rock; The Snaz, a young, up-and-coming band from Brattleboro, Vt.; Jamie Kent and the Options, singer-songwriter; Una Jensen, a young, up-and-coming pop musician and songwriter; Holly May, a young, up-and-coming performer who prefers contemporary country; and The Woman’s Songwriter Collective, a local group of innovative female performers whose individual music styles span many genres. There will also be a performance by the Celtic Heels Irish step Dancers and a traditional Irish music session. Each artist will perform a 45-minute set. There will also be some workshops, including one on playing the bones taught by musician Steve Brown.
The festival is divided into acoustic and electric, with various venues devoted to each. Performances will take place at The Arts Block and the Wheelhouse, both at 289 Main St.; Replay Music Center (the Pushkin) on the corner of 4 Federal St. and Main Street; and The Second Congregational Church Sanctuary at 16 Court Square. And for the first time, there will be shows at outdoor venues: the Energy Park at 50 Miles St., the town common and the alley between Replay in the Pushkin building and Federal Street Books.
“I’m really excited about Replay,” said Byrnes. “They have an area at the back of the Pushkin which they call the annex. It’s a really nice intimate space and a nice spot to hear acoustic music.”
“This ended up being the coolest venue we have,” said Byrnes. “We are going to put a stage in the back and there will be music in there. The Snaz will be one of the bands playing in there.”
Replay Music Center will also be selling beer and wine throughout the festival.
Byrnes received about 100 submissions from musicians interested in performing. He assembled a lineup that features all styles of music and musicians from Wisconsin, Vermont, Connecticut and Boston, with the majority being from our own Upper Pioneer Valley. Some of the performers — like June and the Bee and Carrie Ferguson — have played the festival in past years.
“We try to have 50 percent new acts each year,” said Byrnes, who is a musician himself with a strong background in Celtic music. “But there are people that we just love that are part of our own music scene and community.”
Bluesman Wildcat O’Halloran is returning for his second year. “Last year’s event was awesome, well organized yet friendly and quite well attended! said O’Halloran, who will kick the festival off with a 12:20 p.m. show at the Arts Block.
And as much as he loves these old favorites, there are some newcomers that Byrnes is very excited about.
“There’s this band called Whiskey of the Dammed from Milwaukee and we are going to close the Energy Park with them. They are a Celtic Rock band and they are really high energy and awesome,” Byrnes said. “Hillary Chase was recommended by one of the other musicians and she has a great soulful vibe. Like many of the bands, she’s just a kid but she is great.”
But isn’t it difficult to get musicians play for free, especially on a Saturday in mid-July?
“No! One of the things I love about UVMF is that the artist’s get it,” Byrnes said. “It’s a place to come together for a good cause and it’s also a musicians festival. They have fun, they sell merchandise and network and swap gigs with other bands — and that is what we try to encourage.”
Byrnes stressed that it’s all about supporting and nurturing a healthy music scene which, as he points out, is also beneficial to other local businesses like restaurants.
“We believe for a scene to be successful it has to be economically viable. But it also can’t just rely on the local population,” he explained. “We try and tie everything together and present it as this whole scene and promote it outside of the area and bring people here to hear the great music and the venues we have.”
With that goal in mind, Byrnes would ultimately like to expand the Upper Valley Music Festival someday in the future.
“We would eventually like it to be a multi-day festival, with events happening in different towns. This is kind of where I think we will end up in the next few years,” he said.
But no matter how big the festival gets, Byrnes is firm that it will remain a benefit show.
“Because nobody gets paid, it removes all ego and all of the ill will of who is getting paid and who is not,” Byrnes explained. “It brings everybody together for the cause and no other reason.”
The Upper Valley Music Festival is really a win-win on every level: all of the money goes for a good cause and it’s an excellent overview of our local music scene and the venues in Greenfield. And at $15 for 12 hours of music, it’s the best deal of the summer. Last year’s festival drew about 450 people.
“We work on a shoestring budget to keep the price down so that more people can come and so we can donate everything in the end,” said Byrnes. “It’s going to be really cool. Downtown Greenfield is going to have a festive atmosphere.”
To purchase tickets or view a schedule of playing times and locations visit www.uppervalleymusicfest.com, To purchase tickets on the day of the show (in the form of a wrist band) a tent will be set up outside of the Arts Block on Court Square. They can also be purchased at the Energy Park. The purchase of one $15 ticket allows access to all shows and all venues.
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