Then the music took over

  • Attendees of the 30th annual Green River Festival at Greenfield Community College, cheer as Birds of Chicago finish their set at Four Rivers Stage in 2016. Staff FILE PHOTO/Matt Burkhartt

  • Allison Russell of Birds of Chicago, performs at the Four Rivers stage at the 30th annual Green River Festival in 2016. Staff FILE PHOTO/Matt Burkhartt

  • Alison Ozer, of Amherst, dances with Carlos Fontes, of Shutesbury at the second day of the Green River Festival on the Greenfield Community College campus while Lydia Loveless performs at the Four Rivers stage, Saturday July 11. Ozer explained of her relationship to Fontes: "We're very good friends and we dance together." Recorder/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

  • Fans get rowdy for Tank and the Bangas at the Four Rivers Stage on Saturday at the Green River Festival in 2017. Staff FILE PHOTO/Paul Franz

  • Lake Street Dive closes out Saturday at the Green River Festival in 2017. Staff FILE Photo/Paul Franz

  • Balloons illuminate Saturday at the Green River Festival. July 15, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Las Cafeteras play the Dean’s Beans stage Friday night at the Green River Festival in 2018. Staff File photo

  • Balloons start to inflate as seen from the Green River Stage on Saturday at the Green River Festival. July 15, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 7/11/2019 8:33:06 AM
Modified: 7/11/2019 8:32:56 AM

The Green River Festival, a three-day music-filled event that will kick off tomorrow at Greenfield Community College, started 33 years ago with an unlikely idea: a hot air balloon festival. 

According to Director Jim Olsen, who has organized the festival since its inception, the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce wanted to start a hot air balloon festival in the 1980s before realizing the devices could only be released in mornings and evenings.

That left a lot of free time they had to fill during the day, “because people want to come and stay,” he said. As a solution, the chamber brought in musicians to play in between the balloon lift-offs.

Then the music took over.

“Slowly but surely, the music became a part of the balloon festival,” Olsen said. “Over the years, the music became more of a draw than the balloons.” 

These days, the festival, which kicks off on Friday and will run through Sunday, annually draws 15,000 people to Greenfield. Musicians fly in from across the county and the globe to play a diverse array of music — rock and roll, folk and blues.

“It’s a pretty broad brush stroke,” Olsen said. “They are pretty eclectic, it ranges from folk, country, Americana music, various kinds of indie rock, a lot of world music. We really mix it up.”

Olsen added that he and his festival colleagues are all “big music fans” and spend much of the year researching musicians to play at the event.

“We spent spend all year long finding great bands to bring to the festival,” Olsen said. 

This year’s lineup

On Friday, seven artists and bands from far and near will perform starting at 4 p.m. The evening is free to anyone 19 years old and under.

Two international bands are on Friday’s schedule: the Haitian group Lakou Mizik, which blends “troubadou, vodou, rara and rap into a deeply danceable bouyon of modern roots music,” its website says, as well as Ladama, a Latin American all-women music group.

Headlining the first night is three-time Grammy award winner Lucinda Williams from Los Angeles. Several local bands are also set to perform including Northampton-based folk singer-songwriter Heather Maloney; the Beacon, N.Y. band Upstate and Massachusetts-based artists Mtali Shaka Banda and Parsonsfield. 

On Saturday, 17 musicians and bands will play over the course of the day and night. Angélique Kidjo, hailing from Benin, West Africa, will perform songs from her 12th album “Remain in Light,” a collaboration with producer Jeff Bhasker, who has worked with Rihanna, Kanye West and Jay Z. Kidjo has won a Grammy award three times.

Following Kidjo, Kentucky-born musician Tyler Childers will play songs from his semi-autobiographical debut album “Purgatory,” a collection of stories following his path from “wayward youth to happily married man,” his website reads. Contemporary blues artist Samantha Fish is also coming Saturday, as is rock and roll group Low Cut Connie; the “swamp-Yankee,” one-man-band known as The Suitcase Junket, his Facebook page reads.

Also on Saturday’s schedule: The Wood Brothers, Red Baraat, Charlie Hunter and Lucy Woodward, Session Americana, Ali McGuirk, The Stone Cayotes, Sean McConnell, Home Body, Lowdown Brass Band, Pamela Means, Mamma’s Marmalade and Spanglish Fly. 

On Sunday, the festival’s third and final day, 12 musicians will take the stage. Part of the line-up is the longtime bluegrass, country and folk band The Devil Makes Three, as well as the acoustic artist Rhiannon Giddens and the rock and roll trio The Record Company.

Also on Sunday’s agenda: The Suffers, Fantastic Negrito, Mipso, Eileen Jewell, Cedric Burnside, Philip B. Price, The Gaslight Tinkers, The East Pointers and Mapache. 

A local spirit

While artists hail from across the country and the world, Olsen said the event has retained its local spirit. 

“It’s an unusual mix of the feel of a big music festival but also the feel of a great community event,” Olsen said. 

One aspect of the festival that differs from others is its age requirements: there aren’t any, according to Olsen. Everyone is invited to come along, with kids ages 10 and under are able to attend for free, he said, noting that on Friday, teenagers 19 and under can get in for free. 

“We see ourselves as providing an event for a much broader audience,” Olsen said. “You see 20 and 30 somethings, you see parents and grandparents. We want everybody in the community to feel welcome.”

Kids will have their own dedicated stage. Called the Yankee Candle Kid’s Stage, the area will host children’s musicians, a yo-yo team and a puppet show, among other performances. 

“We have a stage there which has all kinds of family music,” Olsen said. “And there’s a wide open space where kids can play Frisbee and run around.”

Tickets for a one-day pass costs between $45 and $65, while two-day passes are about $110. For a whole weekend, tickets cost roughly $140. Parking is $10 for the day and $30 for the weekend. 

Camping is also available two miles away at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. Passes are for sale, priced at $35 for one-night and $70 for the weekend. And a couple nearby hotels are offering packages with accommodation, tickets and parking included: Greenfield’s Hampton Inn for about $800 and Northampton’s Quality Inn for roughly $550. 

A variety of cuisines are offered at the festival, Olsen said, many from farms around the region. 

“We call it farm-to-festival food. A lot of it’s locally sourced,” Olsen said. “You could be able to get a hot dog or a hamburger, and also be able to get dumplings or Mexican.”

More than 33 food and drink vendors from around the area are set to sell their creations. Vendors from Franklin County include South Deerfield-based Berkshire Brewing Co., Greenfield’s Hattapon’s Thai Kitchen, Wendell’s Santo Taco and Orange’s Dean’s Beans. 

The festival includes a craft market, with 40 vendors selling everything from jewelry to clothing to art to homemade hot sauce. And a collection of local non-profits including Voter Choice Massachusetts and The Literacy Project are set to set up stalls to tell those interested about their services. 

Since it was established in 1986, the Green River Festival has grown from a one-day event to three, and from one stage to five. 

A lot has changed since its founding, though the festival has remained true to its roots and retained the hot air balloons. Five-minute rides in balloons that are tethered to the ground cost $10 for kids and $15 for adults. Inquiries for balloon rides in the air should be directed to Paul Sena at Worthington Ballooning at 413-896-2720. And on Friday and Saturday night at 9 p.m., a handful of hot air balloons will be released to create a synchronized light show. 

While the festival draws people from around the world, it has remained popular with locals, Olsen said, with many attending or helping out behind the scenes. About 450 community members are expected to volunteer at the event this year, he said. 

“It’s become a source of pride for Franklin County,” Olsen said. 

 To purchase tickets, visit bit.ly/2Ldq7DO. Find the schedule at greenriverfestival.com/schedule.

Reach Grace Bird at gbird@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280. 


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