In 32nd year, Green River Festival aims to be bigger, greener than ever

  • Balloons illuminate during last year’s Green River Festival. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Balloons start to inflate as seen from the Green River Stage during last year’s Green River Festival. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Attendees of the 30th annual Green River Festival at Greenfield Community College cheer as Birds of Chicago finish their set on the Four Rivers Stage. Recorder File Photo

  • Bridget Kearney, of the band Lake Street Dive, and Benjamin Lazar Davis perform at the Parlor Room Stage at the 30th annual Green River Festival at Greenfield Community College. Recorder File Photo

  • The Sweetback Sisters play the main stage during last year’s Green River Festival. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Children and their adults clown around in an old retired hot air balloon during last year’s Green River Festival. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

For the Recorder
Published: 7/4/2018 3:00:03 PM

The Green River Festival is back: bigger, better and greener than ever.
The only music festival in the country complete with a hot air balloon show returns to the Greenfield Community College campus for its 32nd consecutive year with an additional stage, international acts and a greener initiative.

Five continents will be represented musically at this year’s festival, making it the most diverse Green River Fest to date, according to festival talent buyer Jim Olsen. He expects 5,000 to 6,000 attendees.

Most important, the festival is working toward becoming even more environmentally-friendly to reduce its footprint on the earth.

A “Green” River Festival

The festival has teamed up with Kleen Kanteen, a reusable steel water bottle company, to completely eliminate the use of plastic water bottles. Last year, Olsen estimates that the festival eliminated the use of 24,000 plastic bottles that would have otherwise been thrown in a landfill.

In 2017, the festival also started a bike valet program to encourage concert-goers to bike to the event rather than drive. The valet would allow bikers to drop off their bikes to be chained up safely.

Ultimately, the Green River Festival is working toward being a zero-waste event. In addition to banning plastic bottles, all vendors are required to use compostable plates and utensils for the food they sell. There will be composting options on festival grounds.

Additionally, there will be solar-powered stage operations and charging stations.

“It’s a really big priority of ours,” Olsen said of clean energy.

A fourth stage, called the Green House Stage, has been added to the festival. This stage is in fact a tiny house that will be wheeled in and used as a porch, of sorts, for musicians to play on.

Olsen says this house is meant to showcase more environmentally-friendly and sustainable housing options to festival-goers. 

In the coming years, Olsen said the dream of the festival’s planners is to build a tiny house and raffle it away to someone at the festival. For now, that plan is still in the works.

Eclectic entertainment

The Green River Festival, which has received nationwide acclaim, was described as one of the “Fifty essential summer music festivals” by the New York Times and “One of 2015’s must-see summer festivals” by Rolling Stone.

This year, a lineup of more than 30 acts will take to the stages while attendees enjoy local food, beer, wine and crafts. Sets typically range from an hour to an hour and a half, and Olsen said organizers like to give up-and-coming artists a chance to play more than once.

Last year, the festival sold tickets to people from 24 states and three countries including England. Olsen said it’s often the headliners that draw international crowds who are willing to travel far to see their favorite musicians.

Some of the big names this year include Michael Franti & Spearhead, Old Crow Medicine Show, Dr. Dog, Josh Ritter and Deer Tick — many of which have performed at the festival in the past.

Dean’s Bean’s Latin Night will kick off festivities Friday, July 13, with Las Cafeteras, a political Afro-Mexican dance music group from Los Angeles. Also performing will be Orquesta El Macabeo — progressive rebel salsa from Puerto Rico — and Orquesta Akokan — big band mambo from Cuba via New York City.

Also on Friday and Saturday night will be the Yankee Candle Balloon Glow, where half a dozen colorful hot air balloons perform a synchronized light show. Attendees can purchase tethered balloon rides lasting about five minutes.

The festival is working on expanding its children’s area to make the event even more child-friendly. A new stage will welcome children’s performers — including Snackbeard, Little Roots and the Mammals — to entertain the little ones.

Additionally, there will be children’s tents with free art activities and homemade games.

“We always want people to know that it’s family friendly,” Olsen said. “One of the cool things about doing this for so long is that a lot of people come up to me say: ‘I came here as a kid and now I’m bringing my kids.’ It’s really sweet.”

The festival’s New Wave Stage will showcase four local bands with members 19 and under. The bands are: Glass House from Amherst, Moxie from Brattleboro, Vt., Not Yet from East Longmeadow and Raspberry Jam from Greenfield.

Since the beginning of the festival, Greenfield Community College has hosted it on its expansive grounds, which Olsen describes as “the perfect festival site.”

“There’s great infrastructure, beautiful lawns,” he said. “The college has been super accommodating.”

Community college,nationwide event

Regina Curtis, the festival’s liaison at GCC, attended the college in 1986 as a nontraditional working student. She has also attended the festival each year since its inception and became involved with its planning starting in 2006.

Her job is to help with the planning and activities for the festival and coordinate the use of the college’s grounds. Perhaps it’s a perfect job for her due to her lengthy involvement with the college and her appreciation for the event.

“I love the music and I love the festival,” she said. “I enjoy being able to be a little part of making it happen.”

She begins coordination in January by meeting with college administrators as well as some of the festival planners. They review notes from previous years and discuss how to make each year better than the last.

“When the festival started, it didn’t even fill the upper field,” she said. “In the years since I’ve been there, it has gotten bigger. Now it completely fills both fields.”

GCC administrators, including Curtis, are largely supportive of the festival since it brings thousands of people to the campus who may not have otherwise known about or visited GCC.

“We love to showcase (the campus,)” she said. “It’s really nice for the college to open its doors, open the campus and bring people in here.”

Many GCC staff members work shifts at the festival in a tent that promotes GCC. Curtis appreciates the large number of former students who come up to the tent and reminisce about their years at the college.

Curtis said it’s important to note that the festival has never been held anywhere else but the GCC campus in all its years.

“It’s gotten bigger, but I think its a real honor and privilege for us to host this event and I hope it’s an honor and privilege for the festival to be here,” she said.

Longtime GCC President Bob Pura, who recently retired, also said he supports the festival and what it brings to the college.

“From Friday evening until the closing act on Sunday, the Green River Festival is a weekend of great music, wonderful local foods and amazing local artisans,” he said. “Mostly, the (festival) is a weekend of community, joy and happiness. It is a true local treasure.”

Know before you go

Festival days: July 13, 14 and 15.

Friday: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Saturday: noon to 11 p.m.

Sunday: noon to 8 p.m.

See for ticket packaging and pricing. Saturday tickets are officially sold out.

Kids 10 and under are free.

Festival camping is available at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, with shuttle buses available.

Items not allowed at the festival include: camping tents, rolling coolers, alcohol brought from outside the festival, glass containers, weapons, fireworks, illegal substances, hover boards and other motorized vehicles and no drones or flying objects.

Day-by-day lineup:


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