In new hands, Green River Festival returns with headliners CAKE, Fleet Foxes and Gregory Alan Isakov

Cimafunk, who returns to the Green River Festival this year, had the crowds dancing wildly during its 2021 festival debut.

Cimafunk, who returns to the Green River Festival this year, had the crowds dancing wildly during its 2021 festival debut. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Saturday’s festival headliner is Fleet Foxes, the Seattle-based band that festival organizers believe will appeal to a wide range of music lovers.

Saturday’s festival headliner is Fleet Foxes, the Seattle-based band that festival organizers believe will appeal to a wide range of music lovers. COURTESY GREEN RIVER FESTIVAL

Sunday’s festival headliner is South African-born singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov. “He has a great new album and a fantastic band,” said Festival Director John Sanders of DSP Shows. “He will create the perfect vibe to close out Sunday.”

Sunday’s festival headliner is South African-born singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov. “He has a great new album and a fantastic band,” said Festival Director John Sanders of DSP Shows. “He will create the perfect vibe to close out Sunday.” COURTESY GREEN RIVER FESTIVAL

CAKE, known for modern rock hits like “The Distance” and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” makes a return appearance to the Green River Festival on Friday night. CAKE last played the festival in 2010.

CAKE, known for modern rock hits like “The Distance” and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” makes a return appearance to the Green River Festival on Friday night. CAKE last played the festival in 2010. COURTESY GREEN RIVER FESTIVAL

By SHERYL HUNTER

For the Recorder

Published: 06-14-2024 6:47 PM

GREENFIELD — The Green River Festival’s move in 2022 from its longtime home at Greenfield Community College to its current location at the Franklin County Fairgrounds was the most significant change it has gone through, and this year’s event, now just days away, ushers in another big change.

For the first time, DSP Shows of Ithaca, New York and Northampton is taking over the running of the festival, a job previously performed by Signature Sounds Presents of Northampton since 2013. Jim Olsen, president of Signature Sounds who has booked the music for the festival since its inception in 1986, announced in October that he had sold the festival to DSP Shows.

Now in its 38th year, the Green River Festival will run from Friday, June 21 to Sunday, June 23. Some 40-plus acts, including headliners CAKE, Fleet Foxes and Gregory Alan Isakov will perform on four stages, playing a wide range of musical styles.

John Sanders of DSP Shows, who has been booking shows in the Pioneer Valley for the past 25 years, is stepping into Olsen’s former role as festival director. Sanders estimates he’s booked about 5,000 shows over the course of his career, at venues that include the Iron Horse, the Shea Theater Arts Center, the Academy of Music, and the summer series at Tree House Brewing Co. in South Deerfield.

“The Green River Festival is the premier outdoor event of the summer, and Jim has done a great job of programming it and building it into an incredible festival with a great reputation in the industry,” said Sanders, who has attended the festival since 2001. “It felt like a good fit with what I’ve been doing in the Pioneer Valley all these years.”

Green River fans need not worry — this will not be a drastic change.

Some from the old Signature Sounds team are now working with DSP, and Sanders said Olsen has been a huge resource. Signature Sounds Presents is now a major sponsor, and Sanders assured attendees that Olsen, who has been christened “Festival Uncle,” will remain a presence at the three-day event.

DSP’s main goal is to improve the festival experience for patrons and artists, so some changes will be made.

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“One of the big changes that people will notice is the direction of the main stage,” said Sanders. “We sort of changed the angle so it’s away from the houses and more toward the road. There will also be screens on each side.”

The screens, a fixture at most large outdoor festivals, will provide a better view for those seated in the back of the field.

The Dean’s Bean Stage, which primarily features music made for dancing, will remain the same. The Back Porch Stage, which takes its name from Olsen’s Sunday morning radio show, will be slightly larger. Olsen recently announced he will broadcast his radio show, which focuses on roots music, live from the fairgrounds on Sunday morning, June 23.

There will also be music in the Roundhouse this year.

“The minute I walked into that space, I knew we had to use it,” Sanders said. “There will be music there all weekend long. It will be a limited-capacity venue, and those with VIP passes will have priority for entrance.”

The VIP upgrade is an add-on that provides a variety of perks, including special viewing areas at each stage, access to VIP lounges, gift bags and more. Note: the VIP add-on does not include admission to the festival or parking. Those are separate purchases.

Offering music at the Roundhouse serves as a replacement for the Green House shows that had taken place the past few years.

The festival is also offering children’s entertainment with the creation of Kidways, a dedicated area that will offer fun activities for the entire family, including art projects, a juggler, a puppet show, and music from The Grumpytime Club and Little Roots. Festival admission for children ages 12 and under is free.

But let’s get down to what really brings attendees to the Green River Festival — the music.

“We’ve got some bigger headliners this year — I am excited about everybody,” said Sanders.

“Fleet Foxes are somebody that I really feel appeals to a wide cross-section — people who like Americana like Fleet Foxes. People who are into indie rock like Fleet Foxes,” Sanders said about the Seattle-based band that will headline Saturday night.

CAKE, known for modern rock hits like “The Distance” and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” makes a return appearance Friday night. Always a crowd-pleaser, CAKE last played the festival in 2010.

Sunday’s headliner is South African-born singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov.

“He has a great new album and a fantastic band,” Sanders said. “He will create the perfect vibe to close out Sunday.

“We are also leaning a little more toward global arts or world music, if you will,” he added, “with artists like Cimafunk, Dakhabrakha and Mdou Moctar.” Cimafunk, a Grammy-nominated Afro-Cuban artist, is a festival veteran who had the crowds dancing wildly when he played here in 2021.

“I’ve had people say the Dean’s Bean Stage is their favorite because it’s so high-energy,” said Sanders. “I’m excited that it has that reputation, and I want it to continue.”

One of the most exciting aspects of the Green River Festival is the opportunity to discover new talent, and there are some excellent up-and-coming acts, including Joy Oladokun, whose star is fast rising thanks to songs like “We’re All Gonna Die.” Then there’s singer-songwriter Tommy Prine, the son of John Prine, and Snacktime, a seven-piece funky punk band from Philadelphia.

Snacktime will also be leading the annual children’s parade through the fairgrounds.

“We are so excited to be included in such an incredible festival,” the band wrote in a recent email. “So many legends and so many amazing artists that are going to explode over the next few years.”

There are some returning favorites, too, like bluegrass band Twisted Pine and Bonny Light Horseman, a folk supergroup that consists of Josh Kaufman, Eric D. Johnson and Anais Mitchell. Mitchell, the songwriter of the Tony Award-winning play “Hadestown,” has also played the festival as a solo artist.

“We love Green River Fest and can’t wait to return with this new batch of songs,” said Mitchell. “Green River has always felt to me like a concentrated dose of everything that is beautiful about western Massachusetts — the wild land and creativity, and the community that has sprung out of it.”

Mitchell is in another band called Big Red Machine with Robin Pecknold, the lead singer of Fleet Foxes. Both bands play on the same day so attendees can keep their fingers crossed that they might jump on stage together.

As always, there will be a solid representation of local talent.

“We are definitely committed to presenting local artists at the festival,” Sanders said. “I think we have some great local talent this year, including Prewn, Love Crumbs, Cloudbelly and many others.”

Some of the other bands include Kalliope Jones and former Pioneer Valley residents Izzy Heltai, Speedy Ortiz and Naia Kete.

Cloudbelly, a local band from Montague, will be one of the last bands playing on Sunday night — they begin their set a half hour before Isakov closes the Main Stage. The band’s album “i know, i know, i know,” released earlier this year, is receiving positive reviews and was voted one of the best albums of the year so far by the Boston Globe.

“The lineup for the band this year is far and away the best it’s ever been, and we’re thrilled to be back at the fest,” Cloudbelly singer-songwriter Corey Laitman wrote in an email.

With new management and a strong lineup, this Green River Festival should prove to be a new — but not totally new — experience for attendees who have enjoyed the event for so many years.

“An important part of purchasing the festival … was [Olsen] wanted somebody who was going to take care of it and would take it to the next level,” said Sanders. “So we are keeping it rooted in what it’s always been and that is a festival that showcases western Massachusetts.”

Parking passes to park at the fairgrounds are running low. A free shuttle bus will run to and from the center of Greenfield one hour before gates open and one hour after gates close. The city of Greenfield will waive parking fees during the event.

Single-day tickets and weekend passes are still available at greenriverfestival.com. Tickets will be sold at the gate if available.