Lake Street Dive back as Green River Festival headliner

  • Lake Street Dive returns to headline this year’s Green River Festival this weekend. CONTRIBUTED/JAY BLAKESBERG

  • The Young@Heart Chorus is performing at this year’s Green River Festival. PHOTO BY JULIAN PARKER-BURNS

  • Allison Russell, whose solo album “Unknown Child” netted three Grammy nominations, plays the Main Stage Sunday. CONTRIBUTED/MARC BAPTISTE

  • Jon Batiste performs on the Main Stage at the 2021 Green River Festival at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. The event returns June 24 to June 26. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

  • Ani DiFranco plays the Main Stage at the 2021 Green River Festival at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. The event returns June 24 to June 26. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

  • Ali McGuirk on the Dean’s Beans Stage at the 2021 Green River Festival at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. The event returns June 24 to June 26. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

For the Recorder
Published: 6/20/2022 9:28:07 PM
Modified: 6/20/2022 9:27:47 PM

GREENFIELD — There’s nothing like enjoying music in the great outdoors. The experience of dancing on the grass while listening to both old favorites and new music makes music festivals like the Green River Festival something special.

The annual festival, now in its 35th year, is more than a big concert; it’s a joyful experience we share with others.

The festival returns this weekend, June 24-26, at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. There will be four stages with more than 40 bands, a Maker’s Market, local food, beer and wine, and a mix of children’s activities. The move from Greenfield Community College to the fairgrounds launches a new festival era that includes onsite RV and tent camping, more entertainment offerings, VIP options, and of course, the same fantastic music that has made it the crown jewel of Pioneer Valley festivals.

‘A grand experiment’

Fortunately, the threat of COVID-19 doesn’t loom as large as it did the previous two years. In 2020, Signature Sounds of Northampton, the festival’s producers, had to cancel the event due to the pandemic. Last year, they were forced to reduce ticket sales and find a new location as the GCC campus — where the festival had taken place since its inception in 1986 — was closed to the public.

Organizers moved the 2021 sold-out festival to the Franklin County Fairgrounds, where Signature Sounds had used the site for camping since 2016. The fairgrounds, which offers more space and preferable infrastructure, proved to be a more functional site for the growing festival.

The festival, which draws in people from all over the country, has grown in size from its early days as a combined music and balloon festival. In 2015, the festival received a flurry of favorable press from publications like the New York Times and Rolling Stone, further bolstering attendance.

In addition to being larger and allowing space for on-site camping, the fairgrounds has ample running water and electricity, buildings to use and bathrooms. The flat terrain makes it more accessible, and there are plenty of places to find shade.

“It was a grand experiment last year and overall went pretty well,” said Jim Olsen, president of Signature Sounds and festival director. “There were a lot of advantages, and having that year’s experience, we are going to make it better this year.”

One of the most significant improvements is that Signature Sounds has resolved the sound bleed between stages, which was an issue last year.

“Last year, because of COVID, we kept things really minimal, but now we are building out the site more. We are having more food and craft vendors, more kids’ stuff and bringing back the tiny Green House Stage,” Olsen said of the improvements. The Green House Stage will offer pop-up concerts during the event.

With the change of location, however, the festival is not able to continue the tradition of having hot air balloons as the fairgrounds cannot accommodate them.

“We will miss the era of the balloons, but as the festival grew, they were getting harder for us to do,” said Olsen, who added he hopes festivalgoers will be pleased with all the additions being planned.

Planning performers

Assembling the lineup is always a lengthy, challenging process as the festival field is a crowded, competitive one. Still, Signature Sounds always brings a mix of returning favorites, newcomers and a healthy dose of local talent. This year, you’ll hear plenty of roots/Americana, country, bluegrass, folk, zydeco, funk and rock ’n’ roll.

“We try to find those performers who aren’t as tour-heavy as the others. Last year it was Jon Batiste who, despite his success, didn’t tour much,” said Olsen, who’s been responsible for booking the lineup since the beginning. “We like to get artists who are making their first valley appearance and Father John Misty (Sunday) falls into that category. Guster (Friday) also hasn’t played the area in years.”

The goal is to make the lineup stand out from all the other festivals out there.

This year, a couple of the Main Stage acts have deep ties to Signature Sounds Recordings. One of these is the soul/pop group Lake Street Dive, making its second appearance as a headliner at the festival. The group formed in Boston in 2004 and got a big break when Olsen signed them to Signature Sounds, having watched their performance at The Rendezvous in Turners Falls.

Members of Lake Street Dive released their first album for the label in 2010, and their careers took off when a video of them singing the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” went viral. Led by vocalist Rachael Price, the band will close the festival on Saturday night, being the second act (Michael Franti is the other) to have this honor twice.

“Western Mass. has always had a special place in our hearts. We were born in Boston but cut a lot of our teeth in the Pioneer Valley. This area is beautiful, historic and has great venues,” said the band’s drummer, Mike Calabrese. He added that the support they have received from Olsen and their manager Emily Lichter, who is based in the Pioneer Valley, add to their strong connection to this area and the Green River Festival.

“This is all to say that returning to Green River Fest to headline for a second time is more than just another stop on a tour. It’s a homecoming,” he said. “We only hope we can return some of the joy to this place that we have received from it all these years.”

Look for Lake Street Dive to pop up for an acoustic set on the Green House Stage on Saturday. (To find out what band is playing when on the Green House Stage, text “Green” to 855-660-2468.)

Varied lineup, new talent

The other artist with ties to the local label is Allison Russell, who last performed at the festival in 2018 as part of the band Birds of Chicago. That group, including her husband, JT Nero, released two albums for Signature Sounds before going on hiatus so Russell could release the solo album “Unknown Child.” That album, chronicling her experience as an abused child, is a powerful work that has won huge accolades, including three Grammy nominations. She will play on the Main Stage on Sunday.

“It was great to watch her success. We knew what a special talent she was and that it was just a matter of time before other people discovered her,” Olsen said of Russell, adding that her solo shows are getting rave reviews.

Some other acts are the western swing duo Asleep at the Wheel; singer-songwriter Waxahatchee (Sunday), who recently released a song with Wynonna Judd; and Galactic (Friday), which is bringing the funk from New Orleans.

The Green River Festival is about discovering new talent, and there’s always some artist waiting to be discovered. So I had to ask Olsen, who might that be this year?

“The one who I think is really going to knock people out is Katie Pruitt (Saturday), a fairly young singer-songwriter,” Olsen said. “I saw her at a festival in Virginia and it was like seeing a young Brandi Carlile.”

Cha Wa (Saturday), a Mardi Gras Indian brass band from New Orleans, is also on his list of recommendations.

Then there is all the local talent, which ranges from the Celtic-meets-world-beats sound of The Gaslight Tinkers to the bluegrass music of Poor Monroe. The biggest surprise this year is the appearance of the Young@Heart Chorus, set to perform on the Main Stage on Sunday. The group of singing seniors from Northampton has been together since 1982 and performs popular rock songs.

“It’s been a longtime goal to get Young@Heart to Green River Festival. In the past, when we’ve discussed it with their managers, the logistics seemed a bit daunting,” Olsen said. “It’s not easy to present an ensemble of 35 or more octogenarians in a festival setting, but we’ve worked out a plan for this year and I can’t wait for their performance. It’s always magical.”

Musician Rosemary Caine, a longtime practitioner of the Irish arts, is a member of the Young@Heart Chorus and the only member from Greenfield. She has been attending the festival for more than 25 years and looks forward to being on stage this year.

“Like so many other musicians, Young@Heart has been off-stage for two and a half years,” Caine wrote in an email. “This marks a huge milestone in the chorus’ history, their first time in Green River Festival.”

For the kids

There’s plenty of music geared toward children, including Latin Grammy winner Mister G and the Global Citizen Ensemble, a multicultural group celebrating music as a universal language. Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer), from Whately, makes music enjoyed by kids of all ages and has been a part of previous Green River Festivals. He will perform on Saturday.

There are all kinds of activities for children, who are admitted for free if they are 10 years old or under.

There are art projects, the annual Mardi Gras parade, and for the first time, Delilah the whale. Delilah is a life-size inflatable North Atlantic right whale that will be at the festival courtesy of the conservation group, Whales.org, on Saturday and Sunday.

“We think the kids are going to love Delilah. It’s an actual 3-D experience because you can actually go inside the whale,” Olsen said. “We love having the family experience being part of it all.”

Tickets

There are still single-day and weekend pass tickets left, including the VIP option, which is new this year. It includes certain benefits such as early admission, premium parking and access to the Roundhouse, which is being converted to an air-conditioned VIP lounge with exclusive performances.

Ticket prices are weekend pass, $170; Friday pass, $55; Saturday pass, $75; Sunday pass, $75; and student weekend pass, $95. A Festival Faithful VIP bundle (includes two admission tickets) is $700. Kids 10 and under are admitted for free. Ticket prices increase on Wednesday, June 22.

Tickets can be purchased at greenriverfestival.com and at the gate, if available.

On-site parking passes are sold out, but shuttle buses will run from downtown. The city of Greenfield is waiving parking fees on Saturday.

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 soundslocal@yahoo.com.


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.


Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
 

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy