Saturday, July 18, 2009

Green River Festival

Last night, my father headed up to Greenfield, Massachusetts, to attend the Green River Festival. We met up with Nick, Sandro and Sarah -- Sandro's Sarah, not my Sarah, who is in Mozambique. Although it drizzled through most of the evening concert, there was a rather large crowd and people seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The festival was celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Signature Sounds label, and several of my favorite artists were featured, so I was excited for the show.

The evening began with a set from the house band. Directed by the mighty David 'Goody' Goodrich from the electric guitar, the group also featured the great Jim Henry on acoustic guitar and mandolin, Paul Kochanski on bass, Mark Erelli on acoustic guitar and lap steel and -- I think -- Jason Beek on drums. They played "Bloomington," an instrumental from a Peter Mulvey CD, added Tracy Grammer on fiddle for "28th of January." Jim Henry led an instrumental that he wrote for his daugher Ruby, noting that she had opted to go swimming instead of coming to the show, and then they brought out special guest Erin McKeown, who played her classic song "Blackbirds" from her first Signature Sounds CD, Distillation.

Jim Henry accompanied Tracy Grammer for her four-song set -- because there were so many artists, everyone was playing abbreviated sets. She played "Crocodile Man," "Gentle Arms of Eden," "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" (noting that they had brought on a hail storm when they played the song last July at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival) and "The Verdant Mile" (somehow failing to mention the fact that there is a blog (i.e. this one) named after a lyric from the song).

Mark Erelli played a solid set, opening up with "Not Alone" from his most recent CD before jumping back in time to play "Call You Home." He talked about wanting to sign up with Signature Sounds because of his crush on fiddler Rani Arbo (who was still fronting Salamander Crossing at the time). Tracy Grammer came back out to sing Dave Carter's "Cowboy Singer" with Mark. (Mark had taken Dave Carter's place at the 2003 Green River Festival following Dave's death.) And then he closed the set with "Compass & Companion," joined by Kris Delmhorst on harmony vocals.

Caroline Herring opened up her set with a somewhat odd version of "Long Black Veil" that she quickly made up for with a country gothic version of "True Colors." She played her early piece "Wise Woman" and then closed with a song about a Mississippi artist.

Jeffrey Foucault's set was a total rocker. He and the house band blistered through four songs with screaming guitar solos from Goody and Mark Erelli. Despite my shouting out, "Play your hit!" he did not play "Northbound 35."

Like Jeffrey Foucault, Peter Mulvey seemed totally in his element with the rocking house band. (He's worked a lot with Goody over the years.) He opened up with "The Knuckleball Suite," which had some nice build in it from simple acoustic piece to all-out rocker. Then he played "Some People," which (as I detailed here) used to reference Larry Craig. But bringing it up-to-date, it now alludes to Mark Sanford:
Some people go to the synagogue;
Some people go to the church.
Some people go down to Argentina
And end up with their reputations besmirched.
Mulvey apologized to Larry Craig, adding that "the problem with being a hypocrite is that there will always be some other politician there ready to take your place." From his forthcoming record, he played a great tune called "Kids in the Square" and then closed up the set with "Sad, Sad, Sad, Sad and Far Away from Home," bringing up Jeffrey Foucault and Kris Delmhorst to help on the chorus harmonies. (Kris Delmhorst had played a nice solo set, too, at some point, but I was walking around and chowing down on a pulled pork sandwich during it, so I wasn't paying that much attention.)

Given the short sets, the show was actually running ahead of schedule, so there was a brief break. The house band disappeared, and Richard Shindell came out to play a solo acoustic set, opening up with "Get Up Clara" from his latest album, and then performing "Abbie," a dog song that he wrote in Florence a month ago. Shindell's first dog song, it was quite good -- solid drive and typically quality lyrics. When his third song was "There Goes Mavis," Sarah accurately pointed out that it was an all animals set, but "Balloon Man" moved away from that theme. On "Cold Missouri Waters," Richard was a little hesitant on some of the lyrics, but then he wrapped up his set with a solid version of the classic "Transit."

Chris Smither picked out a typically excellent set. The best song in the set was the topical "Surprise, Surprise" about financial crises and economic downturns.

Crooked Still played an extremely solid set, and the crowd was loving them for it -- a lot of people were on their feet for this set. They opened up with a great version of "Harvest Moon" and then a solo-rich treatment of "Hop High." On "The Golden Vanity" and "Undone in Sorrow," cellist Tristan Clarridge's solos were particularly tasteful and inventive -- he really busted out some nice chops. "Did You Sleep Well?" is the song stuck in my head today. They also played "When First Unto This Country," "Tell Her to Come Back Home" and -- after asking 'Is that OK with all you wet people?' -- "Shady Grove" to close out the set. They didn't talk that much -- they kept the energy flowing from one song into the next. They did a very, very nice job.

We skipped out on Eilen Jewell's closing set in favor of some pints of beer in downtown Greenfield.

All in all, it was a solid evening of music. My one complaint was that, for the first half of the concert, when the house band was playing and backing people up, it was a little too loud -- and to the detriment of the sound. It was loud enough that I wanted earplugs, and not having any, I had to make due with wadded up bits of wet napkin. These worked to reduce the nasty distortion that was resulting from the high volume levels: both voices and instruments came through much more clearly.


Ellen Stanley said...

thanks for the update! i was thinking of y'all there as i played a mini-set in celebration of signature's 15th anniversary today on KFAI.

i can't believe you left before eilen jewell, though...her band was one of the highlights at SXSW!

Jess said...

Thanks for the report!!