GREENFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS—Normally the Green River Festival dawns hot and stays that way, but the 2016 version was cool and misty. Not that I was complaining. I’m usually weighing listening to a hot band or making a dash for the thoughtfully provided cooling station. (I wish all outdoor festivals were this well organized; Green River and Caramoor in New York are the best).
This is my third Territorial Imperatives report from the Green River Festival, and unless the pearly gates call it won’t be my last. I always discover new music at Green River, which is joined at the hip to my favorite record label, Signature Sounds. Jim Olsen is both the festival director and the label’s founder—it’s a family event. Sometimes when a new band appears at the festival, they proudly proclaim they’ve just been signed.
We got to the festival under threatening skies just in time to see Lula Wiles, the female Americana trio from Boston I’d somehow missed at Caramoor. They have strong original songs written by all three, and both guitar players also play fiddle—how’s that for variety? Here they are on video:
Venice, California’s Dustbowl Revival (Signature Sound artists!) manage to marry New Orleans horns with bluegrass in a delightful fashion. The lead vocals are shared by Zach Lupetin and Liz Beebe, and both can really belt ‘em out—on old songs (really old, some of them) and new ones that sound old. The fiddler and horn players (trombone and trumpet) are all very strong, and it’s no hardship when the vocals take a back seat.
My discovery of the day was Hannah and Maggie, also on the Four Rivers Stage. The pair met at nearby Smith College, where they were part of what I think they said was the Smithenpoofs. As they pointed out, the other well-known lesbian folk acts are The Indigo Girls and Tegan and Sarah, and people who compare them to the former are not that far off. But don’t pigeonhole them. What makes Hannah and Maggie stand apart is the strength of their songwriting and singing. C’mon, it’s just the two of them up there with guitars—with weak material it would be a trial to listen to them. But their songs were uniformly excellent in an all-original set (with one song, “The Boxer,” from that other well-known lesbian duo, Simon and Garfunkel).
Leland Sundries, featuring the songs of leader Nick Loss-Eaton were another pleasant Green River surprise at a festival that doesn’t like to get slotted into the folk bucket. Nick is a great balladeer whose baritone gets him into James McMurtry territory, but he also rocks out—especially on a song hoping that a zombie apocalypse will get him back together with his girlfriend.
A disappointment, for me, was Shovels and Rope, whose duo albums I’ve loved. In person they were shouty and monotone. The songs have subtlety, but they weren’t coming through on the main stage. Here they are on video, with the quietest song in the set:
Not all the good music was on the stage. As at Caramoor, there’s a lot of off-stage jamming. Here’s a bit I caught in the rain at the guitar/ukelele tent out of Easthampton:
Special mention should go to the food vendors, who never gouge. Coffee? $2. The ample tangine at Aurora’s Gypsy Café? $8.