Wilco Solid Sound Festival Day Two

Here Comes the Sun, Kindah

By: - Jun 26, 2011

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During day two, Saturday, of Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival on the North Adams campus of  Mass MoCA, again, the elements were a factor.

The sun struggled to come out. It was even bright and sunny at times during the afternoon but then the sky darkened. Around four, yet again, the rain came as folks put on those brisk selling plastic ponchos. Or queued up round the block for the shelter of the Comedy Cabaret in the high and dry Hunter Center.

On stage in the inner courtyard Liam Finn from New Zealand started his set with a  trio playing solo drum and synth. As he smashed about we prepared ourselves for Noise music. But when his mates came on they settled into more tuneful music with a surging rock beat. A wildly enthusiastic Wilco drummer, Glenn Kotche, sat in for an exciting double up on percussion. Finn, as he did on Friday, joined Wilco on stage when they performed one of his songs.

In the smaller court yard we hung out on the patio café overlooking the stage. We heard a set by Here We Go Magic which performed an eclectic blend of music.

Beyond hearing  music there is a lot to see and do. For out of town visitors there was plenty of time to visit the museum’s galleries which included several installations by Wilco members.

There was a great range of food and drink at decent prices. Just four bucks for a beer is certainly not a rip off. An artist friend strongly recommended the samosa. Jane Hudson, of Hudson’s Antiques mentioned the humungous lobster rolls, fifteen bucks a pop, at MoCA’s Grammercy Bistro. There were enough middle aged high rollers to provide brisk business.

We were surprised at the number of infants, toddlers and kids. There were a lot of activities from games and storytelling to music mentoring. It was great to see children learning how to play guitar or taking part in African drumming.

In every sense it was a festival as thousands took advantage of the multiple stages to hear hour long sets by bands chosen by Wilco members. A number of these performances entailed spinoffs groups of the band or sets in which various Wilco players sat in.

There was a peaceful, cozy, intimate feeling to this festival. It was not too big to be crowded and uncomfortable nor too small to lack depth and interest. Really, it was just right.

The storm front moved out by the time that Wilco took the stage for the second night of the three day event. The festival ends this afternoon with Levon Helm and his band. It was muddy and treacherous under foot as we slogged about.

Wilco opened with a  cover of Nick Lowe’s “I Love My Label.” There was a lot of new material. Tweedy said “That’s a new song. We haven’t recorded it yet. I just made it up. Here’s one you might already know and can sing along with us.” The audience took him up on the invitation and he finally chimed in at the end of a long instrumental interlude of “Jesus, Etc.”  There were also such familiar songs as “Shot in the Arm,” “War On War” and “At Least That’s What You Said.”

The band for the most part played a different set than we heard during the drenching rain on Friday night. One prominent repeater was the new release, their first for their own label, ‘I Might.” It is the designated single for their yet to be titled eighth album. With some irony Tweedy informed us that they will keep playing it. We’re just going to pound it into your heads, because that’s what you do with new singles.” No need, really. It’s a wonderfully catchy tune with a truly great arrangement and tons of hooks. Surely it will be a sing along next year.

Tweedy is not a chatty band leader. There were just a few of the “How are you doing?” “Did you like that?” kind of comments. He thanked the audience for being so amazingly patient in standing through the rain the night before. With ironic insight he explained that he doesn’t like to tell stories because they are mostly “stupid.” And that it cuts into playing lots of music.

But he did thank Mass MoCA for being a great host for the festival. And to the City of North Adams “For making us feel welcome and so special.” That made one feel truly proud of Mass MoCA by working with Wilco to create what will continue, at least for the next three years of a five year agreement, as a fabulous annual event.

The Saturday set included: "I Love My Label" [Nick Lowe], new song-"Dawned On Me" (live debut), "A Shot in the Arm,"  "Side With The Seeds, Company In My Back," "I’ll Fight," "War On War," "At Least That’s What You Said," "It’s Just That Simple," "What Light"  "Can’t Stand It," new song-"Standing O" (live debut), "Jesus, etc.," " Hummingbird," "I Might," "Box Full Of Letters," "Hate It Here," "You Never Know" (w/Liam Finn on electric guitar and backing vocals), "Born Alone," "The Late Greats," "Heavy Metal Drummer," "Passenger Side," "California Stars" (w/Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion on vocals and tambourine), "Airline To Heaven," "Monday," "Outtasite (Outta Mind)," and  "Hoodoo Voodoo."

While the festival draws a national audience of mellow Wilco fans we spotted more of our neighbors this year. The final figures are yet to be released but the numbers, while somewhat dampened by bad weather and walkup sales, seemed to be about the same as the 6,000 who attended last year. It is speculated that the event puts $1 million plus into the local economy.

There was more of an effort, this year, to work with the city to bring an increment of the rock audience to the down town.

After a dinner break we parked and were walking down Main Street. We encountered Mayor Dick Alcombright and City Councilor Keith Bona. Keith is also a shop owner and reported that despite the bad weather he had strong sales that were about the same as last year.

A lot of people asked Bona for advice on where to visit and dine. “There was a problem with breakfast” he said. “There was a line around the corner at Brouhaha. It was OK when places opened up for lunch. Last year The Pub served breakfast but they stopped that back in November. The Holiday Inn stopped serving around 10. I was advising folks that if they had a car they might try Linda’s or even Burger King and McDonald’s.”

“Both national chains but locally owned franchises” added Alcombright. He had cooperated in trying to get things done including a relatively quick approval for the Tent City which issued 250 plus permits for campers. With all the rain it must have been a challenging adventure for several hundred rock fans. It also made the event affordable for a young audience.

A big improvement this year was a handout map at MoCA that identified all the down town points of interest. After the evening concerts there was a lot going on. In addition to bars and restaurants staying open until 2 AM there was live music. An all women, African percussion band was set up under the overhead protection of the Mohawk Theatre marquee. The galleries of the annual Downstreet were all open. DJ Spooky offered a live set that started at midnight.

In front of The Pub there were tables spilling out onto the sidewalk. City Councilor Lisa Blackmer and her husband Bill invited us to join them for a nightcap. After a long day, however, it was time to crash.

With more fun today. Rock on.