Groovin at Mass MoCA
By: Charles Giuliano - Aug 15, 2010
Wilco rocked last night on Joe’s Field at Mass MoCA. They gave a glorious performance of some two plus hours.
The three day, Solid Sound Festival winds down this afternoon with surprise special guests in the concert Jeff Tweedy Solo Plus followed by the Numero Group back on campus in Courtyard C.
Yesterday we ambled about and grooved on the good vibrations. Along with what the Berkshire Eagle reports as between 4,000 and 5,000 other folks.
After months of careful planning of logistics the much anticipated traffic jam just never happened. Driving over from Adams we passed the satellite parking lot in the former North Adams Mall on Route 8. It was deserted with several buses ready to shuttle fans to the site. We passed a couple of parking lots somewhat closer. There was some activity with fans hiking to the campus. But we just pulled right in to the virtually empty lot off Main Street in front of Staples. We plan to try that again when returning for today’s events.
While the numbers are good we don’t know the bottom line for presenting such an ambitious event. With a top band like Wilco and all of the supporting acts, as well as all of the logistics, it is hard to say just what is the break even point.
In this sour economy Mass MoCA can’t afford to take a bath on promoting such an ambitious event. That’s why Joe Thompson of Mass MoCA and Jeff Tweedy of Wilco were hesitant when I asked to confirm plans to return next year. The guarded responses entailed let’s wait and see.
Thompson denied the rumor of a five year contract with Wilco. But it is not likely the museum and band would undertake such an ambitious event without exploring a long term commitment.
Much of the funding involves start up costs. They are somewhat absorbed the second time around. Like the effort to prepare a new facility Joe’s Field. With a track record and solid numbers it will be possible to pursue grants and sponsors for next year.
One issue to explore is to have off site activity. How about having some of those performers down town in DownStreet galleries or here and there. Or set up a satellite arts and food fair along Main Street. Keep the focus on Mass MoCA but turn this into more of a city wide North Adams event.
Of course that will take a lot of effort and planning.
While Mass MoCA is able to draw throngs to its campus, as this event demonstrates, the challenge has always been to lure an increment of that traffic to the local arts and business community. This is a great start but now we have to move to the next level. With all those folks hanging out for three days it was relatively quiet on Main Street. The vendors set up near the campus weren’t selling a lot of hot dogs when we checked.
But the MoCA sources we spoke with were more forth coming in predicting that the rock festival will surely grow into an annual event. A MoCA staff member who was on sight from 8 AM was exhausted but sanguine. “We will evaluate what went well, identify problems, and make improvements next year.”
Of course you couldn’t ask for better weather. That made a huge difference particularly with walk up ticket sales. Yes it was hot yesterday. We sought the shade under the canopy on the café deck. We managed to find a table and enjoyed a cool beer.
The folks we talked with were thrilled with the event. There was an older couple from Vermont. He asked when I had become a Wilco fan? A couple of years ago at Tanglewood. He missed that one but has seen a lot of their shows. When they departed another couple took their seats. He was on leave from submarine duty and she was a blacksmith from New Hampshire. She had been to Mass MoCA before but this was his first visit.
Matt Belanger of Adams is an artist who doesn’t drink. Compared to the beer line he told me with some amusement that there was no wait for water. In general everyone commented on how well set up were the food and beer stations.
“It is positively brilliant that they opened up the entire campus” commented shop owner Jane Hudson who, with her husband Jeff, sells art and antiques at Mass MoCA. We asked about traffic. She reported a lot of people passing through and decent sales. “Using the entire campus opens up a lot of possibilities. For openers it lets visitors see the range of what is offered here including the inner court yards where bands are set up. I am sure that they will build on this.”
Next door to the Hudsons Gramercy Bistro seemed busy with an affordable festival menu on the deck.
Susan Cross the chief curator of Mass MoCA was excited about all the activity in the galleries. She and other staff members were conducting tours.
The casual nature of the afternoon encouraged people to explore the museum. The music was set up in alternating sets. Between acts, or to get out of the hot sun, people packed into the Hunter Center to hear the comedy acts. We dropped by for a few laughs. Also we visited all the nooks and crannies of the galleries. It was encouraging to see so many young people playing with the interactive exhibitions some of which had been created by various Wilco members. The Festival also encouraged the band to extend their own creativity beyond music.
Or to play music in a different context. Wilco drummer Glenn Kothche created the drum art installations in the Sol LeWitt building. We also caught a set of his avant-garde percussion, the duo with bass, On Fillmore, in Courtyard C.
In the larger space of the inner Courtyard D we heard the Baseball Project singing a chorus of “Williams Sucks.” Wonder that that was about? As well as a tribute to Kurt Flood who sued for free agency and changed the salary structure of the game. A band member’s mom dated Flood. That evoked “Not my Mom, my step Mom. Be careful about what you say about my mom.”
Just before the dinner break we heard the a capella three woman group curiously named Mountain Man. They are from Bennington, Vermont. Just up the road so to speak. They performed until 5:15 pm. Then there was a break until 6:15 when Mavis Staples performed on Joe’s Field as the opener for Wilco which came on stage at 8:30 PM.
With no rest for the weary we are headed back for more. It’s just fun, fun, fun till her Daddy takes the T-Bird away.