2nd Annual Fresh Grass Bluegrass Festival
A Sellout for MoCA
By: David Wilson - 09/30/2012
Parents and infants
Toddlers and youngsters
Cahalen Morris and Eli West gave us their High Lonesome sound...
Emma Beaton & Bridget Kearney of Joy Kills Sorrow concentrating on a sound check
Matt Acara, Wes Corbett, Emma Beaton, Bridget Kearney and Jacob Jolliff,make up Joy Kills Sorrow
Outside the venue, a pickup session hits its stride...
Even performers get to meet and greet old session mates at festivals
Leyla McCalla, photo by Tequila Minsky
Dom, Leyla, Rhiannon and Hubby - AKA the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
Could be the beginning of a line dance or a rush to the concession booth
Music festivals have become common these days where once they were events of such rarity that if you could get to one a year, that was a lot. Now, there are often several to choose from within travelling distance on any given weekend.
My recent attendance at the Fresh Grass Bluegrass Festival has given rise to a number of thoughts that are struggling to become coherent even as I write this.
Fresh Grass, hosted by and at the Museum of Contemporary Art, MoCA in North Adams, MA ostensibly aims to showcase the evolving state of Bluegrass music and this, the second staging of what they hope will be an annual event, took place on the weekend of Sep 21 to 23. The festival achieved capacity sales for the intended venue a week before opening night, and while there were a few hiccups, on the whole, the staff ran a very successful and satisfying event.
The large presence of families complete with infants, toddlers, teens, pre-teens and adults mingling comfortably and affably was a pleasant change from more common instances with preponderance either of senior citizens or hormone driven mate seekers.
Whereas most festivals, even those in urban environs strive to simulate rural settings, this festival in a grand rural area felt more like a metropolitan block party, not at all unpleasant, but offering a unique sensibility.
Performers were given 60 – 90 minutes of stage time, sufficient to present themselves and the scope of their considerable talents.
While I did not get to attend every performance, I was, as always, delighted and energized by Joy Kills Sorrow.
Although an unexpected deluge brought Saturday to an earlier than expected conclusion, On Sunday, I was captivated by Leyla McCalla’s morning solo performance and her afternoon session with the Carolina Chocolate Drops sealed my appreciation.
I have been a JKS fan for the last couple of years, and I became a CCD fan this weekend. While these two acts pleased me the most, I heard not one disappointing performance all weekend.
Aural and muscle fatigue resulted in forsaking the headliners, Trampled By Turtles, but I presume they were their consummate selves in closing the festival.
My current pondering has to do with the attempts to define Bluegrass and the way in which, as a product, it is marketed to the general public. Like many labels, this one has slipped its bounds and expanded its scope. Originally used as an impromptu and off the cuff tag to give identity to the music of a small segment of Appalachian string band radio performers of a discreet Southern rural culture, it has now come to represent almost any music generated by any string band that pretends to that musical aggregate, Americana, another current, pale and near meaningless label. I want to point out that it is not the musicians who typically apply the label to themselves, but the marketers and I do have some sympathy for them because long winded vague attempts, (much like the one in which I am currently indulging,) to describe a multifaceted musical genre, beg for simple, agreed upon, if empty, labels.
To be fair, I could apply the same argument to Blues, Folk, Jazz, even Hip-Hop, and after perusing many of the fascinating and compelling exhibits in the MoCA galleries to any number of visual genres as well.
So, I like and endorse “Fresh Grass” as a contemporary label to represent a musical form that continues to expand its borders, redefine and recombine, even revisit its origins in order to revitalize itself, and I hope the label catches on and maybe even obviates the need to the claim of being Bluegrass.
With that rant over, in the clear agenda of self interest, as a member of the press, I would like to encourage MoCA to consider a few more indulgences to us that would let us better report on and publicize their efforts. MoCA, feel free to contact me for an extended wish list.
If you have yet to experience Joy Kills Sorrow, here is a good place to start...
And the charm of Leyla McCalla
Now the frosting on the cake, The Carolina Chocolate Drops
and the aforementioned Trampled by Turtles