Festival frenzy!

They Might Be Giants will be at the Green River Festival on July 19

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., July 8, 2003) -- With so many chances to go see your favorite performers in nightclubs, theaters, arenas and summer sheds, why go to an outdoor festival? What do the many weekend-long summer festivals offer for music lovers that they can’t get elsewhere?

It’s a question worth pondering, and one whose answer isn’t totally obvious. There are, after all, several reasons why one might want to avoid going to an all-day or weekend-long music festival.

For one, there’s the weather. It’s hard to come by perfect festival weather, which would involve no rain but also not too much sun. It’s hard to enjoy music when you’re sitting on a hillside baking in 90-degree heat and humidity without an ocean nearby. The ideal festival day would be partly sunny with plenty of cloud cover but no threat of rain. But there has yet to be a festival promoter who has figured out how to guarantee such a perfect day. That’s why indoor venues with air conditioning were invented.

Secondly, there is the comfort factor. No matter how prepared you are for the vagaries of the weather, there is just no way that the latest in lawn-chair design can compete with a real chair, especially well-padded theater seats. Also, sound and lighting add to the concertgoing experience and help focus a listener’s attention, whereas the ambient surroundings of daytime festivals tend to be distracting.

Thirdly, there is the overkill factor. How well can you concentrate on music for many hours at a stretch? Personally, I find a half-hour warm-up act and a 90-minute headlining set to be just about right. But festivals, with their relentless parade of one 45-minute performance after another, sometimes going on for eight or 10 hours at a stretch, simply expects way too much of a serious listener.

Perhaps that’s where the key to enjoying a festival lies. Are festivals meant for the serious listener, or are they actually designed for the casual browser? The one thing that the best festivals provide is a well-curated sampling of acts – typically under the umbrella of a unified genre or style like jam-rock or folk – for an unbeatable ticket price – typically the cost of a ticket to one major headlining act. There is certainly something to be said for the chance to see a dozen performers or more for the price of just one or two concerts, especially for novices or for those who don’t have the time, energy or ability to otherwise pick and choose wisely.

All this being said, festivals can be great fun, especially when shared with groups of like-minded friends. They also offer the promise of discovery, and it is with that in mind that we offer an overview of the major festivals coming to the region in coming weeks.

Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival (July 17-20, Rothvoss Farm, Ancramdale, N.Y.): In its 27th year at this location, the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival continues to feature an all-star lineup of traditional and contemporary bluegrass talent. Hosted by the Dry Branch Fire Squad, this year’s lineup includes living legends like Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Tony Rice and Del McCoury, as well as a reunion of Tim O’Brien’s group, Hot Rize, and a performance by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Other performers include Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Ronnie Bowman, Rhonda Vincent, Drew Emmitt, the Gibson Brothers, Blue Highway, Mountain Heart, the Waybacks, Pine Mountain Railroad, Open Road, King Wilkie, Steep Canyon Rangers, Reeltime Travelers and Skip Gorman. Multiple stages, workshops, dancing, family stage, camping, gospel show, talent showcase, bluegrass jam camp, raffles, food and crafts. (888-946-8495,

Green River Festival (July 18-19, Greenfield Community College, Greenfield): Perhaps best known for the annual hot-air balloon launch, the emphasis at the Green River Festival is decidedly slanted towards American roots music, although this year they throw a little alternative-pop entertainment into the mix with an appearance by postmodern pop wiseguys They Might Be Giants. The lineup includes the zydeco sounds of Terrance Simien, the Cajun rhythms of Balfa Toujours, Brave Combo’s avant-polka, the Asylum Street Spankers’ twisted swing-jazz, blues duo Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez, and singer-songwriters Patty Griffin and Kris Delmhorst, both of whom will be at the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington on Friday, July 18th. Also on tap are folk-rockers Slaid Cleaves and Josh Ritter and the Stone Coyotes, the Pioneer Valley’s own rootsy-answer to the White Stripes. Two stages, food and crafts, dancing, children’s entertainment. (413-773-5463,

Berkshire Jazz Festival (July 25-27, Ski Butternut, Great Barrington): In its third year, the Berkshire Jazz Festival is still struggling to gain a foothold in the region. Efforts to improve the festival’s viability include moving it from late August to this weekend in July, offering on-site camping, and, presumably, reducing expenses by shying away from marquee names like Chuck Mangione, Kevin Mahogany and Roy Hargrove, who performed at past festivals. This year’s festival promises to be more appealing to families, too, with the addition of a kids stage with jugglers, clowns, marionettes and children’s singers. Top names include Chico Hamilton, Houston Person, Lou Donaldson, Jimmy Heath, Leroy Jones, Donald Harrison and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Four stages, food and crafts. (888-99-BEBOP,

Falcon Ridge Folk Festival (July 24-27, Long Hill Farm, Hillsdale, N.Y.): Falcon Ridge celebrates its 15th anniversary with a top-heavy lineup including folk-rock pioneer Richard Thompson, women’s music pioneer Holly Near, Sixties legend Tom Paxton and the Berkshires’ own Arlo Guthrie making his Falcon Ridge debut. In addition, Falcon Ridge features its typical cream-of-the-crop lineup of contemporary singer-songwriters, including Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky, Greg Brown, Patty Larkin, John Gorka, Dar Williams and Vance Gilbert. Camping, dancing, food and crafts, workshops, family stage. (866-325-2744,

Berkshire Mountain Music Festival (August 15-17, Ski Butternut, Great Barrington): Known far and wide by its shorthand moniker, BerkFest once again presents an eclectic array of music all loosely fitting under the umbrella of “jam-rock.” What this means in practice is that festivalgoers will be treated to sounds as varied as Medeski, Martin and Wood’s soul-jazz-based improvisations, the Flaming Lips’ psychedelic pop, the Greyboy Allstars’ acid-jazz and the Roots’ live, conscious hip-hop. Live electronic music will be represented by Particle, Sound Tribe Sector 9 and the New Deal. In all, over 50 bands on six stages, plus the mobile, interactive Jimi Hendrix Museum. Camping, food and crafts. (877-423-3787,

Berkshire Music Festival on the Lake (Onota Lake, Pittsfield, August 2-3): As of press time, it was unclear whether the Berkshire Music Festival on the Lake, currently mired in disputes and lawsuits between the promoter and the city of Pittsfield, would take place as planned. The festival sponsor, the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition, plans to present an eclectic showcase of regional bands and performers including Melodrome, the Patiokings, Domino Theory, Terraplanes, Tom Gizzi, Eric and Eladia, and many others. Free admission, family stage, tethered hot-air balloons. (

[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on July 10, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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