Festival frenzy

The Mosquitos will perform at the Green River Festival

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., July 1, 2004) – Why festivals? It’s a question worth asking every once in a while. It’s one I ask myself at least once a year, typically at the beginning of the summer when it’s time to chart out the season’s concertgoing. What do multiple-day, multiple-artist festivals have to offer that make them worth the ticket price, their long duration, the overpriced food and the discomfort of sitting outside amidst the elements ranging from baking sun to torrential rain?

In theory at least, what festivals offer in compensation for these indignities includes the chance for both casual and dedicated listeners to sample a wide range of artists, typically related by genre or theme, at the fraction of the cost it would take to see individual concerts by all of them. They also offer the chance to hear music in a more relaxed, family-friendly setting where it’s not considered rude to get up in the middle of someone’s act to take a walk or to lie down and close one’s eyes and take a nap, or just to tune out the music, if that’s your choice, and read a book or commune with the clouds.

Festivals are also a communal experience where music is as much background as foreground. They are social events at which music brings together people united by something in common – the music – but where there isn’t the assumption that concertgoers are in attendance only for the music.

Many festivals also have ancillary programming, offering more than just concerts, including workshops, dancing, children’s entertainment and activities, information booths, craft shows, and organized or improvised song-swaps.

What follows is a look at some of the weekend-long, multi-artist, outdoor festivals taking place in the immediate and greater region between now and Labor Day weekend.

Green River: For the last 18 years, the Green River Festival has taken place on the grounds of Greenfield Community College. Known as much for its hot air balloons as for its diverse range of performers, the annual event kicks off on Friday, July 16, with music by Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Sweethearts, Planet Zydeco, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and the Pioneer Valley’s own Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem. Saturday’s lineup includes country-folk singer Gillian Welch, folk-rock group Donna the Buffalo, blues legends Hot Tuna, Brazilian pop group the Mosquitos, alternative bluegrass outfit the Old Crow Medicine Show, sacred-steel gospel ensemble the Campbell Brothers, singer-songwriter Lori McKenna, Northampton rockers Drunk Stuntmen, modern string band The Resophonics, Jeffrey Foucault and We’re About Nine. The festival will also include a Johnny Cash tribute. For more info, go to or call 413-773-5463.

Grey Fox Bluegrass: The annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival at the Rothvoss Farm in Ancramdale, N.Y., which takes place this year on July 15-18, is so popular among bluegrass fanatics that weekend camping tickets were nearly sold out by the time this article was written. Single-day passes were still available for admission to the festival whose lineup typically reads like a who’s-who of bluegrass all-stars, including traditionalists such as Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury, Tim O’Brien, Bill Keith, Robin and Linda Williams, and the Gibson Brothers, and more progressive-minded acts such as Leftover Salmon, Natalie MacMaster, Railroad Earth, Country Current, the Waybacks, Wayfaring Strangers, Adrienne Young and Little Sadie, Donna the Buffalo, and Hot Tuna. See or call 888-946-8495 for more info.

Falcon Ridge Folk: The 16th annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival takes place at the idyllic Long Hill Farm on Route 23 in Hillsdale, N.Y., on July 22-25. Devoted mainly to contemporary singer-songwriters but also featuring an eclectic array of traditional folksingers, world music artists and dance music, this four-day camping festival boasts such venerable performers as Richie Havens, David Bromberg, Greg Brown, John Gorka, Lucy Kaplansky, Steve Forbert, Vance Gilbert and Tracy Grammer along with Nerissa and Katryna Nields, Richard Shindell, Eliza Gilkyson, Brave Combo, Debbie Davies, Disappear Fear, Eddie From Ohio, Ellis Paul, Erin McKeown and Mark Erelli. Most of Friday’s programming features a new artist showcase, from which each year festivalgoers select a handful of “most wanted” artists who appear on the mainstage the next year. For more info see or call 866-325-2744.

Montreal Jazz: Officially known as the “Festival International de Jazz de Montreal,” which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, the Montreal Jazz Festival is reportedly one of the greatest music festivals in the world. The two-week long event began yesterday, runs through July 11, and features a stunning lineup including Diana Krall, Tony Bennett, Wynton Marsalis, George Benson, K.D. Lang, Ibrahim Ferrer, and Dianne Reeves. On July 4, Jean-Luc Ponty, Al Di Meola and Stanley Clarke will revive their 1995 cult hit album, “The Rite,” and Oliver Jones and Oscar Peterson will bring down the curtain on the festival at the closing-night ceremonies. For more info, see or call 888-515-0515.

Newport Jazz: Speaking of anniversaries, the granddaddy of all summer festivals, Newport Jazz in Rhode Island, celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer. Officially called “JVC Jazz Festival – Newport,” the festival opens Wednesday, August 11, with Dave Brubeck presenting his “Gates of Justice” oratorio, dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the passage of landmark civil rights legislation. Other performers at this year’s Newport, which reads like a celebration of the history of jazz of the last half-century, include Harry Connick Jr., Branford Marsalis, Dianne Reeves, Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis, Dave Holland, Clark Terry, McCoy Tyner, Michael Brecker, Phil Woods, Ron Carter, Roy Haynes, Jackie McLean, Dave Douglas, Nicholas Payton, Regina Carter, Roswell Rudd, Roy Hargrove, Jon Faddis, George Shearing, Christian McBride, Clark Terry, Cedar Walton, James Moody, Marian McPartland, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Russell Malone, Ravi Coltrane, and many more.

Many of the performers will combine forces in makeup ensembles to pay tribute to past Newport legends including Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and others. In honor of Newport’s 50th anniversary, Columbia/Legacy recently released a three-CD collection, “Happy Birthday Newport: 50 Swinging Years,” featuring 28, live Newport performances spanning the 1950s to the 1970s, including previously unissued tracks by Miles Davis (“Round Midnight” from 1955) and Chuck Berry (“Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Johnny B. Goode” from 1958). The CD also includes numbers by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Muddy Waters, Ben Webster, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. For more info about the festival, see or call 866-468-7619.

Newport Folk: Newport Jazz’s younger cousin, the Newport Folk Festival, officially the “Apple and Eve Newport Folk Festival,” takes place on August 6-8 and boasts a reunion of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Wilco, Doc Watson, Lucinda Williams and Rufus Wainwright at the top of this year’s bill. Also appearing are Steve Earle, Corey Harris, Mindy Smith, Joan Osborne, Slaid Cleaves, the Mammals, Ollabelle, Laura Cantrell, Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez, Lori McKenna, Old Crow Medicine Show, and the Dixie Hummingbirds with special guests Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of The Band. For more info, see or call 866-468-7619.

Songs at the Lake: The city of Lake Placid, N.Y., hopes to make Songs at the Lake an annual event. The inaugural edition of this roots-rock festival, which will be held on the grounds of the1980 Winter Olympics, kicks off on July 31 with performances by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Buckwheat Zydeco, Patty Larkin, Bill Miller, Sonny Landreth, Rosanne Cash and others. The next day, Los Lobos headlines along with Rodney Crowell, Little Feat, Donna the Buffalo, Tony Joe White, Steve Forbert and Tom Rush. For more info see or call 518-523-3330.

Tanglewood Jazz: Summer ends for all intents and purposes when the annual Labor Day weekend Tanglewood Jazz Festival rolls around. This year’s edition kicks off on Friday, Sept. 3 with an evening of Latin jazz featuring Eliane Elias and Eddie Palmieri. Other highlights of the weekend will include Dave Brubeck, Harry Connick, Jr., Branford Marsalis, and the annual live taping of Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz.” For more info see or call 888-266-1200.

[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on July 1, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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