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Green River Festival: The Sunday / Bum’s Rush Edition! July 26, 2012

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This isn’t going to do the great musicians at Sunday’s event justice, but I’m falling behind in my other obligations, so it will be what it is.

The day started off with a misty 5:30am sunrise:

Eric played the bagpipes, the balloons went up, and then I took a nap in the shade of my car.

Hey, two and a half hours of sleep just hadn’t recharged me from Saturday.

I woke an hour or so later to the sound checks happening at both the upper and lower stages.  This sound crew was good,  and put a lot of time and effort into getting it right:

Thanks, guys!

By noon the line at the gate stretched way away around the parking lots, with people of all ages enduring the heat to get a good spot:

At least there was a breeze!

Promptly at noon (Saturday had been delayed a bit,) the gates opened and the masses streamed in.  They were barely getting seated when the music began with one man and a guitar.  If anyone expected this to be a throw-away opening act, they were soon to be wonderfully disappointed; Martin Simpson played and sang passionately and powerfully, turning his beautiful acoustic guitar into what sounded like a whole band, with luscious bass notes and complex chording underlaying spectacular slide playing:

I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t familiar with his music, but his blend of traditional and original British folk gems blew me away, and I’m certain I wasn’t alone in feeling that way!

OK, next (“Bum’s Rush,” remember?) came Elizabeth Cook, trilling deceptively pretty country songs in a Dolly Parton voice (though without the accessories:)

I say “deceptively pretty” because she wasted no time getting down and dirty, making it clear that an unfaithful man had better not be her  unfaithful man, and standing up for the “fairer sex” with songs like, “Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be a Woman.”  The ladies loved it and sang along, while their hubbies mouthed the words and looked a wee bit nervous…

Anyway, she was great fun, but I missed the end of her act, instead heading  down to the lower stage to catch a bit of local wonders Darlingside,  a Valley quintet including mandolin, fiddle, guitar, electric cello and drums:

I’m glad to have caught them; their interplay was brilliant, creating an uncategorizable blend of folk, rock and classical elements with a great energy:

Nice stuff, and as they’re local, I hope to hear them again soon!

Onward and upward:

At the main stage, local legend Chris Smither was just getting started, playing with his band The Motivators (he’s usually a solo act, doing commendable percussion with his feet!)  Chris’ is an act you shouldn’t miss if he comes your way:

Amazing guitar playing, distinctive vocals and the ability to turn a phrase in a way which is at once unique and shockingly true – no cliches here, just honest answers to questions you didn’t know to ask!

His band was new to me, except for guitar virtuoso David Goodrich, who had impressed me at a previous show:

It was all good, melding bluesey tunes with beautiful vocal harmonies and an impish sense of humor.  Kudos, Mr. Smither!  🙂

The Meat of the Sunday Meal came next…

Richard Thompson!

Holy Cow.

I mean, Holy Cow!

If you never heard one man play three guitar parts while singing his black heart out, you should have been there.   This guy’s been doing what he does for a very long time, and it shows – exquisitely crafted stories of being wrong and losing love and ruining his life, told with burning pathos, powered by this One Man Guitar Army:

If a lifetime of hard living, serious addictions and losing the love of his life have tempered his abilities, I can’t imagine to what heights he might have soared with his full faculties.

But then again, the stories he wrings from his bones and serves up with a twinkle of wry humor might not come out the way they do, and his loss is our great gain:

The crowd ate it up, roaring for more, singing along  and pushing him to a brief encore (my throat still hurts!)  😉

By the time Mr. Thompson had had his way with us, we were all exhausted and hungry; pity the poor Winter Pills, who played next to a sea of people who tried to be enthusiastic, but really needed a breather.  A lot of people took this opportunity to avail themselves of the excellent (and groovy) food vendors:

That shot taken before the gates opened; after Richard Thompson I couldn’t get near it!

Sunday was a fail for me getting to all of the bands, all of the time, so I’ll just apologize to Lee Fields, C. J. Chenier, Gordon Gano, Brown Bird, and all of the fine acts in the Meltdown Tent.  After Saturday’s marathon and the 4am start, I just wanted to kick back a bit and enjoy some of this great music.

The crowd got revved up again for Rubblebucket, a really strong jam/funk outfit from Brooklyn, New York.  Their sound merges the jam-band energy of Phish with a spectacularly fine horn and horn-bop duo who traded their ‘bones for vocal renditions of great horn arrangements; they chased one of the most unique guitar players I’ve ever had the pleasure of heaingr all over the musical map, and provided pumping lyrical counterpoints to the astonishing high-energy vocals of singer Kalmia Traver:

Set this all to challenging and totally atypical rhythms, fill the spaces with effervescent synth and stir, or rather dance yourself into a frenzy.  My face hurt from smiling, they were that good!

…But sadly, they were a nightmare to photograph from out in the audience – between their frenetic movements and the streamers blowing from every mic stand, auto focus was out of the question, and the shallow depth of field on my 400mm lens was far from optimal for the job.  Sorry folks.

The show wrapped up with Ozomatli, an LA band known for powering dance raves through the roof of any room.  They had a head start with this fired-up audience, and even though their urban funk sensibilities aren’t our usual hill-town fare, they totally nailed it, with a line-up of four drummer/percussionists:

(…that one’s for the Ladies 😉 )

…powering another killer horn section and fabulous guitar player to rave speed and beyond.

I did my usual vanishing act when they started to peak, choosing once again to hit the road before it got choked to a standstill by thousands of wired drivers all trying to be the first out of the lot.

So that’s it, folks.  Two days of great music and food, a beautiful balloon ride, and four posts worth of typos which I’ll find long after you do!  I’m not proof-reading anything  tonight – my “bum’s rush” wrap-up has taken me ’till 1:30 am!

Green River BALLOON Festival! (Part 3) July 24, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure, music.
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When the Green River Festival began 26 years ago, it was largely a hot-air ballooning event with a few musical acts hired to entertain those gathered to see that spectacle.

Sadly, by this year’s event, the balloons seem to be little more than an afterthought.

That’s not to say anything less than respectful about the event as a music festival, but rather to lament the diminution of the magic which is evoked when one sees these beautiful behemoths floating incongruously off into the blue July sky.

I made it part of my mission to document this year’s ballooning, at the cost of missing some of the music; hey, there’s only one of me!

Anyway, the balloonists pull into town on Saturday afternoon, staking out their staging turf in the lower field, waiting for the air to cool and thicken, and for the evening breezes to (hopefully) begin to stir.

This is the first year I took the time to watch the process literally unfold:

The spread-out balloons are attached to their baskets, then partially filled with large fans.  The field becomes a rippling sea of color:

Ground crews pull fabric outward as the envelope inflates:

…button up baffles and attach tag lines:

When the balloons are inflated enough, propane burners are fired up.  It’s a dramatic moment – here pilot/owner Jonathan Niccum fires up Day Dreamer:

…and the field comes alive with the magic!

Pilots and riders pile in, the engines fire again, and up they go!  Some stick around, giving “tethered” rides for small money:

..while others cast off their lines and float elegantly away, going wherever the winds take them:

But don’t cry, Dorothy – they’ll be back before nightfall.  After all, they wouldn’t want to miss the 9pm Balloon Glow!

It’s beautiful, and gets a lot of “Ooohs” and “Aaaahs” from the appreciative crowd.

The next morning is another opportunity for sailing off into the dawn air.  Local piper Eric Goodchild set the mood as the sun breached the horizon:

…and the process begins again, crews and pilots working, watching the weather, wishing for just a wee bit of wind.  Balloon Coordinator and Master Pilot Paul Sena went about his work efficiently, the result of many years of honing his skills:

…hooking up tanks, testing his engine:

When the whole thing came together, lightly dancing on the dewy grass, Paul smiled and called to me, “Hop in!”
I didn’t make him say it twice!!   🙂

…and we were off!

Children ran to pick up a shower of Worthington Ballooning business cards (that be Paul’s gig) as we gained altitude, chasing the early departed:

…chased by those just cutting themselves loose:

What an amazing experience it was to be floating soundlessly, watching the Earth recede, rising over the valley farms:

…floating past forests and fields:

…surrounded by beauty:

Paul’s piloting was masterful as he checked the altimeter with each puff of breeze, mapping the varying air currents in his mind, then rising or falling to catch a breeze going his way:

There’s a quiet camaraderie among the folks who float over the dawning day, a shared peace tempered with the cautions which accompany any such endeavors, and I was thankful to be sharing it:

Paul “boxed” the valley, moving around the area at different heights, taking cues about wind direction from our fellow travelers as I marveled at the broad horizon:

…and then gently descended to the festival grounds, landing (with a helping tug from his ground crew) right where he wanted to be for the final photo-op of our flight:

After the work of packing the balloons away, the pilots and crew assembled in the First Aid tent to carry on an age-old tradition, sharing a bottle of Champagne with the land-owners where you happen to come down:

…which, they gleefully noted, was US!  😆

So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  Thanks to Jonathan Niccum for putting in a good word with Paul, to Paul Sena of Worthington Ballooning for his generosity and skill, to Joe for hopping out and giving us that last bit of momentum to enable the spiffy parking job…

…start ckickin’ them heels together, Joe…

…and to my Sweet Sixteen, my Canon 16-35mm L-Series lens for delivering the goods.

Next up, if I can stand another day of sitting in front of my ‘puterbox: Sunday’s musical line-up.  I promise to be brief, on account MY BUTT IS GETTING SORE!!!  😉

Green River Festival 2012, Part 1. July 20, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in music.
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Whoa.  This is going to be a monumental set of posts, with photos culled from nearly a thousand shots taken.

I know, this is a cross I constructed for myself to carry, but the opportunity to try lots of photographic ideas and techniques made me run my ass off for two days, elbowing old ladies out of the way and kneeing little children to get to the money-shots…

…well, almost.

The Green River Festival began as a balloon festival with a little music, and has evolved into one of the Northeast’s premier summer music festivals, with hot air balloons as an aside.

To balloonists, this is a palpable loss.

But if you love live music, this event is still worthy of a spot on your calendar, and I’d like to suggest that you look forward to 2013 – my 2012 “early-bird” tickets cost me $60 for the weekend, compared to the at-the-gate price of $75/day.

Well, this year there was WAY too much music and humanity to document in a single post, so I’ll expect to spread it out over three or four posts.

Saturday kicked off with folks setting up camp down by the stage:

…and the opening act of Sarah Lee Guthrie, totally winning over a crowd who came for the headliners:

This past Saturday was Woodie Guthrie’s 100th birthday anniversary, and his son Arlo would close this day’s events with a Guthrie Family Reunion, including grand-daughter Sarah Lee.

At any rate, Sarah Lee was excellent, and easy on the eyes as well:

She’d later return for the evening’s Main Event with her Dad Arlo:

…but that was much later.

Next up was Pokey Lafarge and the South City Three, a roots music outfit which slipped the novelty noose with virtuosic playing, fun material and a compelling delivery:

…not to mention the best pompadour I’ve seen since they took Pee Wee away in cuffs:

Pokey gave it his all:

…as did his harmonica/washboard player:

They took the crowd back to the ’50s Midwest, which seemed appropriate for the Guthrie theme, and the audience loved it:

Next up was the David Wax Museum, another mix of Americana and modern sass.  David played the pants off of a ukulale and a little acoustic guitar and sang with conviction:

…assisted by a helluva fiddle player:

…who also stroked the jawbone of an ass to spectacular effect.


…and a concertina (I think) player who had it happenin’:

I’m going to apologize right here for not getting the bass player, who hung back in the shadows, and the drummer, who was buried behind his cymbals.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

At any rate, they rocked the crowd, which was by now stretching off into the distance:

There was a lot going on here – three stages of music, arts and crafts vendors, children’s activities, and great food prepared by a slew of excellent local restaurants.

And Hula Hooping provided by Shenandoah, a local woman who teaches the art:

If you’ve never considered hooping to be an “art,” you should see what she does with that lucky thing.

(‘Scuse me while I open a couple of windows…)

…ok, where was I?

Oh, yeah, at the Green River Festival!  🙂

The next performers on the Main Stage were Lake Street Dive, a quartet with its genesis at the New England Conservatory of Music, where trumpeter Mike “McDuck” Olson assembled the line-up and declared them A Band, then spent the next several years searching for their present sound:

I didn’t make the journey with them, but if this is the destination, I have to believe it was well worth the wait.

Mr. McDuck also played commendable electric guitar, but spent the great majority of the set on trumpet:

…which totally blew me away.  Thanks, Mike.

Drummer Mike Calabrese made magic with a simple kit, never standing out but always standing in, singing and playing with a level of class which denied the band’s simple structure:

Layer onto that the extraordinary upright bass playing and wonderful vocal harmonies of Bridget Kearney:

…and something quite unexpected happened – the nimble bass, sensual trumpet and two harmonizing voices created a richly textured tapestry onto which was laid the powerfully evocative vocals of Ms. Rachael Price:

Oh.  My.  God.

I can’t remember when I was last so blown away by a singer, one who knew just how to fondle a ballad, then send a soul song soaring!  If you’ve never heard the name, join the club, but expect to hear it more in the future.

Plus, she’s got that, how you say, look:

Between the 90 degree heat and the hormones, I was, well…smitten.

People, Hot Tip of the Whole Post: LAKE STREET DIVE.

All of this was happening on the Main Stage, with two other stages honking simultaneously, and I haven’t even got to the Big Names!  Obviously, I’ll need to move it along if you’re ever going to hear the whole tale.

I’ll try.

But it was all so good…


*A photographers’ note:

In the past I’ve liked the stage-side look of photos taken looking up at musicians with a 50mm or shorter lense; they have an immediacy which curls a viewer’s fingers around the lip of the stage.  But they aren’t always flattering to the performers, especially if big hips and a tiny head aren’t what you’re gunning for.

So this time ’round I spent a lot less time lying on the ground amidst stomping dancers (though you’ll probably see a few of those) and a lot more time backed off, with my 400mm Gizmo on a mono-pod, sometimes with a 2X tele-extender.  The results are most apparent in the face-shots, which I’m seeing as both intimate and artsy.

I hope you’ll agree.


Green River Music And Balloon Festival! July 19, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in music.
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Last weekend saw the 25th Annual Green River Music and Balloon Festival, with spectacular weather and superb weather.  The crowd was huge, filling an upper field by the main stage with tents and umbrellas:

…and a lower field with two more stages and a whole lot of Frisbees:

I timed my arrival to see the amazing NRBQ, a band from my youth, here reincarnated and cookin’:

…with the irrepressible Terry Adams at its helm:

For forty-plus years I’ve been blown away by his open-hand-and-forearm piano playing – he fronts a highly regarded  jazz band in NYC, so it’s not for lack of virtuosity that he plays rock that way.  He’s just… crazy!

There were also great sets by Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears:

…who tore it up on guitar, backed by a horn section which kicked butt.

Another great act was The Carolina Chocolate Drops, four kids who played an amazing blend of Americana and more modern stuff, including an air-bass-playing beat boxer:

…along with banjo, fiddle, jug, bones, washboard and more, and gorgeous ensemble vocals led by a beautiful young lady:

Highly recommended, if you get the chance.  😉

Also fun was Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade, featuring Miss Tess on vocals and guitar:

…and her sidekick, the Sweet and Lowdown:

She smoked!  (Figuratively, of course.)

The afternoon was punctuated by a children’s parade with a New Orleans theme:

…and lots of little kids and Mommies:

The three stages offered far more music than any one person could take in, but I tried – Locos Por Juana laid down some smoking Salsa in the dance tent, driven by a great trombonist:

Rosie Ledet and her Zydeco Playboys had the place jumping:

And to top it all off (for Saturday,  at least!) Toots and the Maytals brought the house down.

That’s Toots:

…and the Maytals:

I last saw Toots and the Maytals when I was in college, and I’ve never forgotten his high-energy show.  Amazingly, he’s still got that vibe, and a great band of old dust-farters who were probably with him since the early Seventies  (except for the ladies, who were a good deal younger.)

The night shots pushed my box to ISO 4000, but I think the results are a lot better than last year.  I was ruthless about getting in there and working the angles with Ollie, my 24-105mm L-Series lens.  Thanks, Ollie.  😉

I split during Toots’ encore, hoping to beat the traffic, but unfortunately enough others had that idea that it still took me an hour to get on the road!

Sunday was another full day of music culminating in a set by Emmylou Harris, but I could only afford one day.  Let’s just assume that it was equally fun.

Next time I’ll have some hot air balloon pics for you, but for tonight, that’s it.

G’Night!  🙂

A Weekend Of Music! July 21, 2008

Posted by littlebangtheory in music.

Ah, Summer – hot sun, cold beverages, finger food and outdoor music. Throw in some little cotton dresses, and I’m all over that!

…Figuratively speaking, of course 😉 !

The Granddaddy of music festivals in these parts is the yearly Green River Festival, featuring an eclectic mix of performers on two stages, a nice selection of fine restaurants representing on-premises, craft vendors and hot air balloon rides (although with those going at $225 per person, I’ve concluded that ballooning is a spectator sport.)

This year’s festival began with a free show in downtown Greenfield on Thursday evening and ran through a scheduled Sunrise Balloon Launch on Sunday. The Pagan Sphinx and I got together with our daughters, Elder Progeny and Ultimate Spawn (or Supergirls 1&2, if you’re you’re a Pagan ) for the Friday evening and Saturday shows, braving an unsettled weather forecast in true New Englander style.

We arrived at Friday’s show a little late (just in time to hear the first act get cut short by a sudden rain squall, which we sat out in the parking lot. Then in we went, getting to see Eilen Jewell:

…Local Gurrrl Made Good, and her excellent band, featuring Jerry Miller on guitar:

Remember when people who looked like that played clarinets and accordions? I do!

But on Friday night, Jerry played the bejeebus outta his red electric, laying down a mix of Texas Swing and good ol’ rock-n-roll and quite effectively stealing the show.

Which was unfortunate for headliner Jimmy Vaughan, who was up next and seriously suffered from the comparison. He put on a helluva show, though:

And sang up a heartfelt storm, for which I have nothing but praise:

We all hoovered vendors’ food, stuff like Elmer’s legendary jambalaya (’twas guuud!), Thai spring rolls and fried whole belly clams (yeah, I know, it’s rabbit food for the next month! 😆 )

Saturday was an epic Summer outing, with the first band starting at 1pm and the last scheduled to wrap it up around 11pm. We got a late start (three-ish,) electing to endure the record heat and humidity for a couple less hours so as to hopefully have some energy left for show-closer Lucinda Williams.

The day was indeed tumultuous, with record crowds sweltering under brooding skies

while the rockin’ music was punctuated by the crackle-and-boom sound of reeeeally close lightning:

Fortunately we got not much more than a couple of brief showers, just enough to bring out a sea of umbrellas and, thankfully, cool things down incrementally. We learned later that the entire area had been ringed by violent, damaging thunderstorms, while our happy expanse of sun cabanas and high voltage wiring was spared.

Pretty cosmic, eh, man??

Anyway, the afternoon was tons of fun! We ate like piggies, with Elder P making good on her stated intention of learning to cook this summer by assembling a delicious Portuguese tuna salad and a spectacularly good batch of salsa; PS brought a variation on her prosciutto and watermelon salad, which was excellent, and I brought chicken quesadillas and guacamole.

Oh yeah, and a big batch of margaritas on ice. ‘Cause I read something about electrolytes being important on hot days 😉 .

But as good as the food was, we came for the bands, and every time they started I was up and moving toward the front, drawn to the music, which was as excellent as it was varied. Forro In The Dark took me by surprise, being a standing line-up of guys playing the kind of instruments which might wind their way down a cobbled Columbian back street, including a drum worn around the neck, played on both sides and lacking none of the insistence of a full kit

and a player of flutes and horns who was a total crowd-stopper:

Followed by Crooked Still, a barely categorizable blend of genres melding banjo, fiddle, cello and double bass with gorgeous vocals:

Followed by Los Straight Jackets, a south-of the border surf band with an, um, original sort of stage presence:

Yeah, that’s right, stretch masks. I gotta wonder what they thought about the black tuxes and spandex masks in the 200% humidity which came along with the 95-degree weather. And then to hold this pose

…for a ten minute drum solo… Seriously, some ideas are better on paper. But they tore it up on the twin guitars, kicked my ass really, with a South-of-the-Border Surf Thing happening which was technically brilliant, and still made me sweat!

Then came Mavis Staples, a Living Legend on her Last Leg:

She roared through a set of classic Gospel and R&B numbers before collapsing in a metal folding chair and fanning herself with a program, letting her band take a half-hour solo which I never regretted, ’cause they were great! Seriously, catch this Legend while you can, because nothing lasts forever, even if it’s this good.

Then came the Grand Finale, Lucinda Williams, who refused to stand still for a photo, but totally rocked the house:

Very cool.

And all the while, the hot-air balloons rose and sank in the background, occasionally synchronizing their “blows” in a musically informed light show:

It was a good show, right down to the last ghostly revelers leaving the Second Stage dance tent:

Green River Festival, 2007! July 22, 2007

Posted by littlebangtheory in music.

So this weekend was our great local outdoor concert and hot-air balloon festival. Saturday was the Big Day, with about as much hot air as you’ll find outside the Beltway and skads of great music!

Here’s the main stage (there were two, for non-stop dancing:


That’s Niko Case and her band, who put on a great show.

Rani Arbo fiddled and sang her heart out with her band Daisy Mayhem:


Everything excellent in that set – if you’re not yet a fan, think “Allison Krause”, with gorgeous vocal harmonies and some real fine musicianship.

Then Erin McKeown wowed ’em with her inimitable style


…though I hate to admit that I prefer the quirky production values of her recorded stuff to the straight-ahead show she did here.

Next up, British Soul Man Extraordinaire James Hunter, doing a very creditable job of channeling the Late Great James Brown.


KILLER horn section there, James!

Then we were treated to a Mardi Gras Parade (don’t ask) of children in masks they had just made in a “workshop” that afternoon, interspersed with some really cool ‘Gras-style characters powered by hidden chillunz:


…all led by Primate Fiasco, a cool, eccentric young group of horn players who in this case were layin’ down a great version of When The Saints Come Marching In.

Next up were my personal faves, Southern Culture On The Skids!!! HYAWWWWWWWW!


For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, think of them as “Surfabilly.” On steroids. With beaucoups talent. And fried chicken!

Then came the big balloon launch, with dozens of these magical beasties soaring off into the sunset (well, they actually were last seen heading southeast):


Very cool indeed, with a fluffy blue sky, a gentle breeze, and beautiful women everywhere one looked. OK, ya caught me lookin’ 😉

The climax of the night was a great set by





Gawd Damn that man can play! And his BAND kicked ass too! Gotta love it when a fossil has the juice to keep up with the guys half his age, non?

All in all an excellent day in the sun, complete with margaritas on ice in a Camelback in my pack! Keeps the kidneys cool, the whistle whet 😉 and the mojo flowin’! I’m not a dancer, but on this beautiful day I just had. no. choice! 😆