LIVE: FreshGrass @ MASS MoCA, 9/21-23/12

Trampled By Turtles
Trampled By Turtles

Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

Wow! What a difference a year makes…

Last year’s inaugural FreshGrass fest was a kind-of last-minute additional to the always inventive performance schedule at MASS MoCA in North Adams. There wasn’t much time to market and promote the fest, and despite a top-notch musical line-up – the Del McCoury Band, Sarah Jarosz, the Infamous Stringdusters, the Yonder Mountain String Band and lots more – attendance was fairly sparse.

This year, FreshGrass got an early jump on things, organizing another A-list batch of contemporary bluegrass acts back in April – including the Lonesome River Band, banjo queen Alison Brown, Joy Kills Sorrow, festival closers Trampled by Turtles and lots more – which provided plenty of time to get the promotion machine rolling along. And the fest was a runaway success, with Saturday and Saturday single-day tix and three-day all-fest tix selling out in advance. On Sunday afternoon for the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ exuberant performance, the outdoor courtyard was absolutely jam-packed to capacity, and if you were a latecomer, you could barely find a place to stand where you could actually watch the band.

Nobody was complaining, however. The sun was shining brightly and everyone’s spirits were soaring. Of course, it took a bit of luck to pull it off – Saturday’s rain held off until the final notes of the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience’s set, which proved to be perfect timing, as the Saturday evening capper – a barn dance with the Devil Makes Three – was already slated to be held indoors in the Hunter Center. Perfect…

Bluegrass singer-guitar master Tony Rice bowed out of the fest at the last minute due to illness, but again, there was so much other great music throughout the weekend that there were few complaints.

Only two bands from last year’s line-up were on the bill again this year – the Infamous Stringdusters and Ramblin Jug Stompers – which mean that the bluegrass sounds of FreshGrass were indeed fresh. Throughout the fest, there were also music workshops and pop-up concerts amid the large-scale contemporary art exhibits. And as there are at most bluegrass fests, there were numerous impromptu pickin’ sessions going on in the museum’s lobby and outdoors under MASS MoCA’s iconic inverted trees.

Now, the question is, “What is MASS MoCA going to do with FreshGrass next year?” Move it to the larger back courtyard? Or Joe’s Field? Run two or more stages? Could FreshGrass turn out to be as popular at the museum as Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival? Hmmmm…

J. James Joiner’s photographs at Home Away From Home

Caroline Chocolate Drops
Caroline Chocolate Drops
Lonesome River Band
Lonesome River Band
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