LIVE: FreshGrass Festival (Day Two) @ MASS MoCA, 09/24/2022

What could be better than bathing in bluegrass, and blues blasting from the basin of the Berkshires? The 2022 FreshGrass Festival at MASS MoCA also bubbled with elements of reggae, soul, hip-hop, R&B, funk, and pop on Saturday, day two of the three-day event. FreshGrass annually offers up a diverse lineup of traditional and cutting-edge grassroots music – great music, uprooted.

FreshGrass Festival (photo by Leif Zurmuhlen)

Every corner of the sprawling grounds of the converted factory building complex presented a new listening choice, from the massive Joe’s Field with the largest stage, to Courtyard D with the No Depression Stage (sponsored by the quarterly roots music journal of the same name), to the FreshRoots stage featuring award nominee finalists. Impossible to take it all in, but fun to try.

Willie Watson (photo by Leif Zurmuhlen)

I arrived in time to catch Willie Watson and band on the big stage. A founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show, multi-instrumentalist Watson breathes new life into old folk songs and delivers his own compositions with a rich vocal range.

Back at the FreshRoots stage, band finalists The Muddy Souls from Eugene, Oregon built an audience and entertained the folks checking out the booths selling vintage clothes, guitars, banjos, fiddles, and mandolins.

Misty Blues (photo by Leif Zurmuhlen)

The Berkshires-based band Misty Blues led by singer/guitarist Gina Coleman delivered some rousing blues and got the courtyard rocking. 

Golden-voiced Grammy-winning folk singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan captivated the ever-growing crowd settling into place on Joe’s Field.

Sierra Ferrell (photo by Leif Zurmuhlen)

Sierra Ferrell is the artist that compelled me to check out the festival this year.  I discovered her music while going down an Americana rabbit hole on the internet a while back.  From West Virginia with her distinctive mix of country, jazz, folk, and Latin styles and her spellbinding voice that seems strangely timeless, she struck me as a blend of Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton with the spunk and grit of a young Holly Hunter and the Goodwill-shopping sartorial sensibility of a punky Minnie Pearl who might have been raised in a caravan in the Grand Old Opry parking lot.  She did not disappoint.  With one of the strongest voices I have heard live since k.d. lang, Ferrell and her band captured the crowd’s attention and held it for the entire set.

Kristy Edmunds, the new Director of MASS MoCA introduced the next act on the big stage.  Skip Marley is the grandson of the legendary Bob Marley.  Skip and his powerful band brought positive vibrations with an energetic mix of rock, reggae, hip-hop, and pop.

Jerry Douglas (photo by Leif Zurmuhlen)

Acclaimed resonator dobro guitarist Jerry Douglas and band locked into jaw-dropping intricate arrangements back in the courtyard.

With over 50 years of performing under his belt, bluegrass legend Del McCoury and his band took the big stage suited up and looking sharp, and proceeded to dazzle with some lightning-fast picking, masterful playing, and perfect harmonies.  With sons Rob on banjo and Ronnie on mandolin, Del at age 83 shows no sign of slowing down.

Gary Clark Jr. (photo by Leif Zurmuhlen)

“He’s the future”,  said former President Obama of Gary Clark Jr.  The Grammy winner from Austin, Texas brought some heat to the chilly early autumn evening with his fusion of blues, rock, R&B, and soul with elements of hip-hop.  Debonair in his suit and hat and working his falsetto while delivering stinging guitar bursts, Clark is not just playing the blues.

This year’s FreshGrass band award winners The Wildmans, an Americana string band from Floyd, Virginia were performing on the FreshRoots stage as I made my way out.  As part of their prize, they have earned a slot performing at next year’s FreshGrass Festival.  Something to look forward to!

Photo Gallery by Leif Zurmuhlen

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