Concert Review: FreshGrass Festival @ MASS MoCA, 09/22/2023
Pickin’, grinnin’, lovin’, sinnin’—all four were well represented Friday at the first night of this year’s FreshGrass Festival. Fall fell fast upon the grounds of MassMoCA, and the field became a fuzzy frontier of fleece and hoodies, but the talent on the stages of the annual three-day roots music festival kept the crowds warm and waving.
Becky Buller Band brought the bluegrass to the No Depression stage, fiddlin’ and banjo pickin’ with a sweet voice and a nimble band along for the ride. Winners of the 2022 FreshGrass band contest, The Wildmans, opened the main stage in Joe’s field. The young brother-and-sister-led band captured the crowd with instrumental virtuosity and tight vocal harmonies.
Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, poet, and activist Allison Russell and her band delivered a soulful, mindful set that rocked and made you think. Sierra Ferrell and her band dominated the main stage, with her voice clear as a bell and sharp as a knife, slicing through the early autumn chill. Suppose Kitty Wells and Django Reinhardt had a baby and left it to be raised on the tour bus of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. In that case, it might begin to explain the enchanting appeal of Ferrell’s timeless voice, which feels like it would be as at home crackling from an old 78 rpm phonograph record as it is hushing a massive present-day outdoor crowd—a mighty talent.
Bathed in a hellish red light, The Devil Makes Three closed out the first evening of the fest with a rollicking performance of short, sharp tunes that focused on Jack Daniels, demons, and mind-altering substances-sending festival goers home or back to their campsites on a happy high.