Folk On The Farm: Inaugural The New England Festy – Review & Photos
Words & Images by: Andrew Bruss
The New England Festy:: 09.17-18.16 :: Prowse Farm :: Canton, MA
The Festy Experience has established itself as one of the premier bluegrass/folk festivals in the country, and after years of bringing folk-lovers together for a weekend in Virginia, they successfully expanded the brand to the suburbs of Boston for the first-ever New England Festy. Big name acts played alongside local talent and with the inclusion of more children’s programming than any event of its kind, the New England Festy immediately established itself as a highly professional concert-going experience that’s fit for the whole family.
Prowse Farm has hosted a handful of festivals over the years, including the ill-fated Life Is Good Festival, and the list of ways The New England Festy did it best seems endless. Hosting a multi-day event for well under $100 a pop is a feat unto itself. There were no lines for parking and the utilization of the grounds was better than any of the property’s festival predecessors. The event showcased two modest stages, yards apart from each other, which allowed patrons to plant themselves in one place without having to walk from act to act over the weekend. The area in front of the soundboard was standing-room-only and everything behind it was chair and blanket territory so die-hards could rage the rail to their hearts content while older folks or parents with kids could make a comfortable site for themselves and enjoy the sounds from the comforts of their own space.
The acts alternated back and forth between stages and on Saturday, an early highlight on the smaller of the two was Fruition, a neo-folk act from Portland, Oregon that takes a classic sound and bombards it with a raw, modern edge. It’s a rare thing you see a bluegrass act with multiple overdrive pedals on their stage but Fruition makes it dirty. Guitarist Jay Cobb Anderson rocks an old school arch top hollow-body but runs it through a series of effects pedals that gave his tone a harsh, distorted bite that attendees weren’t allowed to ignore.
Josh Ritter’s set showcased material from throughout his career and shined a light on the most charismatic performer of the weekend. Ritter announced to the audience that it was the first time this band had performed live together but if there were any opening night mistakes, nobody in attendance seemed to notice.
The Wood Brothers headlined the first night of the Festy and easily put on the best set of the weekend. They do for folk what Medeski, Martin & Wood do for jazz: make it weird. The trio effectively blends rock, folk, blues, jazz and a subtle hint of funk that seems natural while simultaneously abnormal. Bassist Chris Wood and his older brother, Oliver Wood augmented their duo a few years back with the addition of Jano Rix and they’ve never looked back. Rix plays a percussion instrument made from the body of an acoustic guitar and adds an unusual kind of depth to a sound that’s already distinct. Set highlights include a rearranged version of “Luckiest Man,” they’d recorded live at the late Levon Helm’s Barn, and in his honor, the hardest rocking cover of “Ophelia” this side of Woodstock, New York.
Greensky Bluegrass closed the festival out Sunday night with the help of Ryan Montbleau on “The Wind Cries Mary,” but the weekend belonged to The Infamous Stringdusters, graduates of Boston’s Berklee College Of Music and the closest thing to a host band as The Festy has. They are heavily involved in the Virginia event and it’s no coincidence that the first offshoot was put on right outside a city they called home. For a band with a traditional approach, their sound covered a lot of ground. They wove through up-tempo bluegrass tunes but shvifted gears often and easily, segueing into mellower ballads, funky compositions and extended jams, all tied together by musicianship of marksmen-like precision.
All-in-all the first annual New England Festy was a complete success. The closest thing to a complaint I heard was that the lines for food were on too long on the first day. The bands were great, came out on time and whatever technical issues they may have dealt with were invisible to the audience. Storytellers and a rock wall gave kids something to enjoy and the view couldn’t be beat. The leaves will start to turn and soon enough, pleasant time outdoors will be a memory New Englanders reflect upon while they shovel their driveways. The New England Festy gave a crowd of approximately 2,500 folks each day one last chance to enjoy a weekend outdoors with good friends and great music at a fair price.