Levitate Celebrates 10th Anniversary With Trey Anastasio, Goose, Stick Figure, Brandi Carlile & More
JamBase contributor Andrew Bruss recaps another memorable weekend of music in Massachusetts.
The 10th anniversary of the Levitate Music & Arts Festival returned to Mansfield Massachusetts Fairgrounds for three days of performances that didn’t just celebrate the upward momentum of the Levitate brand, but also the performers who have grown with the event as well.
Levitate was founded in 2003 as a surf and skate shop on the Bay State’s South Shore and in 2013 they held their first music festival, a one-day event taking place on a fraction of the fairgrounds they use presently, featuring performances by The Original Wailers, The Soul Rebels, and Stick Figure. As the years went on, the event went from one day to two, and then three, expanding its fairgrounds footprint in the process.
In its 10th year, Stick Figure was one of the event’s headliners, Trey Anastasio made his second appearance and local acts like The Q-Tip Bandits, Couch and The Elovaters gave attendees a sneak peek at the next generation of homegrown talent ready to represent Boston on the national level.
Friday highlights included a mainstage performance by Ripe, a Boston-bred funk/rock outfit who’ve played the event on multiple occasions and have seen their continued success run parallel with that of the event itself. Frontman Robbie Wulfsohn is a sight to behold and gets better and better the larger his audience is.
Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in The Wall (Part 2)” was an easy way to win their crowd over, but it wasn’t necessary. In this case, “win the crowd over,” really did mean their crowd. The last time they played Boston, it was at the 5,000 capacity MGM Music Hall at Fenway and their fans showed out in force to Levitate. New songs like “Settling,” and “Noise In The Forest” off 2022’s Bright Blues got a particularly strong response from the crowd. Nobody can be surprised if they follow in Stick Figure’s footsteps and end up headlining the festival down the road.
As for the man born Scott Woodruff, Stick Figure’s headlining set was all folks were looking to talk about on Friday. Born in Duxbury, Massachusetts, Woodruff could literally walk to his childhood home from the fairgrounds and his set following Ripe was truly a celebration of how far he has come. In addition to help from Johnny Cosmic during the proper set and encore, an important highlight of the performance was The Elovaters joining in on “Smokin’ Love,” not long after their own acoustic performance in the VIP section.
Saturday brought cooler weather and a slightly different vibe as legions of reggae lovers were replaced by fans (or Phans) who came to see a headlining performance by the Trey Anastasio Band.
One of the early highlights of the day was a performance by The Heavy Heavy that was among the best of the weekend. The Brighton, United Kingdom-based neo–psychedelic quintet showcases a carefully crafted tone soaked in a rich, analog reverb that goes hand-in-hand with the shared harmonies of vocalists Will Turner and Georgie Fuller that make it impossible not to think of The Mamas & the Papas. Lest you think Fuller’s vocals are only appropriate where flower power reigns, the might in her voice makes it clear that this is a woman who’d be right at home taking on The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”
If you asked 10 people what they were looking forward to most about Levitate, the majority of them would tell you it was Trey and Goose. All the proof you needed were the “Trey Goose” shirts sporting the Grey Goose logo. This past Fall, Big Red co-headlined a tour with the upstart Connecticut-bred jam act and the sit-ins and guest appearances had Rolling Stone calling the tour “historic” and labeling Goose the “hottest new jam band.”
Given how strong the Phish influence is in Goose’s music, it doesn’t take a music journalist to understand why fans of the former are fawning over the latter and with Anastasio following their set on the same stage, the crowd was eating out of Goose’s hand from the first notes they played.
During TAB’s first headlining performance at Levitate back in 2018, the Phish frontman performed as part of the Classic TAB quartet. For this return to the event, the Trey Anastasio Band showed up as an octet featuring standout performances by horn players/vocalists Natalie Cressman and Jennifer Hartswick. The two shined early on during a take on “The Moma Dance,” when their vocals on the chorus legitimized a tune whose composers never sang it all that well.
It’s no surprise that “Ghost” featured some of the best improv of the set (“Everything’s Right” was a close second) and TAB staple “Push On ‘Til the Day” featured an air-tight outro that would have earned Frank Zappa’s approval. The lack of collaboration between Trey and Goose might have been a letdown, but closing the day out with “First Tube,” sent everyone back to their cars with a smile on their face.
The last day of the festival started off with a set by Couch that demonstrated absolute precision in their groove and left the impression they belong in the same conversation as Snarky Puppy and Vulfpeck (maybe not the same sentence yet). Celisse followed it with her second performance of the weekend, wowing the crowd with her mastery of both the guitar and variety as she seemingly changed her musical face on every tune.
Ziggy Marley provided traditional Sunday afternoon reggae, playing some of his own songs as well as those of his practically deified father. During Bob Marley’s “War,” Ziggy took the crowd to church with powerful lyrics quoting Haile Selassie I: “Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war.”
The last act of the weekend and name atop the lineup was Brandi Carlile. In the last year alone, she headlined TD Garden, home of the Boston Celtics, and got Joni Mitchell back on stage not just at Newport Folk Festival, but again at The Gorge. Carlile has been establishing herself as the glue that holds together a new era of rebel singer/songwriters who are tired of Things As Usual and are quick to use their platform to put the powerful on blast.
Her set started out with a pair of acoustic numbers including “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” before transitioning into a powerhouse “Broken Horses” that rocked way harder than the studio version and was a lot closer to Neil Young & Crazy Horse than Joni Mitchell.
You could see on the faces of her fans that each of these songs meant something specific to them and that it played a part in a time or event in their life that had great meaning. Fan enthusiasm is common, but the depth of the connection Carlile’s audience clearly has with her music is truly a sight to be seen.
With the 2023 incarnation in the rearview, Levitate is still in the process of breaking down the festival site, and pretty soon they’ll set their sights on 2024. Hopefully, some operational adjustments are on the horizon (radios for blue shirt Event Staff, more shade for GA pass holders, adequate ADA viewing platforms), but by-and-large, Levitate spent three days doing what it does best: putting on a weekend of easy to enjoy performances for a family-friendly audience that’s more interested in a lovely summer weekend spent outside than seeing the newest artists trending on TikTok.
With Levitate, it doesn’t even matter who’s playing to be excited for 2024.