Green River Festival: Day 2

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A monsoon of biblical proportions hit Greenville, Massachusetts on June 21st,  just as the second day of the Green River Festival was about to inject audiences with another day of electrifying music.

With undying festival spirit, festival-goers from Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Connecticut, and beyond huddled under the storefront awnings of Greenfield, MA, nervously checking their phones for any glimmer of hope from the organizers that the 2024 Green River Festival may continue. 

And so it did. The rain clouds broke and a gray but forgiving sky emerged. The rain ceased, and an announcement was made by the organizers: the festival was back on.

A line of people multiple blocks long stood at attention in downtown Greenville, waiting for the school buses, retrofitted as festival transports, to deliver them to the festival. 

Held at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, five minutes from downtown Greenville, the Green River Festival has been operating in various configurations since 1986, where the first bands to perform in what would become a sought-after and highly produced festival were NRBQ and 10,000 Maniacs. This year, the decades-old festival welcomed soaked, hooded, but chipper audiences as they clambered out of the buses. They were greeted by Pachyman at the Dean’s Beans stage, who restored everyone’s sunny dispositions with sun-soaked reggae beats. “This is the return of Pachyman,” belted Pachyman as his tight-knit trio ventured forth into hefty backbeats and psychedelia-infused grooves. Pachyman ornamented with soaring synths and searing singing. All memory of the the rain vanished. “Tis’ but a scratch,” the audience seemed to say.

Pachyman performing at the Dean’s Beans Stage. Photo by Tristan Geary

The festival’s four stages each had their own theme. The Greenfield Savings Bank Main Stage was your classic, large-scale festival stage. The Round House Stage was a beautifully restored circular barn with two floors, allowing for multi-angled viewing and a rustic, charming atmosphere. The Back Porch stage had a barnyard feel with its mulchy ground and country and vocal-forward music; you wouldn’t be surprised to encounter goats prowling around. Finally, the Dean’s Beans Stage was a freestanding stage slightly removed from the rest, grassy and pastoral, giving more of a free-spirited, bare-feet-in-the-grass energy. Between the stages, local vendors, and artisans packed the walkways, giving the festival a DIY, crafty feel, full of local pride.

At the Round House Stage, John-Robert was man-and-guitar incarnate. Performing to a modest but rapt audience, he crooned out heartfelt songs of wayward travel and lost love. A dead silent audience hung onto his words and gossamer guitar. In the balcony of the multi-floored space, people leaned over the banister, wanting to curl up inside John-Robert’s delicate guitar. Of particular intensity was his song “Westward Bound.” On recording the track is padded with banjo, lush harmony, and thumping upright bass, whereas in concert it was unvarnished, vulnerable, eye-watering. 

Just next door, Willi Carlisle packed the Back Porch Stage, marionetting audiences with the tale of the misunderstood American, told with rapid-fire wit, heartbreak, and biting political quips. Interstates, Walmarts, barbecues, and delinquency were all folded into a recipe of Folk wisdom performed on guitar, fiddle, squeezebox (small accordion), and acapella. Audiences were moved by his tales of grief, small-town depravity, and heaven-facing pining that placed its finger directly on the uniquely American feeling of waywardness and (somehow) optimism. If it were to be summed up in a Carlisle lyric, it’d be “I found Jesus in a barbecue line.” As much a radical-skeptic as a fist-raised anti-establishmentarian, Willi Carlisle walks the lonely path of the American truth-teller. His performance was the festival’s pinnacle of vulnerability on stage, particularly on songs “Tulsa’s Last Magician” and “Critterland.”

Willi Carlisle performing at the Back Porch Stage. Photo by Tristan Geary

Back in the Round House stage, Kalliope Jones were a tightly woven rock machine. Boisterous and thrashing, the four-piece deployed gutbucket riffs with tight syncopations and defiant spirit, bringing an infectious F-you punk energy, respectfully. 

The Main Stage was graced by the presence of Trousdale, Bonny Light Horseman, Joy Oladokun, and Fleet Foxes throughout the day, all of which had a swaying, wispy energy. Joy Oladokun cooked up her signature blend of deeply personal, confessional style of storytelling. Bonny Light Horseman had audiences jamming to their immensely catchy hits and hanging onto Josh Kaufman’s dexterous guitar solos. Although lead singer Anaïs Mitchell had a captivating stage presence, each band member was a frontman in their own way.

Bonny Light Horseman lead singer Anaïs Mitchell. Photo by Tristan Geary

Fleet Foxes headlined the day, and were joined by Bonny Light Horseman on stage to make a joyous noise on the Joni Mitchell song “Hejira.” Audiences forgot that their spirits were ever soaked by the rain, as the mettle of festival-goers triumphed over the elements in Greenville.

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