Sold-out Green River Festival melds music, food, balloons

Thursday, September 04, 2014
GREENFIELD — From French-Chilean hip-hop at the far end of the lower field, uphill through hula-hoopers and ball players, past a string quartet to a field filled with umbrellas, beach blankets, and the blues, the Greenfield Community College fields were again saturated with people and music Sunday.

The Green River Festival drew crowds to the GCC grounds this weekend, as it has for 28 years, with two days of hot air balloons and music. Over the years the focus has shifted from balloons to music and music was on full display Sunday afternoon. People danced, people sat and relaxed, people ate noodles.

Tickets for both days of the festival sold out this year. Festival director Jim Olsen of Whately said that’s a first. Olsen took over direction of the festival this year from the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce with his Northampton-based Signature Sounds Recording business, but has been involved with the festival since its debut and attributed this year’s particular success to a strong lineup and reputation.

At 2:30 p.m., Olsen said he was running back and forth to listen to Ana Tijoux, the multilingual hip-hop artist performing in the lower field, and blues band Dave and Phil Alvin and the Guilty Ones on the main stage.

“This is like Christmas to me. You spend so much time putting it together and then the day actually comes,” he said.

Olsen said he spends fall and winter trying to sign up acts from an extensive wish list, and the lineup falls together eventually.

“It is a giant melting pot of American roots music, American influenced, not necessarily made by Americans ... music that kind of speaks to the root of it. We’re not really a pop music festival, we’re not a rock festival — it’s eclectic,” Olsen said.

There were a few changes this year, including the addition of a beer tent and the third stage at the far end of the lower field.

In front of that stage, Ethan, Jennie and Baxter Plunkett of Hadley and partners Joe Rogers and Mary Alice of Williamsburg were waiting for the next act at 2 p.m.

“There’s a lot more stuff going on, that’s nice to see, and the stages are better spread out, I think, so you can focus on one thing at a time,” said Joe Rogers, 38. Rogers said he attended the festival a few years ago, and the Plunketts were in their second day.

None of the adults said they came with a particular band in mind.

“It’s something to do on a weekend — it’s part of summer,” Rogers said.

“It’s a Valley tradition,” said Jennie Plunkett, 36, keeping an eye on Baxter, age 1 and apparently enjoying the grass.

Lois and Sam Scozzari, 63 and 53, came north from Suffield, Connecticut, for one band. The couple said the area is within their radius for music, but it is the first time they’d been to the Green River Festival. The two came for the band Darlingside, and were in line for autographs of Darlingside and Heather Maloney CDs. The former Montague singer-songwriter sang with the folk band early in the day.

Food was another attraction.

One cart, offering noodles and dumplings, maintained a line of 30 to 50 people even while the main stage was at its busiest.

Mary and Dave Reilly, 43 and 47, of Montague Center, were grabbing a bite before heading downhill for bluegrass band Barnstar!, the next act on their list, and said they were surprised by the food.

“It’s not what I expected to see. I expected hot dogs and funnel cake,” Mary Reilly said, with a plate of coconut sticky rice, vegetables, and steamed dumplings from the Michael’s Good To Go cart. Dave Reilly was similarly pleased with red beans and rice and smoked sausage from the Elmer’s Store stall, up from Ashfield.

The couple said they hadn’t been to a music festival in 15 years, so they couldn’t compare to past years.

“We’ve enjoyed what we heard. We didn’t really know any of the bands — we were sort of taking it on faith that if this many people turned out to hear live music, it had to be good,” Mary Reilly said.