The town of North Adams, once known as an industrial center in Western Mass, is now home to one of the most impressive modern art museums in the New England Area. Built into the shell of an empty factory, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art was the perfect home for this festival, and a genre steeped in songs deeply affected by industrialization in the 19th and early 20th century.
Being an old factory has its downsides. A freight train line ran behind the seating of the main stage. At any other festival this would be one of the most unwelcome things imaginable. At Freshgrass, the audience went nuts! Noam Pikelny, of Punch Brothers’ fame, called it “The bluegrass version of a flyover,” and Del McCourey changed up his set list to play tunes exclusively about trains while the engine rolled on by. The train never seemed to end that time, luckily at least 50% of bluegrass standards mention a train.
New England natives The Devil Makes Three, caused quite the ruckus with their punk-bluegrass energy and inspired all sorts of liberated skanking, square-dancing and (almost) moshing. What’s more, blues influenced acoustic-soul outfit Lake Street Dive stole the show with their performance, even though they slightly bent the Festivals genre definitions. You can’t argue with quality music, and they had nearly the whole festival crammed into the factory courtyard.
Now that next year is in planning, we can expect a set from the Freshgrass Band Contest Winners, Cricket Tell the Weather, who blew judges away with their poignant song writing, and original arrangements. They are the only announced act for the coming festival, but keep your ear to the tracks come spring. If this year is any indication, there will be just as much moonshine fueled good times come 2014.
By Paul Jordan Talbot