Solid Sound Festival Wraps

Levon Helm Band and Autumn Defense

By: - Jun 27, 2011

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The numbers, 6,300 for the weekend long Solid Sound Festival, which wound down Sunday afternoon, were about the same as the launch last year. Other than inclement weather, which soaked fans and presented challenges, on every level the event was a smashing success and improvement over last year.

As a very tired MoCA staffer, Richard Criddle, the chief installer and go to guy said “We learned a lot from last year.” He interrupted vacation time to help out with the festival. The prep work started a week before the event. “Like putting up the Wilco letters on the tower” he said. “In about an hour I have to drive the truck around town and pick up all the signs at the parking lots.”

On Saturday night rock revelers hung out down town until 3 AM partying and dancing in the street to live music and the spin magic of DJ Spooky. Stores and galleries remained open and merchants reported very good business. So the festival worked not just for Mass MoCA but for the entire North Adams community.

The local restaurants that set up food concessions all had a great weekend. Participating for the first time this year Red Sauce, a popular Italian eatery, hand made and sold some 3.000 meatballs. Yum.

The good vibrations were awesome. The positive word will surely strengthen the lure of the festival next year. Although 6,000 seems to be a magic number assuring the low key, peaceful, laid back festival that was such a pure delight.

By Sunday afternoon about a third of the fans had decamped. Many had traveled from distant destinations and had to be back at work by Monday morning.

So there was a lot of wiggle room on the vast Joe Thompson field for the final performance of Levon Helm, the former drummer of the legendary The Band, fronting a twelve piece band that includes vocals by his daughter Amy.

As a special treat Jeff Tweedy and Wilco members joined Helm on stage for a Band standard “The Weight.”

One of the points of the Wilco festival is that band members invite their friends. There is a ready connection to the folk rock style of Wilco and its roots in the music of The Band which formed as the backers of Bob Dylan during his extended period of isolation.

Helm, now 71, has fought illness but was in good form driving the band through a two hour set. He wears a golf glove on his left hand to avoid wear and tear. Mostly he closes his eyes while playing as he feels the intensity of the music and concentrates on laying down a driving beat. The music they create is an eclectic mix of country, folk and rock with flourishes of brass and horns. It’s a big sound that is richly accented and evokes melancholic titubation.

We started the final day of the festival with a set by Wilco spinners Pat Sansone and John Stirratt fronting Autumn Defense. It is a chance for them to step out front as leaders and singers. Also, multi instrumentalist, Sansone, who mostly plays keyboards with Wilco, here strapped on a guitar. He is so infectiously charming and pretty that he sends heart throbs through the audience.

The woman standing in front of us never stopped dancing while most fans were content to listen closely to their folk inflected style and engaging lyrics.

Between acts we wandered off to Joe Thompson field for the demonstration of falconry. It was surely a different twist for a rock festival. The magnificent birds were resting.

We caught the end of the set by Pillow Wand but didn’t hear enough to offer any insights.

Leaving the field we stopped to talk with friends all of whom had war stories of surviving the monsoons. Everyone was pooped but upbeat and positive. Looking around, for a rock festival, there was very little debris. It was a very respectful audience.

Chatting with Jane Hudson of Hudson’s Antiques at Mass MoCA she reported on great sales.

In the entire weekend there was only one incident. Security tossed a fan who was drunk. He kept coming back. Finally they called the cops who came and threw him in the tank to sleep it off.

Hey, just one guy out of 6,300 rock fans. That’s pretty amazing.

We’ll be back next year.

Today the sun is shining and it is a glorious day in the Berkshires.

Go figure.