Solid Sound Music & Art Festival
June 26 -28, 2015
Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts
Review by: Belinda Vasquez
Photo gallery: Solid Sound Music Festival 2015
Photos by: Tony & Brittany Vasquez of Vasquez Photography
The anticipation of the semi-annual Solid Sound Festival has been growing since the last time we made the long trip to the breathtaking Berkshire County for three days of Wilco-curated performances. The weather altered Saturday’s set times a bit, but it wasn’t too much of a damper on the entire weekend. The rain wasn’t going to stop the fans from enjoying the festival.
With several outdoor installations on the grounds and throughout the old textile buildings one feels immersed in creative energy. By the main entrance the Seattle-based collective, SuttonBeresCuller’s, sculpture Big Top Grand Stand is a bright colorful design that draws the attention of the festival-goers. In Joe’s Field the piece Can’t Hear You (Fat Totem), which is part of the Totally Totem series by Marko Remec, is covered in bulbous mirrors providing the source for several selfies and group shots for the entire weekend.
Strolling through the spacious galleries one is rewarded with amazing works by the likes of Sol LeWitt and his Wall Drawing Retrospective, or the works of Clifford Ross and his Landscape Seen & Imagined works. Ross’ work was included in a video installation that provided the source of entertainment for the first night after Wilco’s acoustic set. The installation took place in an open courtyard at the center of the festival with a live soundtrack provided by the indie band Real Estate.
With several interactive experiences for one to enjoy it would be overwhelming to attempt them all. The weekend provided everything from an early morning nature hike to the Hoosac Range to an opportunity to learn how to repair your own Patagonia gear at the custom-built Worn Wear truck. A few lucky fans got to make a drumhead with Wilco’s drummer Glenn Kotche and then perform with him on Sunday in the world-premiere of The Immortal Flux, a commissioned orchestral piece by D’Addario.
The interactive Wilco timeline featured photos and memorabilia from Wilco’s 20-year history. The band encouraged fans to add to the timeline with their own personal memories as well. It was a wonderful walk down memory lane with Wilco’s fans, recalling all the personal shows and meetings with the band members after their shows. The band has always given generously to its fans and this was a great way to see it all displayed.Even Wilco’s manager, Tony Margherita, browsed the festival alongside the fans, and when he paid a visit to the timeline he could been seen making minor tweaks to a hanging piece that was slightly crooked. In the documentary Every Other Summer, directed by Christoph Green and Brendan Canty, Jeff Tweedy the leader singer and founder of the band Wilco mentions how the artist can’t avoid the fans at this festival. They are sharing an experience with the fans instead of just providing the experience. Solid Sound was Jeff’s “dream” of what a music festival should be. With so many things to explore on the beautiful Mass MoCA grounds it feels that he has made that dream become a reality. You can feel the creative energy past and present in the beautiful old buildings.Seeing so many parents bring their children to experience the festival and pass on their love of art and music was wonderful. There are several kid-friendly activities including the performances of the Story Pirates, poster silk screen printing demos, playing catch with the North Adams collegiate baseball team the Steeplecats, and the various Circus Smirkus shows. The family friendly environment made the entire weekend feel safe. Wilco fans at this festival are respectful and very friendly, and most of them are eager to hear your personal story about the band as well as share their own.Friday’s musical lineup started off with Sadie Dupuis the guitar player and lead vocalist of North Hampton, Massachusetts’, Speedy Ortiz, playing a great set with lots energy and catchy hooks. The laid back New Jersey indie rockers Real Estate were the prefect intro for the Wilco set.
Wilco replaced their electric gear for entire set of acoustic versions of their vast catalog of tunes. Last festival, the band did an entire set of covers. Wilco fan’s love and appreciate the time and energy that goes into these special sets that Wilco incorporates into these special festival weekends. They opened with Misunderstood and when Jeff sang the lines “still love rock n Roll” the crowd responded with uproarious cheers. While Jeff sang Hesitating Beauty he mentions that he was thinking it was much nicer to sing that song now that everyone can get married in reference to the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. The crowd again responded with approval and cheers. Some other highlights from the set were the versions of Bull Black Nova, One Wing, A Shot in the Arm, and the beautiful cover of Daniel Johnston’s True Love Will Find You In the End.Saturday we caught the jazz guitarist Bill Frisell’s performance with singer/songwriter Sam Amidon. It made for an eclectic and enjoyable set. Later that day NRBQ entertained the crowds in Courtyard D. It was nice to see a crowd of diverse ages dancing together and having a great time. The Richard Thompson Trio rocked the audience in Joe’s field, setting the tone for Wilco’s electric set later that evening.The Brooklyn quartet, Parquet Courts, blew the crowd away with their high-energy punk sound. Before the band came onstage, a few people near the front were talking about how they were ready for some high-energy music and that this band would deliver. Boy, were they right! Coming off their amazing album Sunbathing Animal, the band was a burst of raw power with catchy hooks. Be sure to check this band out if you get the opportunity.
Closing Saturday night, Wilco played in the rain that would continue through the entire set. The band opened with I’m the Man Who Loves You with Glenn Kotche, the drummer, striking a pose for the crowd and making them even more pumped for what they have been waiting for all day. The band really hit its stride with the song Art of Almost. The fans let loose their beach balls, and as one reached the stage, Jeff Tweedy sent it sailing back.
The band continues to play songs from their 20 year, deep catalog of material with Tweedy bantering with crowd between songs about the rain and even referencing that the amount of rain this year is child’s play compared to the rain that happened the second time they held the festival. The band ended the night and the encore with a material from the album Being There, including Kingpin, Monday, and Outtasite (Outta Mind). They rocked out despite the rain and treated fans to some old favorites. Jeff wrapped-up the performance by asking the crowd, “See you tomorrow?”
Sunday the festival began with Wilco signing their poster book, Beyond the Fleeting Moment, featuring concert posters dating back to 2004. The band was doing a rare book signing early Sunday morning for the lucky fans who arrived early to meet all the members. The line moved quickly with fans coming away from their brief encounters with cheesy smiles.Sunday’s music kicks off with artist Jeff Davis playing in the outdoor courtyard, the perfect fit for a Sunday morning. Up Next was Nashville guitarists William Tyler. He has worked with other artists such as the Silver Jews, and Lambchop. His style is tranquil and majestic. It was a great treat discovering his music at the festival.
The afternoon was filled with Wilco side projects from Glenn Kotche performing with Jeffery Zeigler followed by the performance of The Immortal Flux in the Ross Gallery. Nels Cline collaborated with artist Norton Wisdom in the Hunter Center for a performance piece entitled Stained Radiance. The Autmun Defense also performed in the Hunter Center along with the film Spirit of Akasha.Bringing the festival to a close was Jeff Tweedy and son Spencer Tweedy’s band simply called Tweedy. The festival schedule listed it as Tweedy featuring Jeff Tweedy & Friends. Most of the set was a mix of their album entitled Sukierae, but Jeff also showed his range and did several covers with various guest artists from the weekend, including covers of Madonna’s Into the Groove, John Prine’s Grandpa Was A Carpenter, Neil Young’s Harvest Moon and Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s The Losing End. He also covered John Lennon’s God, and Mavis Staples’ You Are Not Alone, which Jeff had written and produced for her album. Tweedy closed with California Stars. It was a fitting closing song for me since it was the first song that made me fall in love with Wilco. I am looking forward to 2017, and I can’t wait to discover new music and art and, of course, to see Wilco again.