In the foothills of the Berkshire mountains, lies the quaint town of North Adams, Massachusetts. In a town known for its fine dining, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and a plethora of museums, one of its finest landmarks is Mass MOCA, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. With its unique design and set up, this museum is one of a kind. Making it even more special is the Solid Sound Festival, where every other summer Wilco makes it their home.
A festival unlike any other, Solid Sound features a very family friendly atmosphere as well as some of the best musical acts, both known (NRBQ) and on the rise (Parquet Courts). Run like a well-oiled machine, there are parking lots set up across town and school buses running shuttles. There are many different performance venues set up throughout the museum. Joe’s field, the largest, is a beautiful field with a river running on one side of it and a train chugging along on the other.
On Friday night, Real Estate, a band hailing from New Jersey, started things off on Joes Field. Their melodic shoe gazer sound captivated the audience. Next up were Solid Sound curators, Wilco. Making this night particularly unique, Wilco would go unplugged – a undertaking the 20 year old band had never taken on before. The band opened their set with “Misunderstood,” a sing a long classic from the Wilco archives. Much of the set would follow suit. As Wilco front man, Jeff Tweedy said “they’ll bring the rock tomorrow night.” This caused a mighty stir from the audience. As they raised their arms and sang along to “She’s a Jar,” I’m always in love” and “Kamera,” the audience was left to wonder: What would be left for the next night? There was plenty and the festivities were just beginning. As the fresh morning air blew over North Adams Saturday morning, there was a feeling of togetherness throughout the town. As we first walked into the museum courtyard there was a blue grass group playing freely, unfettered by equipment or speakers. It was a sight to see.
Walking into the museum lobby, it was hard to decide in which direction to explore first. The comedy group, Superego, was performing in the Hunter Center – it was a mixture of funny and not so funny. The act was peppered with corny improvisation that seemingly only make sense to the performers, because they were the only ones laughing. They tried though, and it is possible a select portion of the crowd enjoyed this – there is something for everyone! Ryley Walker, a Chicago native, started off Saturday’s music program. With his Nick Drake-like voice and harmonies, Walker was the perfect way to musically kick off the Day’s festivities. His passion infused every word, captivating the crowd from the depths of his soul. The audience could not turn away as they knew they were in for a great day of music. LULUC, an Australian duo made up of Zoe Randell and Steve Hassett, occupied Courtyard D, a midsized viewing area. Their sound was quite unquiet, with strong soothing lyrics coming from Randall’s beautiful voice. The peaceful guitar on top of melodic vocals just had the audience in awe. They hit their stride and stayed there throughout their set.
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NRBQ, a band who has been around nearly fifty years, put on a party in the late afternoon. Courtyard D went from melodic to Mayhem. With wailing saxophones and screaming guitars, NRBQ brought the ingredients to have a a good time.
The Parquet Courts, led by the voice of A. Savage, were the stand out surprise of the festival. People were bopping to the music at this special treat, swaying back and forth. The audience embraced the sound wholeheartedly, agog that this act was exceeding all expectations. By the end of the set, Savage’s vocals screaming through the air had the whole front of the stage jumping up and down, while the rest of the crowd was all smiles.
As the clouds thickened overhead, Wilco decided to move up their set times by an hour, not wanting to have a repeat of their second Solid Sound festival – it rained, it rained a lot. So Mac Demarco and crew took stage on Joes field. Cultivating a rocking sound that held the audience, Mac got the saturated crowd ready for Wilco.
With rain making a steadier presence and the temperature beginning to drop, Wilco fans, ponchos and all, came out in droves to see the men of the hour. After promising a rocking evening the night, Jeff Tweedy delivered and “Art of almost,” “Impossible Germany” and “Ashes of American Flags” were prime examples. With soaring solos from guitarist Nels Cline, and a whole aura of musicianship, Wilco showcased a tight band. There seemed very little they could do to make the audience any happier, unless, of course, they could have stopped the rain!
Sunday was a very relaxing day. The vibe throughout the museum was satisfaction and amazement at some of the galleries displayed. The Hunter Center was very happy to play host to The Autumn Defense and the Windy hills, featuring Johns Straitt and Pat Sansone of Wilco, who dedicated a set to the cult surfer classic Spirit of Akasha. This highlighted creativity and style that a fan may not have seen just watching a Wilco show.
Upstate New Yorkers,The Felice Brothers took the staged at Courtyard C to play a set of their unique style. Their storytelling was just that – telling. It was as if you were following them through their journey as they paved the way with their lyrics. People bobbed and waved, and exuded genuine happiness.
The final act of the festival was Tweedy, and Friends. The first half of the set featured the band Tweedy, highlighting Jeff and his son, Spencer. The second half of the set included almost every musician who played over the weekend – Ryley Walker, LULUC, Cibbo Matto, The Feelice Brothers, and all of the members of Wilco in one form of another. This collaboration was a great way to close out the festivities. Seeing the family on stage mirrored by the family-focused vibe of the whole weekend, this set brought everything full circle and it was done delightfully.