FreshGrass fest's 'significant growth' strikes chord with area music fans, local business alike
Editor's note: This article was modified on Sept. 16, 2016, to reflect that last year's festival drew about 4,500 attendees and that this year's ticket sales are expected to exceed that figure.
NORTH ADAMS — The sixth annual FreshGrass music festival kicks off Friday, a three-day festival that has grown from its humble start in 2011 to become a fixture on the roots music scene and part of the rhythm of guests and visitors to the city each fall.
North Adams Director of Community Events Suzy Helme said the weekend comes after weeks of behind the scenes planning, as city departments and area businesses get ready.
"As far as planning, it's become streamlined," she said. "Everyone knows what they're doing, and is comfortable doing it."
Organizers say this year's ticket sales have been robust and they expect more than last year's 4,500 attendees. "We expect significant growth over last year's festival," said Mass MoCA Director of Communications Jodi Joseph.
As usual, the lineup over three days of music and activities features a high-wattage lineup of roots and Americana music. This year's version features Old Crow Medicine Show, Glen Hansard, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder and Roseanne Cash.
"We know people are extremely excited to come see some of their favorite artists," Joseph said, and that word is getting out as they reach out to their fans on social media. "They've been saying they look forward to seeing their fans in North Adams," she said.
Having thousands of visitors stream in for the weekend, of course, has a ripple effect through the area.
"Particularly with multiday festivals, people leave the grounds," Helme said. "They go to have dinner with their families and where they stay overnight. They look for new restaurants and look to take home a souvenir or two."
Some of that spills into the downtown area, which Helme said usually an uptick of foot traffic. This year some of those guests can visit the regular Farmers Market on Saturday at the St. Anthony's Municipal Parking Lot, on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., along with a craft fair nearby on Center Street. Marshall Street from River Street to MoCA's gate will be closed.
With each year FreshGrass has grown to become more of a fixture of the roots music scene, fitting in neatly with such well-established regional festivals like MerleFest, held every April in Wilkesboro, N.C., and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, which happens in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park each early October.
It's also getting more and more of the right kind of attention. An article in Paste magazine lamented the proliferation of big outdoor festivals of all stripes, with their crowds, high prices, interchangeable line-ups, and awful sound. But pointedly singled out Mass MoCA's biannual Wilco-curated Solid Sound Festival and FreshGrass.
"There are exceptions to all this, of course," the magazine writes. "They're the ones that are less interested in attracting a massive audience than the right audience, which tends to make them at once manageable and also fun."
The growth of FreshGrass also presents a great opportunity for bands from the region.
Amrita Lash is part of the Williamstown-based duo Long Journey along with Karl Mullen, who just released their first album, Fierce Folk, and will be performing Friday evening.
"It's growing in popularity and we're thrilled they've included us," she said, noting that a number of bands and musicians from a two to three-hour radius are going to be at the festival.
Lash said they performed at last year's festival at a stage near the entrance, where they began with about 50 people, and watched as more and more people passing by stopped to listen as they played through their set.
"It felt wonderful to be supported by all these people who love music," she said. "It's an amazing opportunity for us."
Mullen said playing at FreshGrass is unlike playing most other venues like a bar or club.
"We play a lot of different venues, but to play at a festival where everyone is interested in the music is great," he said. "The audience is as special as the artists."
Lash added that it isn't just FreshGrass, and that Long Journey has performed at Mass MoCA often, including at the summer beer garden at the museum.
"Mass MoCA has always been a warm and open place for our little band," she said.
Joseph said there are a few new activities added this year to help get more festival-goers off campus. On Saturday there will be a hike up the Hoosac Range to Sunset Rock, organized by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, and on Sunday morning the Appalachian Mountain Club Berkshire chapter will host a hike on part of the Appalachian Trail.
Also, The Spoke bike shop in Williamstown will lead a 20 to 25 mile road ride around North Adams on Saturday and Sunday morning.
"We hope to give people a taste of the region outside the music," Joseph said.
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