NORTH ADAMS — For Wilco, audience engagement isn't just telling stories onstage or letting fans sing along. At its biennial Solid Sound Festivals, for instance, the group has allowed concertgoers to choose which cover tunes it will play (2013) and which record it will perform (2017), among other forms of outreach. But the three-day festival's 2019 edition at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is taking that level of collaboration to another level.
On Friday, June 28, Wilco will back between five and 10 fan contest winners singing the group's tunes in a night of live karaoke beginning at 9:15 p.m. on Joe's Field. Though a more traditional show will be held at the same time and place the next night, the karaoke concert promises to be a unique experience for performers and spectators alike during the sold-out music and art festival that ends Sunday, June 30.
"Ever wish karaoke bars had more Wilco? Do they have any? I don't really know," Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy said in a statement when the contest was announced in late May. "But I do know that they don't have enough songs about existential dread and self-loathing. Sound fun? Please join us onstage so we can get Solid Sound 2019 started with some outsourced belters from the Wilco songbook."
Contest participants shared videos of songs they wanted to play at Solid Sound on Instagram and YouTube, using #WilcoKaraoke in their public posts to be officially entered. The festival received more than 400 submissions, notifying its winners earlier this month. In addition to the performance itself, the selected singers received a meet-and-greet and rehearsal with the band; two three-day festival passes; and an official Solid Sound artist gift bag, according to the festival's social media accounts.
Darlie Kerns of North Adams was the only Berkshire County selection. The 17-year-old performed Wilco's "A Magazine Called Sunset," her fingers dancing on the keys as she sang.
"When the news came out that they were doing this, a lot of people started commenting, saying, 'Well, I didn't pay to see these randos sing these songs. I paid to see Jeff sing them and see Wilco sing them,'" Kerns said. "So I was saying, 'I'm not going to do the top three songs. I'm not going to do their most famous ones.' I was like, 'Let's try to do something that the audience will probably enjoy the most — something upbeat, something that I can sing pretty well and something that isn't so popular that people are going to be upset that a person who's not Jeff is singing it.'"
Kerns, who attends Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Conn., isn't too nervous about impressing the band because she's had the opportunity to meet and perform in front of some of its members before. Her father, Eric Kerns, has worked at Mass MoCA and is part of the Tourists hotel investment team with Wilco bassist John Stirratt, Darlie notes, and Darlie has worked at Solid Sound herself. So, she actually might be more anxious about receiving her peers' approval that that of Tweedy, Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Mikael Jorgensen, Nels Cline and Pat Sansone.
"I think I'm most nervous about performing in front of a lot of people that I don't know, but also performing in front of the people that I work with, on such a large-scale," Kerns said.
Kerns isn't the only non-Wilco act with ties to Mass MoCA. Before karaoke begins on opening night, Australian indie rocker Courtney Barnett will take the Joe's Field stage at 7:30 p.m. Last summer, she entertained the masses during a July Courtyard D concert. Club B10 alum Rafiq Bhatia will occupy that space starting at 11:15 p.m. Friday night, 15 minutes before Tortoise is schedule to play live to a film, "La Jet e," in the Hunter Center. On Saturday, the rock group will offer a more conventional show beginning at 6 p.m. in Courtyard D. Julian Lage Trio (1:30 p.m., Courtyard C); Cate Le Bon (Joe's Field, 5:30 p.m.), The Feelies (Joe's Field, 7:30 p.m.) and Clipping (11:15 p.m., Courtyard D) are also on the Saturday slate. The festival's final day includes a 2 p.m. Jonathan Richman show at Joe's Field, as well as a Jeff Tweedy & Friends performance on the same stage three hours later, one of many shows throughout the weekend devoted to Wilco members' side projects. One is no longer on the Sunday schedule. "Fishing," featuring Jon Hamm, Danielle Agami and Kotche, has been canceled. The work-in-progress theatrical piece debuted at Mass MoCA in April, but Hamm's schedule wouldn't allow for a presentation at the festival, according to a Monday announcement. He will be in Atlanta working on Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell-inspired movie.
"I know the timing sucks and I'm gutted to miss the chance to present the show (and to be a part of the festival)," Hamm said. "There will be an opportunity or two to see the show somewhere down the line. TBD! Thanks for your understanding. Wilco 4 Ever."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.