Breakfast with The Eagle: An early start for Chris Wadsworth, FreshGrass co-founder

NORTH ADAMS — FreshGrass music festival co-founder Chris Wadsworth isn't a breakfast enthusiast.

"I generally eat a piece of fruit in the morning or something like this, a couple pieces of bread," Wadsworth said over some toast and orange juice at The Porches Inn on the Thursday morning before the festival.

An exception would be when those closest to him can benefit from something a bit more filling. "I might make a big breakfast on the weekend for [the] kids or something like that," the San Francisco, Calif., resident added.

A grander occasion also brings Wadsworth's family together. The annual roots music festival he started in 2011 at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art now serves as a "family reunion," he said. His four children are regulars; two of them, 14-year-old Robyn and 10-year-old Ozzy, were planning to attend this year's event. Additionally, Wadsworth's father, Jack, and mother, Susy, have attended the first six festivals.

"They probably hear more music than I do," Wadsworth said.

His parents' connection to the festival, however, goes far beyond spectating. The idea for FreshGrass germinated when Wadsworth, a Williams College music major who had since moved away from both music and the Berkshires, returned for his mother's 70th birthday. The celebration included visits to Mass MoCA and The Porches Inn, which his parents had opened in 2001 and gradually turned into a coveted lodging destination. During his extended stay in North Adams, Wadsworth was impressed with Mass MoCA and the city's growth. Consequently, a partnership between him and the museum was eventually formed. His parents' network — the two were involved in the museum's creation — were critical.

"We wouldn't be here without them," Wadsworth said.

The couple hails from northern Kentucky and helped stoke their son's early appreciation for bluegrass music even while raising him amidst the concrete of Brooklyn, N.Y. Wadsworth learned how to play the fiddle, banjo and guitar during his youth. After graduating from Williams, he moved to the Boston area, intending to study composition at the New England Conservatory. It wasn't a good fit.

"I got there, and it just didn't feel right," he said.

Wadsworth worked as a picker at Rounder Records before venturing into the financial sector and around the world, stopping in Chicago, San Francisco and China. He now lives in San Francisco, where he spends lots of time at Ocean Beach.

"I'm there every day either surfing, walking or running," said Wadsworth, an affable, bearded man who wore a trucker hat and the morning countenance of a West Coast native still getting acclimated to East Coast time.

FreshGrass was a way back into the music world. He sought to emulate RockyGrass and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, both of which are held in Colorado.

"It was the concept of having an amazing setting and a really interesting lineup with a really rabid fan base," he said.

The first festival, held in 2011, drew only a few hundred spectators. Now, the festival commands more than 5,000 and is a year-round endeavor. Plans for 2018 have already begun. Wadsworth arrived in North Adams on Wednesday night after meeting in New York City with the company (The Office) that helps him and the museum book the festival's artists. (Wadsworth also made stops in Cincinnati and Nashville on this trip east from San Francisco.)

"Already, we have a short list of folks that we're super eager to have [next year]," said Wadsworth, who operates FreshGrass Foundation that, among other things, owns the roots music-focused No Depression magazine.

The festival founder said he gets to experience these accomplished acts every year as a fan, too, because of Mass MoCA employees' hard work throughout the festival.

"They do most of the heavy lifting of putting this thing on, and we've set it up in such a way that I can really enjoy the weekend," he said.

On Monday, Wadsworth will have a postmortem meeting with everybody involved with FreshGrass, identifying areas for improvement. Anything from sound levels to bathroom locations may be discussed. Over time, Wadsworth's relationships with the museum's staff have made the festival even more of a close-knit get-together.

"I love the folks over at Mass MoCA," he said. "We've become really good friends over the years, so they feel like part of the family, too."

On the menu

What Wadsworth ate: Two pieces of toast with a glass of orange juice

What it cost: $0 (A light breakfast buffet is included with guests' stay at Porches Inn)

Where we ate: The Porches Inn, 231 River St., North Adams

What he looks forward to: Seeing his family and Mass MoCA staff at FreshGrass every September


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