Words & Photos by Anthony Abu Hanna

Green River Festival, nestled in quiet Greenfield, Massachusetts, returned for its 38th year over the weekend. The festival has marked the start of summer for generations of people, some who camp on the festival grounds and some who just come to enjoy the music. This year’s headliners featured Cake, Fleet Foxes, and Gregory Alan Isakov along with a plethora of fantastic musicians and bands including Lawrence, Joy Oladokun, Joseph, and many more across four stages. 

This year’s festival had a theme thrust upon it, not by the varied group of musicians, the cheerful and energetic fans, or the sprawling festival grounds, but by the weather. The theme of this year was, in the words of the illustrious Queen, “Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening”. Each day was marked with some form of weather-forced schedule changes. A two hour delayed start on the first day, a four hour evacuation due to severe thunderstorms on the second, and a headliner that started early on the third to avoid a final evacuation. But through it all the bands, crew, and fans persevered and pushed through. 

Eclectic lineups marked each day of the festival. Scattered across four stages, there was never a moment without music reverberating throughout the air. 

After the first weather delay, the festival finally kicked off on the Franklin County Fairground. Up first, Oh He Dead took the main stage by storm (no pun intended). Their R&B and soul infused music, driven by the powerhouse vocals of CJ Johnson, started the weekend in earnest. 

Across the smaller stages throughout the festival grounds concert goers could be found watching one of the many artists performing. Singer-songwriter Julia Pratt was serenading her fans in a, quite warm, barn. Boston-based Twisted Pine’s bluegrass quartet was starting their own little party elsewhere on the festival grounds.  Combo Chimbita, with their unique fusion of Afro-Caribbean and Latin American music, was laying some rhythmic, psychedelic grooves that were getting people’s feet moving. Grammy-nominated Cuban funk star Cimafunk, was set to take the stage and deliver an electric performance of Afro-Cuban funk and dance music. 

Back on the main stage, New York City’s Lawrence was getting ready to light up the stage and celebrate the release of their fourth album, Family Business, which released just hours prior to taking the stage. Brother and sister duo Clyde and Gracie Lawrence have a charisma and stage presence that is only matched by their vocal range and the visible joy they have with each other on stage. While also having to play a truncated set, they made sure to deliver on showcasing their new songs, many of which had never been played live before this set. 

The first night ended with Sacramento’s own Cake bringing dessert, or an electric performance, to the festival grounds. After an extended introduction of lead-on music, the band took the stage to a thunderous applause and opened right up with ‘Frank Sinatra’. The band dove in to playing fan favorite such as Sheep Go to Heaven, Satan is my Motor, Short Skirt/Long Jacket, and The Distance as a way to put a wrap on Night One. 

Saturday morning rolled around and, while I was en route to the festival, another delay happened. On the drive in, the sky opened up and started down pouring at a rate that was genuinely terrifying. Zero visibility, roads flooding everywhere. During this downtime, it was a good time to hunker down at a local brewery and just wait out the storm for the all clear from the festival. It wasn’t until 3:30PM that the music started flowing through the fairgrounds, with all four stages going at once. 

Day two started off as a bit of a whirlwind, with four bands going simultaneously. Up on the main stage, Trousdale dove right into their catalog of melodic indie pop. Front-women Quinn D’Andrea, Georgia Greene, and Lauren Jones put on a bright, bubbly performance – trading vocals and beautifully harmonizing. 

Throughout the festival grounds, fans were treated to even more fantastic music. Philadelphia’s SNACKTIME took the party up a notch with their energizing New Orleans inspired brass band funk. Kelly Willis, Brennen Leigh, and Melissa Carper, all celebrated country singer-songwriters, laid down some old school country delights under a covered barn. Puerto Rico’s own Pachyman forged ahead with his unique, synth-driven reggae, dancehall, and dub fusion. Western Massachusetts native Hannah Mohan took fans on a journey, even as she lost a shoe on stage. The final scattered stage performance of this day was an absolutely electric performance by Tuareg songwriter Mdou Moctar putting on a showcase of blistering guitar work and cyclical rolling melodies. 

Bonny Light Horseman lit up the main stage with their upbeat modern folk – treating those in attendance to a slightly shortened set. During their soundcheck, Eric Johnson, the group’s frontman,  playfully told the crowd not to cheer after they did a section of a song and then go nuts when they came back on stage. And the crowd, lined up against the railing, delivered. Eric was quite a personality on stage, joking about how it was so humid and blisteringly hot during the day that jogging felt like swimming and running at the same time. The weather had really put a damper on performance times this day. But, that’s not to bad-talk the band – who made the absolute best of the time they could. 

Arizona native Joy Oladokun oozes joy when she’s on stage. Her personality shines and it shows in her music. Her set, too, was slightly altered – but not due to the weather. One of her bandmates just had a baby and she ended up performing as a trio for the festival. Seeing a bit more stripped down version of her band, after seeing the full ensemble last fall, was a treat. Joy always talks about how she just gets high in her room and writes songs about her life. And there’s no denying you can feel the emotion behind her songs when you see her perform. Even if she got a bit high, fucked up a song, and laughed about it. 

Another night was nearing its end and this one was ended by indie-folk stars Fleet Foxes. Opening up their set with fan favorite Blue Ridge Mountains set the mood for the evening – a fan favorite packed headlining performance. One big highlight was a cover of Big Red Machine’s Phoenix with help from Bonny Light Horseman’s Anaïs Mitchell. The show powered on with masterful performances of White Winter Hymnal, Mykonos, Can I Believe You, and more. As the night grew darker and the curfew closer, the band ended the night on a high with The Shine/An Argument and Helplessness Blues. 

The third day, in a shocking twist, was not delayed. There were no evacuations due to weather. Everything took place as it should. Sure, it was swampy from the one hundred percent humidity, and there was the looming threat of a tornado watch all day long, but that wasn’t going to stop anyone from making the best of this last day. 

Despite the heat and humidity, the show continued. Margo Cilker, singer-songwriter from rural Washington, got things going on the main stage with her band. Performing a selection of songs from her catalog and connecting with local fans about restaurants in Massachusetts she’s been to, she showcased her personality and lyricism on stage. She even joked about how weird it is to have a fairground be the place people hang out. 

Today’s mix of artists across the many stages was as varied as it gets. Grammy winning Côte d’Ivoire native Dobet Gnahoré, and her band Na Afriki, showcased their African grooves. Izzy Heltai dazzled fans under the barn with his curious catalog of music, stretching across genres. Eventually the day turned into a dance party with the brothers of Son Rompe Pera and their marimba-led ensemble with their punk infused cumbia flair. DakhaBrakha, a Ukrainian folk quartet played songs from their homeland, showing a country’s culture can persevere against foreign threats. The last small stage band of the day was none other than Portland, Oregon’s Joseph. The Closner sisters performed with sincerity and from the heart. 

Over on the main stage, Josiah and the Bonnevilles, started his performance off with some new songs and admitted that he hates, and isn’t that great at, tuning guitars. This former American Idol contestant stood apart as being the only solo performance on the main stage – just him and his guitar. But that didn’t stop him from putting on an electric performance, commanding the entire stage with his presence. 

Flipturn, on the other hand, was a full band spectacle. Opening up with Churches, the band launched into overdrive with lead singer Dillon Basse bouncing around across the stage with his frenetic and frenzied energy. The real treat came up next with their hit Chicago, featuring the entire audience belting out every word of their hit. It was evident the band was having a blast on stage, with smiles all around, as they all took turns moving across the stage and interacting with one another.

Remember how I said there was no weather delays? That stayed true on this third day, but what did happen was a weather-forced early start for Gregory Alan Isakov. Getting to see a headliner, and have a one and a half hour drive home before the sun went down was a refreshing change of pace. Gregory Alan Isakov proved a quieter end to a fantastic weekend, serenading the thousands of attendees with his indie-folk melodies, switching up instruments between guitar and banjo, and sending off the festival in style. 

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