Trey Anastasio was booked to bring his trio to the Levitate Music & Arts Festival, but he pulled a surprise on Saturday’s sellout crowd of 15,000 at the Marshfield Fairgrounds. No, he didn’t bring his main band Phish (which should draw twice as many fans to its closest summer stop at August’s Curveball fest in Watkins Glen, N.Y.), but Anastasio introduced his longtime keyboardist Ray Paczkowski, who joined the guitarist’s solo group just two nights earlier after his recovery from surgery for a brain tumor. Anastasio recalled his last area visit six months ago, when he saw Paczkowski at Massachusetts General Hospital, calling that staff “magicians.”
Trey Anastasio played Levitate Festival on Saturday, July 7.
That surely put respect and awe in proper perspective — and the guitarist brought the right quartet anyway, as the Trey Anastasio Band rode straightforward, funk-inflected grooves in line with most acts at Levitate’s first of two packed days. And Paczkowski’s organ bolstered the sound as Anastasio injected a fair share of Phish tunes, from those debuted in his solo band (“Gotta Jibboo,” “Sand”) to apt opener “Blaze On” (with Anastasio singing “We’ll be dancing in the fields”) and “Undermind,” tethered by a brisk stutter beat from Boston-bred drummer Russ Lawton.
Over six years, Levitate has grown from the expanded BBQ dream of Dan Hassett, owner of the festival’s namesake surf and skate shop, into one of New England’s major destination music fests next to Newport Folk, Green River, Solid Sound – and the now-largest Boston Calling.
A short ride south of Boston, Levitate stresses a community vibe in tune with the surf and skater crowd, sporting an emphasis on jam and reggae culture, heard on Saturday in Slightly Stoopid (which interpolated the Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower”) and Stick Figure as well as a Sunday slot by famous family scion Stephen Marley.
Stick Figure (top) and Ripe’s Robbie Wulfsohn (bottom) played Levitate Festival.
The community view means loyalty to returning bands who have grown up on its stages. They included Sunday draw Lake Street Dive as well as Saturday returnees Stick Figure (which got the middle-stage crowd hopping with fingers in the air to a cover of “Hey Jude”), percolating jammers Twiddle and fast-rising Ripe, the high-energy funk band that ruled the mid-afternoon main stage, with every member of the Berklee-bred septet getting a chance to shine while Robbie Wulfsohn served as singer and cheerleader to get fans going on a perfectly non-humid sunny day.
Samantha Fish played blues-based highlights at Levitate Festival on Saturday, July 7.
Robert Randolph and his Family Band played Levitate Festival on Saturday, July 7.
Saturday’s undercard was likewise invigorating for those able to navigate short but slow lines of local traffic (seemingly inherent for growing festivals in small towns) and entrance security. At least the fairgrounds offered a manageable footprint to move between the three stages, food and beer concessions, clothing vendors, a kids’ drum circle and a skaters’ half-pipe. And the smallest stage lent a boost with blues-based highlights in Samantha Fish, whose blonde moll hairstyle and leopard-print shorts belied her fiery prowess as a singer and guitarist, and pedal-steel virtuoso Robert Randolph and his Family Band. The Randolph band’s loud gospel boogie unfortunately overwhelmed that modest sound system, though they brought Fish out for a swipe at Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.”
But all sounded great on the main stage as the sun set to Anastasio’s gliding, looped guitar chops, enlarged on the side screens while overhead drones presumably documented another year in the rise of Levitate.