Photo Credit: Sound Solid: Rick Levinson
It’s no surprise that music festivals dominate the summer forecast throughout New England, much like the rest of the nation. But you can bet the odds: The 2015 season will explode with better festival options than we’ve seen since… the last odd year of 2013. Wilco’s Solid Sound and the free downtown Outside the Box both return after a year off, joining other multi-day events that include Boston Calling, Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals, the Gathering of the Vibes and the Green River Festival. In town, there’s also Summer Arts Weekend, while the third annual Levitate Music & Arts Festival has boosted its wattage on the South Shore. Add all the big regular concerts—including the return of U2 to the TD Garden for four nights, a busy season at Fenway Park peaking with the Foo Fighters and fine Blue Hills Bank Pavilion bills led by Florence + the Machine—and it’s one sizzling summer for live music.
Boston Calling May 22-24, City Hall Plaza
Photo Credit: My Morning Jacket: Danny Clinch
The city’s season-bookending rock fest keeps on rolling with one of its better, ever-diverse lineups, ranging from dance-pop queen Marina & the Diamonds to hip-hop avatars Run the Jewels and Americana songsmith Jason Isbell. If you’ve passed on this new institution just to avoid hours of standing on brick and concrete, you’re missing out. You can always miss a band or two for a downtown detour—or simply skip the sun for Boston Calling at night, when light shows decorate the face of City Hall. Beck, Tama Impala, My Morning Jacket (behind a dazzling new album) and the Pixies highlight those May nights. Then Boston Calling returns Sept. 25-27, with a lineup that’ll be revealed at the May fest.
Mountain Jam June 4-7, Hunter Mountain, Hunter, New York
Photo Credit: Shakey Graves: Erika Goldring
Just beyond the borders of New England but worth the trip, Mountain Jam has grown from a place for Gov’t Mule/Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes to jam with friends into one of the Northeast’s biggest fests, boasting the Black Keys, Robert Plant and Alabama Shakes as 2015 headliners. You also get Shakey Graves, Gov’t Mule (and their take on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon), Benjamin Booker, moe. and Grace Potter, who closes the summer Sept. 12-13 in Burlington, Vermont, at her Grand Point North fest, sporting the Flaming Lips and Phish’s Mike Gordon. On June 5-14, Burlington also hosts the Discover Jazz Festival, highlighted by the Wayne Shorter Quartet, Mavis Staples, Wadada Leo Smith and Robert Randolph.
mountainjam.com / grandpointnorth.com / discoverjazz.com
Solid Sound June 26-28, MASS MoCA, North Adams
Photo Credit: Bill Frisell: Paul Moore
In terms of musical diversity and unique infrastructure, this is the pick of the summer. The Wilco-curated fest puts stages in cozy courtyards surrounded by brick mill buildings at the contemporary art museum, while the host headlines two nights on a field. Plus, there’s access to kids’ activities and sprawling galleries where you can sidestep sun or rain. And this year’s cross-genre program is outrageous, spanning indie-rock (Parquet Courts, Mac DeMarco, Real Estate), jazz (Bill Frisell, Charles Lloyd Quartet), folk-rock (Taj Mahal, Richard Thompson Trio), hip-hop (Shabazz Palaces), world music (King Sunny Ade & His African Beats), comedians and Wilco side projects (see p. 49). MASS MoCA also hosts the FreshGrass fest with the Del McCoury Band, Punch Brothers and Leftover Salmon on Sept. 18-20.
solidsoundfestival.com / freshgrass.com
Green River Festival July 10-12, Greenfield Community College
This roots-oriented event also runs the gamut this year, from the acoustic stylings of Steve Earle, Punch Brothers, Milk Carton Kids and Valerie June to avant-groove rockers Rubblebucket and Tune-Yards. The mix stretches further with Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis in a quieter mode, cross-cultural party band Red Baraat and Preservation Hall Jazz Band. But what sets this Bay State festival apart are the hot-air balloons, which you can ride or watch rise from the back of the field at sunset.
Levitate Music & Arts Festival July 11, Marshfield Fairgrounds
If you want to scale back for a worthwhile local day trip, this year’s Levitate delivers four major acts in the funky Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and Galactic plus rockers Dr. Dog and the jam-centric Chris Robinson Brotherhood. The energized toaster Collie Buddz and electro-soul duo Kaneholler highlight the rest of the bill.
Outside the Box July 14-19, Boston Common
This ambitious free performing arts fest, presented by philanthropist Ted Cutler, has shrunk from nine days to six and sticks to the Common in its second outing. Nonetheless, Outside the Box promises more than 100 music, theater, dance and children’s performances. The artists will be announced in the coming weeks, but hopes are high since the fest’s 2013 debut sported the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Los Lobos and the Lemonheads.
Summer Arts Weekend July 25-26, Copley Square
Another free downtown festival, this two-day affair’s shaping up nicely with another family-friendly lineup that includes country-folk duo Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, New Orleans’ Dirty Dozen Brass Band, fiddler extraordinaire Natalie MacMaster and soul singer Bettye LaVette as well as the Boston Drum-Off final, hosted by Blue Man Group, and the Handel & Haydn Society presenting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
Newport Folk Festival July 24-26, Fort Adams State Park, Newport, Rhode Island
First Aid Kit
So far, this year’s festival has rolled out a lineup of tried-and-true returnees such as the Decemberists, First Aid Kit, Shakey Graves, Lord Huron and Jason Isbell. Yet the reborn granddaddy of New England festivals also entices with appearances from Sufjan Stevens, Courtney Barnett, Sturgill Simpson, Angel Olsen and Strand of Oaks—plus, we can hope for a late addition, like last year’s Jack White. And there’s nothing like Fort Adams, flanked on three sides by Newport Harbor, and also the site of the venerable Newport Jazz Festival, which convenes July 31-Aug. 2 with crowd-pleasers Chris Botti, Jamie Cullum and Jon Batiste and Stay Human, plus the great Lisa Fischer, Cassandra Wilson, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Frisell and Dr. John.
newportfolk.org / newportjazzfest.org
Gathering of the Vibes July 30-Aug. 2, Seaside Park, Bridgeport, Connecticut
Photo Credit: Wilco: Danny Clinch
Here’s another sweet waterfront setting, where the Vibes will celebrate its 20th year in the spirit of the Grateful Dead. Alas, this edition competes this summer with Dead survivors’ hot-ticket “Fare Thee Well” swan song in Chicago on July 4 weekend with guest Trey Anastasio, whose band Phish also makes its only regional appearance Aug. 21-23 with its grand Magnaball fest in Watkins Glen, New York. Nonetheless, the Vibes mix it up with Wilco, Gregg Allman, Weezer, the String Cheese Incident with David Grisman and Peter Rowan, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Billy & the Kids, Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann’s new group with three younger jam-band stars.
Rhythm & Roots Sept. 4-6, Ninigret Park, Charlestown, Rhode Island
Another tradition, in its 18th year, this family friendly festival near the Rhode Island coast still nods to Cajun and bluegrass in a broad lineup that includes the Mavericks, Los Lobos, Keb Mo, Marcia Ball, Corey Ledet, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys and Della Mae with Jim Lauderdale. Don’t forget the daily kids’ Mardi Gras parades led by the Hot Tamale Brass Band. And Friday sports a 20th anniversary tribute to the Signature Sounds label led by Lake Street Dive, the jazz soul-pop band also making seasonal rounds at outdoor spots from Northampton’s Pines Theater at Look Park to Lowell’s Boarding House Park.
Sound Meets Vision
Music, painting and dance are ready to meld at Solid Sound
Photo Credit: Nels Cline: Paul Robicheau
For guitar virtuoso Nels Cline, an experimental improviser before joining Wilco in 2004, Solid Sound is an opportunity to expand his “sound-design world” beyond what he gets to do at other festivals with Wilco. “It’s called just getting in the sandbox,” says Cline, who has played in guitar duos with Thurston Moore and Julian Lage and jammed with Medeski Martin & Wood at past editions of Solid Sound.
But Cline goes to extremes with true multidisciplinary fun on June 28, presenting his Stained Radiance project with interpretive painter Norton Wisdom in MASS MoCA’s indoor Hunter Center. The fellow Californian briskly wields his brushes and scrapers to paint swirling abstract figures live on a large backlit screen while Cline coaxes lush, discordant sounds from his guitar and effects.
“I wanted to get Norton Wisdom at the first Solid Sound [in 2010], but everyone was afraid he was going to make a mess or something and leave paint on things, which he frankly used to do,” says Cline, 59, several years younger than Wisdom, whom he met in 1981. “But he’s much more self-contained since he’s gotten older.”
Each uses his eyes and ears to react in the moment. “I won’t say it’s not a challenge, but there’s not a lot of pressure either,” Cline says. “If I have a loop or one note going, I can just let it hang until I see where he’s going…. If I decide to go sonic nightmare, he might [go in that direction], or he might go visual nightmare and then I go sonic nightmare. Or maybe we never go there and we stay in some sort of mythic, sublime realm.”
To add another wrinkle, Cline invited choreographer Sarah Elgart to join in the improvisation, adding to a “chicken or the egg” scenario, he says. “We won’t know exactly where the first idea came from, whether it came from sound, image or movement, but it will eventually all be interactive.”
It’s all in the spirit of Solid Sound, where Cline says he’ll try to limit his running around to sit in with musicians, meet fans and practice last-minute surprises with Wilco. “It’s very exciting,” says Cline, whose wife Yuka Honda will be playing with her band Cibo Matto this year. “But it’s also potentially exhausting!”