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Still going strong at 33 years: The Green River Festival returns July 12-14

  • Rock and Americana singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams returns to Green River for the first time in over 10 years. Photo courtesy of Signature Sounds

  • Singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens, who plays Green River’s main stage July 14, is a founding member of the country, blues and old-time music band Carolina Chocolate Drops.  Photo courtesy of Signature Sounds

  • The Wood Brothers bring their folk and Americana sound to Green River on Saturday night, July 13, on the main stage. Photo courtesy of Signature Sounds

  • More Americana sounds: The Devil Makes Three will close out this year’s Green River Festival on Sunday, July 14. Photo courtesy of Signature Sounds

  • Angelique Kidjo, a singer and actress who’s been called “the undisputed queen of African music,” will close out July 13 at the Green River Festival. Photo courtesy of Signature Sounds

  • Among a number of local artists and groups at Green River will be Northampton singer-songwriter Heather Maloney. Photo courtesy of Signature Sounds



Staff  Writer 
Tuesday, July 02, 2019

From Americana and rock singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams, to the modern jazz group Lowdown Brass Band with its funk and hip-hop-inflected sound, a wide range of musical performers from multiple genres are headed to the area’s biggest summer music event: the Green River Festival, which takes place July 12-14, Friday to Sunday, at Greenfield Community College. 

This year marks the 33rd year of the music festival. And for Jim Olsen, the principal organizer of Green River, the return of Williams, who previously played the festival more than a decade ago, is a very big deal. It’s also a case of serendipity of the first order.

Olsen, president of Signature Sounds Recording of Northampton, which puts together the Green River Festival, said booking Lucinda Williams came down to “pure luck.” Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit was initially planned to headline the main stage for Friday night, but the duo canceled their summer tour in mid-May due to an unexpected illness, leaving a small gap in the festival’s schedule. Now, Williams will be headlining Friday instead. 

“We were all so surprised and devastated when First Aid Kit pulled out,” Olsen said. “Usually by that point, everyone has their summer all booked up. Most artists are working somewhere in the world. During the weekend of Green River, there’s something like 14 other music festivals around America that are all competing for artists.

“We just happened to get lucky with Lucinda,” he added. “She had a little hole in her schedule. Even before we booked most of the artists, we had a conversation with her agent. She hadn’t played the festival in over 10 years. They were interested in having her back. So, when First Aid Kit dropped out, the thought popped into my mind to see if she was available. We were really lucky that she was.” 

Despite more than a dozen other festivals taking place during the same weekend, the Green River Festival finds a way to stand out in the crowd. In 2015, the festival gained broader attention when Rolling Stone Magazine called Green River one of the “50 Must See Festivals” across the country. 

“Green River is a certain size,” said Olsen. “It’s not like were trying to grow into Bonnaroo or something, so it’s really nice to get that attention for an event that’s intentionally a modest size.” 

Other returning acts this year include The Wood Brothers, the folk and Americana band led by brothers Chris and Oliver Wood, who performed at the festival in 2015; and bluegrass, folk blues, and Americana group The Devil Makes Three. 

One of the most recent changes to the festival, as of last year, was the addition of the Green House Stage, a tiny mock house in which artists playing the festival performed shorter acoustic sets that were filmed.

One of the main stage artists from last year that performed on the Green House Stage was alternative rock band Deer Tick. That smaller stage, one of four at Green River, will be returning this year, Olsen noted. He didn’t rule out other headliners playing intimate acoustic sets on the Green House Stage this year as well.

“We’re always looking for new elements to add that change it up,” said Olsen. “When you’re 33 years old, you don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. This year, we have a couple of surprises, one of which is a lighting installation that we’ve never had before that I think people will find exciting.”

There will also be some new non-musical entertainment such as trick bicyclists, Olsen said.

Other festival performers who have gained national followings include singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens, founding member of blues/old timey band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and world pop singer-songwriter, actress, and activist Angélique Kidjo. But there’s also a wealth of local performers set to do their thing at this year’s music fest.

For starters, there’s the one-man band The Suitcase Junket (aka Matt Lorenz); Northampton indie folk artist Heather Maloney; folk and jazz guitarist and singer-songwriter Pamela Means; bluegrass group Mamma’s Marmalade; and synth-pop duo Home Body and indie rockers The Stone Coyotes, both from Greenfield.

Olsen said each year Signature Sounds brings new local artists to the festival, who are spread throughout the three days of music.

In addition, a number of up-and-coming Valley teenage bands will be featured on Friday night’s Next Wave Stage: the 1960s pop-inflected rock group Moving Day; blues band Born IV Blues; country singer-songwriter Dez Roy; and folk-rock trio ZoKi.

“We’re so lucky to have such a great local music scene,” said Olsen.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@valleyadvocate.com.

For more information about the Green River Festival visit www.greenriverfestival.com.