A Little Rain and a Lot of Fun at FreshGrass | Bentonville
Trombone Shorty – FreshGrass | Bentonville 2021 – photo by Douglas Mason
EDITOR’S NOTE: Douglas Mason was commissioned by FreshGrass to take photos at both FreshGrass | North Adams and FreshGrass | Bentonville. Since he had a front-row seat, so to speak, we asked him for his personal story of his time in Bentonville, along with a selection of his fantastic photos. Both FreshGrass festivals are part of the FreshGrass Foundation, the roots-music-focused nonprofit that publishes No Depression.
After spending three days photographing the 10-year anniversary of FreshGrass at Mass MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, I decided at the last minute to check out FreshGrass | Bentonville at The Momentary art space in northwest Arkansas. The weather looked disastrous as I boarded the plane to Bentonville, but the music gods smiled upon us on last Friday afternoon, and I frantically took pictures thinking this would be the only sunshine and green grass I’d see for the rest of the fest.
I was greeted at the door by friendly museum staff and an excellent band, Willi Carlisle & Friends, at the Tulip Barn. Sunshine, bluegrass music, and the smell of barbecue filled the air as I wandered past food trucks and crafts on the way to see Korey McKelvy on the No Depression stage. Route 358 was playing at the Arvest Bank Courtyard before Aoife O’Donovan and Noam Pikelny kicked off the main stage. The Steep Canyon Rangers played a fine set, followed by Flor de Toloache, an all-female mariachi band rocking the house in traditional costume.
Saturday started a little rough. I was in front of the main stage when the sky to the west grew ominous. Just before the first act came on, lightning was spotted just eight miles away, and everyone was sent into the museum to wait out the storm. I thought it might be all day, so I ran to my room, just a few blocks away, to edit photos until the storm passed. As I closed the door, a wall of water came down behind me and the future of FreshGrass | Bentonville looked gloomy. But just a half hour later the clouds cleared up, the rain apparently finished with us, and moved on.
The dark clouds made a very nice backdrop to Alison Brown as she lifted everyone’s spirits with her banjo. The very soggy main stage took a little longer to dry out and we missed a few acts. FreshSongs, a band camp sponsored by the FreshGrass Foundation and The House of Songs and featuring Willi Carlisle, Bonnie Montgomery, Kalyn Fay, Mamie Minch, Sage Nizhoni, and Billy Keane, was a fun way to hear 14 new songs written for the occasion. A tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe featuring Felicia Collins seemed to bring out the sun, and by the time Trombone Shorty took the stage, fans were ready to rock, not that you could keep from dancing with that band in charge. New Orleans was in the house, and people from the front row to the back were beaming and dancing. Billy Strings hit the stage last and there was no more strolling up to the front row, the bluegrass was on, and it was dancing room only.
Click on any of the photos below to view them as a slideshow: