FreshGrass Festival Celebrates 10 Years in North Adams, Massachusetts
Béla Fleck performs My Bluegrass Heart at FreshGrass | North Adams 2021 – Photo by Hilary Saunders
The annual FreshGrass Festival — produced by No Depression’s nonprofit publisher, the FreshGrass Foundation — celebrated a giant return to live music this past weekend. After pausing for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the three-day festival roared back with more than two dozen roots music performers across four stages.
Additionally, this weekend marked the tenth anniversary of FreshGrass Festival | North Adams, an enormous accomplishment for the independent event held far away from any major highways in Western Massachusetts. It was curated to perfection, as always, with a slow build-up on Friday, a raucous and international Saturday, and a gospel-inspired Sunday morning culminating in a bluegrass jam.
Members of No Depression, sister outlet Folk Alley, and the FreshGrass Foundation were all on site to cover the festivities. Check out some of our team’s favorite moments and photos below. And stay tuned, because FreshGrass | North Adams returns Sept. 23-25, 2022, and tickets are already available.
Amythyst Kiah was radiant on Friday night, showing off her dynamic vocal range. The audience was transported into Kiah’s soulful musical sphere, especially when she closed with “Black Myself” — a song with a raw and powerful message of self-empowerment. She’s become a truly distinguished artist, one who has everything the roots music world needs right now. — Hilarie Spangler, Director of Programs, Grants and Ventures for the FreshGrass Foundation
Dispatch is attached to so many incredible moments throughout my life that I’d probably have to designate them as my all-time favorite band. Needless to say, I was super excited to see them perform at FreshGrass! Performing a stripped down, acoustic set, in similar style to their 1996 debut studio album Silent Steeples, the band performed new and old tunes in front of a packed Friday night crowd. Hearing thousands of fans singing to many of their fan favorites such as “The General,” “Flying Horses,” “Elias,” and “Bang Bang” was definitely a highlight for me. — Adam Kirr, Director, FreshGrass Foundation
Willi Carlisle was one of this weekend’s best festival discoveries. Recently signed to Free Dirt Records, Carlisle inaugurated the No Depression stage on Saturday with riveting (and oftentimes hilarious) solo performances rooted in old-time traditions — accompanying himself on bones, acoustic guitar, and banjo. Based in rural Arkansas, Carlisle will also perform next weekend at first ever FreshGrass Festival | Bentonville. — Hilary Saunders, Managing Editor at No Depression
Aoife O’Donovan, with accompanying vocalist Isa Burke (Lula Wiles and former No Depression staffer), was just the salve we needed after many months without live music. Special guests Sara Watkins and Noam Pikelny were the musical “cherry on top” that capped off the singer-songwriter’s moving set. Aoife, a longtime friend of the FreshGrass Festival, has a few more shows this fall before she heads off to Europe in January. — Sonja Nelson, Ad Manager at No Depression
Amy Helm closed out the night with a late-night jam. Bolstered by a special eight-person band, Helm’s strong vocals shined brighter than the spotlights on the No Depression stage. But during a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” a song with special history to her father Levon, Helm’s 13-year-old son Lee joined her on stage to guest on drums. It was a wholesome performance, a reminder of the circuitry of life and the joyfulness of live music. — Hilary Saunders
The word “mukana” in Shona — the Bantu language spoken in parts of Zimbabwe — means “opportunity.” The band Mukana, however, gave FreshGrass festivalgoers an opportunity to hear music that got our feet moving and our hips swaying under a brilliant blue sky sprinkled with puffy white clouds. With vocal tradeoffs between Nadine Niles, Natalia Bernal, and Tendai Muparutsa, Mukana’s objective to “create music to promote diversity and global cultural understanding” was most certainly met. — Sonja Nelson
Bonny Light Horseman, comprised of Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson, and Josh Kaufman, made one of the best records of 2020, and their intimate performance stunned a packed Courtyard D into near silence. Plus, the folk trio hinted at new music in the future, so we can only hope for more moments like these! — Hilary Saunders
After two days of incredible music making in the Hunter Center and on the Roots Stage, the FreshGrass Awards finalists gathered side stage before the final set of the weekend. It was an honor to announce the winners: Sofia Chiarandini in the fiddle category, Thomas Cassell in the mandolin category, Sam Leslie in the guitar category, Tray Wellington in the banjo category, and Never Come Down in the band category. Learn more and listen to everyone here. — Hilarie Spangler
Here are photos from the weekend by Hilary Saunders. Click on any to enlarge and view as a slideshow.