By Diane Broncaccio
July 12-14, 2019
Summer wouldn’t be summer without the Green River Festival, a three-day feast of music and hot-air balloons on the scenic Greenfield Community College campus.
Now more than three decades old, this festival evolved from a one-shot, fifth-anniversary party in 1986 to celebrate a progressive music station, now called “The River.” The music of 10,000 Maniacs and NRBQ drew about 2,000 people to that first event. Since then, thousands have come for such headliners as Dr. John, Taj Mahal, Beausoliel, Norah Jones, Arlo Guthrie, Mavis Staples, Lucinda Williams, and the Avett Brothers.
This music festival is becoming legendary in its own right, combining a line-up of 30 to 40 acts on stage, local foods, beer and wine, handmade crafts a dance tent and plenty of activities for children.
It was included as one of 50 essential summer festivals in the New York Times and was also mentioned in Rolling Stone Magazine as a “must-see” music festival in 2015. Your seat is your picnic blanket or a lawn chair on the sprawling fields of the college campus.
Couples have met, fallen in love and even gotten married here. And their children have grown up with this summer attraction. For many people, coming to the Green River Festival is as natural as seeing fireworks on the Fourth of July.
While ticket sales are capped at 5,000 per day, people from all over the country and beyond come to this event, according to festival director, Jim Olsen of Signature Sounds, which presents the event. Besides ticket-holders the festival goers may include some of the 400 too 450 festival volunteers, vendors and guests, says Olsen.
Franklin County sports several hotels and bed-and-breakfasts for those seeking lodging. Additionally, festival goers can purchase “camping tickets” when they go online to buy festival tickets. This enables them to stay overnight at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, about two miles from the festival site. Shuttle buses running from the campgrounds to and from the festival mean they can leave their vehicles parked near the fairgrounds. Last year, over 700 RVs parked at the campground.
The region offers many attractions within a 20-mile radius of the festival. The village of Shelburne Falls, about 10 miles west of the festival, is a walkable village with shops, art galleries and its famous Bridge of Flowers. Further west is Charlemont, which is home to tree canopy zip lines, whitewater rafting and fishing in the Deerfield River.
To the east of Greenfield is Montague, with its 19th century architecture in the vibrant Turners Falls Cultural District, housing the Shea Theater Performing Arts Center and a vintage shopping cluster as well as the cavernous Montague Book Mill, five miles down the road near the picturesque ruins of a dam on the Sawmill River. Greenfield offers nightlife at the Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center, restaurants and the county’s only department store, Wilson’s.
Just south of Greenfield is Deerfield, where Colonial history and architecture has been carefully preserved as well as the Yankee Candle flagship store.
During the festival, a hot air balloon will offer short, tethered rides, weather permitting. On Saturday night, up to a half-dozen tethered hot air balloons will be gas-lit, illuminating the main stage and seating area like gigantic, Tiffany lanterns.
The festival now has four to five stages of music and other performances. You could come just for the headliner musicians, but you might also leave with new bands to love.
“You cannot go to the Green River Festival and not fall deeply and madly in love with a band that you have never heard of,” festival committee member Becky George, once remarked.
Among the “future favorite” performers who were on stage early in their careers were the Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Merchant and Alison Krause, according to Olsen. He characterizes most the variety of music offered as “based in any kind of American roots music” – a broad net that includes rock, country, folk, blues, Cajun. In recent years, however, world music has been added to the lineup.
“We try to stay contemporary,” says Olsen, who starts planning for each festival almost a year in advance. “Our goal is to make sure, when you get there, you have a great time and you love the music you hear.”
Besides the main stage featuring headlining acts perform, there is a Children’s Stage, which includes a tent for crafts activities supervised by The Art Garden of Shelburne Falls, along with homemade carnival games. The Dean’s Beans Stage features world music and dance. There is a parlor room stage, and the Green House Stage, for acoustic music.
The food options have grown with the festival to include up to two dozen food trucks from many of the area’s best-known eateries. You can bring a picnic meal, but local foods, ethnic fare, local microbrews, wines and ciders are available.
The area is rich with artists, and the festival features a “craft village” of artisans and their products.
This year’s festival
For tickets, directions and other information about this year’s festival, on July 12 through 14, go to: www.greenriverfestival.com
The musical line-up for Friday night includes Lucinda Williams, a Swedish duo; Parsonsfield, and Heather Maloney, Upstate Ladama, Lakou Mizik and the Mtali Shaka Banda Oneness Project.
Saturday’s headliners are: The Wood Brothers, Tyler Childers, Grammy-winning Angelique Kidjo of South Africa, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Low Cut Connie, Suitcase Junket and more.
Sunday’s major performers are: The Devil Makes Three, The Record Company, Rhiannon Giddens, and The Suffers, plus others.
Tickets are available for a single day or more. The online price per person for a full three-day pass is $139.99 plus a $11.01 fee. Children under age 10 get in free. $10 parking passes are available and there are shuttle buses between the festival and several parking areas in Greenfield.
The festival is rain or shine.