Bluegrass meets blues here in an old milltown — and international and world music, roots and folk and Americana. Every year in September, in the first days of fall, Mass MoCA fills the courtyards and fields around the museum with music.

I’ve heard sounds here from around the world. Fiddle and banjo, kora and ukulele … I’ve walked into the courtyard to hear trumpets — Mexican mariachi meeting Brooklyn Balkan brass, and people were waltzing to Rana Santacruz. And later on in Joe’s Field, the crowd was moving as Hanggai’s lead vocalist sang electric punk over traditional Mongolian rhythms …

Mass MoCA hosts the festival every year in collaboration with the FreshGrass Foundation, a nonprofit that believes making and sharing authentic creations can grow lives and communities. The Foundation holds FreshGrass Festivals in North Adams and in Bentonville, Ark. and give grants, commissions and awards for musicians and composers, including the Steve Martin Banjo Prize.

They publish the No Depression quarterly journal of roots music and Folk Alley streaming online, and they are also a founding partner of Artists At Work, a program that provides living wages for living artists, and they manage Studio 9 in North Adams, a state-of-the-art recording studio and music venue.

Aoife O'Donovan will perform at FreshGrass 2021. Press photo courtesy of Mass MoCA
Photo by Rich Gilligan

FreshGrass 2023

The Dropkick Murphys are playing Woodie Guthrie songs — lyrics from scraps of paper reworked on acoustic guitar. Aoife O’Donovan, a central voice here for years, brings a festival commisson honoring suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt and her 1920 march to Tennessee on their last throw to convince 36 states to ratify the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. FreshGrass explores the past and present on the ground, from all kinds of perspectives …

Okema rising

Boston Celtic punk band the Dropkick Murphys will come to Freshgrass with music from their new acoustic album, inspired by the words and music of Woodie Guthrie, his respect for working people and his core belief in the equality of all human beings …

The Del McCoury Band performs during the FreshGrass Bluegrass Festival at Mass MoCA in North Adams.
Mass MoCA

Global folk and blues

This year’s festival rounds the globe, from oldtime Appalachia and Bluegrass legends like Bruce Molsky, Tony Trischka and Michael Daves to Bombino’s North African desert blues (or Tichumaren in Tamasheq, the Tuareg language) …

Rhiannon Giddens returns

Grammy-winning vocalist, banjoist and composer Rhiannon Giddens is coming back to our mountains this fall, a few weeks after releasing her newest music, and I’ve heard her sing At the Purchaser’s Option at Mass MoCA on a warm September night, her voice and rhythm pounding through the courtyards like a heartbeat, and hundreds of people moving with her.

BTW Berkshires