What I remember about FreshGrass festivals in the last 10 years or so … is all over the map. It’s a mild fall day and I’m in the courtyard, sitting on the wall and playing Farewell to Whiskey. The local music jam shows up early and plays Irish and Quebeçois tunes for the folks waiting in line, so we get a glimpse behind the scenes and the music moves familiarly between us. I can swing a low note and feel it in my chest.
Then I slip away to hear Rhiannon Giddens singing her festival composition, and the heartbeat of her voice fills auditorium. The room feels open to the air, and we’re all on our feet in the kind of crowd the pandemic hasn’t allowed us now for years. She’s singing a contemporary ring cycle to enslaved women in Islamic Spain and North Africa a thousand years ago who held the knowledge of 20,000 songs.
Later, on a hot afternoon out in the field, Hanggai is on stage and the crowd is dancing and calling out to them. Electric guitar, punk rock percussion and Mongolian folk instruments and throat singing — the combination feels so inspired I want to laugh for the sheer zany rush of it. The drums and the low strings hit a gallop. The lead singer holds a long note and opens his arms, and the energy of hundreds of voices is rising to meet him.
Trumpets sound high brass across the bridge, and I walk into the mill courtyard to hear Rana Santacruz singing en la plaza de la flor … invoking an old town square on a warm night.
He calls his music bluegrass mariachi — Mexico City meets acoustic banjo and Balkan brass in Brooklyn — and the words are beautiful. He writes his own music and lyrics. It’s music to make you sit up and pull to your feet, and half the tunes are Mexican polka or triple-time waltzes, so even I know how to dance to them, and I’m up and moving …
Global roots music at Mass MoCA
The 2022 FreshGrass lineup brings a host of acclaimed musicians, from blues icon Taj Mahal and the Berkshires’ own Misty Blues band to rising stars like Yola and Sierra Ferrell, bluegrass and Americana from Aoiffe O’Donovan to Miko Marks to Old Crow Medicine Show, awardwinning mandolin virtuoso Sierra Hull, Italian violinist Luca Ciarla, rock and Rap artist Skip Marley, Brooklyn duo Mafesa and many, many more.
Events coming up …
Find more art and performance, outdoors and food in the BTW events calendar.