FreshGrass impressions in early fall

Any day that begins with farm carrots and Sandy boys played fast under the upside down trees (a southern reel with fiddles and guitars, flute and whistle, banjo and mandolin and one gobsmackingly versatile piano accordion) — any day that includes the Ladies’ Auxiliary Ukulele Orchestra strumming “Wipe out” and Dave carter’s “When I go” … and ends with one actor and one musician on standing bass invoking the entire force of the rage of the siege of Troy?

Is a good day.

Last Saturday I finally got to FreshGrass. Mass MoCA’s annual bluegrass festival fills three days, and I play (when I can) with a fiddle jam that meets at the museum coffee shop on Saturday mornings. This time they asked us to play in the courtyard, and we stood on the grass trading waltzes.

Then I wandered around listening to Cricket Tell the Weather’s alto lead singer recalling factory towns. Berklee Music School graduates sang murder ballads and “Turtle Dove Done Drooped His Wings” a cappella.

It’s a new festival and getting larger year by year, a welcoming crowd, a lot of small children (one of whom poured sand industriously all over my shoes) and booths selling pitas and chicken korma and chocolate chip raspberry cookies.

Trampled by Turtles performs at FreshGrass. Photo Courtesy of Mass MoCA
Trampled by Turtles

Trampled by Turtles performs at FreshGrass. Photo Courtesy of Mass MoCA

The ukulele ladies are Bernice Lewis, a folksinger with Berkshire roots, and her daughter and a friend, and when they started out with “Walk Like an Egyptian” I started laughing out loud. Thinking back, Bernice sang to the Williams students waiting to take WOOLF hiking trips at First Days — so she was one of the first people I heard when I first came to the Berkshires, these many years ago.

In the dusk I ducked out to meet my friend Shannon, to see a performance of “An Illiad” at Williams College.

One man on a bare stage replays and adapts Homer. He has been telling this story through time, and every time, he says, he hopes will be the last.

He makes you see what Troy looked like in peace — when you walked through the city, you saw everyone, and everyone saw you. …

As props, he has a suitcase, a chair, a table and a bottle of water. The standing bass player gets effects out of his instrument I’ve never heard before, low, ominous thrumming of tension, thunder, fingers pounding on the wood.

And this one actor becomes Agammemnon lounging and debauched and leading the council by fear, Achilles raging at his arrogance, Hector and his wife embracing on the walls, Patroclus on the battle field blind with adrenaline, King Priam pleading and old …

He makes you see what Troy looked like in peace — a city where everyone had a tiled pool, where every house had private places spilling into a public courtyard, and when you walked through the city, you saw everyone and everyone saw you. You heard flutes and lyres.

It sounded like the courtyards where I had been walking all day.

It made me cry.

Like I said. It’s a good day.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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