North Adams, MA -- Festival veterans Greensky Bluegrass; Willie Watson, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show; soulful Birds of Chicago; and The Man in Grass, an all-star tribute to Johnny Cash join FreshGrass — Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MASS MoCA) 3-day bluegrass and roots music festival. These acts join the chorus of stand-out Americana music slated for the annual September festival, including the Del McCoury Band, the Punch Brothers, a late-night hoedown by Leftover Salmon, Jerry Douglas presents Earls of Leicester, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, Houndmouth, festival favorite Alison Brown, Vieux Farka Touré , Peter Rowan, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, Flatt Lonesome, The Ballroom Thieves, Darol Anger’s Mr. Sun, Rani Arbo & Daisy Mayhem, 2014 FreshGrass Award winners Twisted Pine, Quiles & Cloud, and Cat and Moon. FreshGrass, to be held on September 18-20, 2015, features bluegrass traditionalists and trailblazers on four stages and throughout every nook and cranny of MASS MoCA’s revitalized industrial, art-infused campus.
On the brink of stardom, Greensky Bluegrass slayed the crowd at FreshGrass in 2013, winning the instant devotion of thousands of new fans, including bluegrass stalwart Sam Bush — their spontaneous shared set rocked the FreshGrass crowd. The band’s star has been rising ever since. Rolling Stone says of Greensky, “They’re representing the genre for a whole new generation.” It’s a tall order, especially considering some of their company here at the festival — but this quintet, which formed in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2000, inhabits the role with charm and confidence. Combining dazzling musicianship with a rowdy sense of fun and a work ethic that has them on tour for nearly 200 days a year, they have become a mainstay at festivals (and late-night jam sessions) across the country. As Jambase claims, “Greensky Bluegrass hits timeless targets with deadly accuracy while simultaneously veering off the tired and true highway.” And the band’s talent reaches beyond the stage: an apres-festival kickball showdown against Mandolin Orange in 2013 was some of the most we’ve ever witnessed on the MASS MoCA concert field.
Looking like a man from leaner and meaner times, Willie Watson steps on stage with a quiet gravitas, though when he opens his mouth and lets out that high lonesome vocal, you can hear him loud and clear. A founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show and now one of the most dynamic solo artists in the world of Americana, Willie's debut album, Folk Singer Vol. 1, was produced by Dave Rawlings at Woodland Sound Studios, the studio he co-owns with associate producer Gillian Welch in Nashville, over the course of four days, for the producer-pair’s Acony Records label. This is Willie’s first FreshGrass — but certainly not his last. Festival founder Chris Wadsworth says, “Willie Watson is one of the most exciting artists in Americana. He collaborates with everyone — you never know where he’s going to pop up — we’re just glad that this year, it’s at FreshGrass.” Wadsworth continues, “Willie is exactly our kind of musician. He embodies everything that this festival is about.”
Husband and wife duo JT Nero and Allison Russell are the heart of Birds of Chicago, a sprawling collective of soul-inflected, groove-based Americana from that great Midwestern city. The Los Angeles Times calls the band “this year’s biggest roots surprise” – and, indeed, their self-titled debut record has propelled them into the imagination of bluegrass audiences and rock critics alike. MASS MoCA’s Courtyard D is perfect for soaring vocals bouncing around the bricks – as bands like Hurray for the Riff Raff, Lake Street Dive and The Lone Bellow all found out at recent festivals. Birds of Chicago keeps the tradition alive with a rope of vocal harmonies and one of this season’s most danceable catalogs.
With The Man in Grass, FreshGrass favorite Alison Brown leads a celebration of the music of the Man in Black — featuring a stellar band of festival All-Stars convened for the occasion, including the exceptional guitarist and singer Trey Hensley — who once shared the stage with Johnny and June Carter Cash — and special guests from all over the festival lineup who dive into grassy reworks of the Cash songbook.
In addition to concerts, contests, workshops, and the festival’s legendary jam sessions — during which professional musicians pick and play among the crowd, many of whom bring their own instruments — festival events include camping, located a short distance from MASS MoCA’s campus, and children's programming. Admission to MASS MoCA's galleries is included with a festival pass, and festival-goers enjoy dozens of pop-up concerts set among dramatically scaled exhibitions of contemporary art.
Advance 3-day adult tickets are now available for $93, with student tickets priced at $83, $46 for kids 7-16, and free admission for kids six and under. MASS MoCA members receive a 10% discount on festival ticket prices. Single-day tickets may be offered closer to the event, as space allows. FreshGrass details will be updated on the festival website, FreshGrass.com, and on Facebook at FreshGrass Festival. FreshGrass is held rain or shine.