After a proposed trip down to Bonnaroo fell through, I felt I owed Joey something. That something became a one-day pass to Wilco's Solid Sound Festival at Mass Moca.
We got up early Saturday. Well, I got up early; Joey got up 10 minutes before we were scheduled to leave and, in a tizzy, got himself together. It's a reasonable drive from Cooperstown to North Adams, MA. Two hours and thirty minutes later, we pulled into the parking lot, ecstatic to have made it early enough (11 AM) to avoid the remote lots which would have been soul-crushing to face when the day ended.
Mass Moca's industrial backdrop was perfectly laid out for the festival: lots of courtyards, interesting alcoves and easy access to the different sites. Sarah Lee Guthrie, Woody's granddaughter, was the first act of the day. A little boring but overall pleasant. She'll become important later on in the story.
Next up, one courtyard over, were The Sic Alps. They were heavy, loud and tons of fun. Joey and I were up close, leaning on the stage. The band provides great visuals: lead guitar/vocals, drummer/guitar player and weird feedback guy in the shadows. There was a man standing next to me who leaned over and loudly proclaimed: "I love music." Profound stuff.
Next up were The Handsome Family. I'd liked what I'd heard on line but they left me flat. I was disappointed and we didn't stay long, heading over to the train-converted-into-a-cramped-house exhibit and finding the samosa seller. A festival employee told us John Hodgman was spotted buying a falafel.
Liam Finn. What can I say about this musical Zach Galifianakis? Awesome energy, killer tunes and dynamic stage presence. The double drum gimmick was powerful, hearkening back to the old Thunder and Lightning duo of Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner. Things ramped up when Glenn Kotche of Wilco got behind one of the kits.
Joey and I played everything right. On Friday (we weren't there but heard the talk), there were massive storms that created havoc. Up to this point, we were bone dry. By heading to the inside comedy performances, we remained so, missing a downpour. Eugene Mirman, Wyatt Cenac and John Hodgman, with a guest appearance by Lewis Black, provided a pleasant break from the music.
We checked in with Thurston Moore, briefly. He usually leaves me cold. Instead we made yet one more stop at Euclid Records and bought The Sic Alps CD, two Wilco 45's on clear vinyl and T. Rex's The Slider. I was looking at the T. Rex albums and noticed Joey, eyes opened wide in expectation. I deferred to him and, though we both needed and wanted the record, like a good Dad I let him buy it. Then we were off to Joe’s Field, site of the headliners. (But first a burrito).
"Think we can be in the front for Wilco?" Joey asked. I explained to him that a determined person can always get to the stage, depending on how much they didn't mind pissing off other people. We got to the railing, uneventfully, up at stage left. Once situated, we heard the announcement that a short-lived storm was coming through. We went back to Euclid but it was so hot and humid in there that we ended up outside, finding a spot under an overhang. When the rain passed, and it was in buckets, we headed to the field and got our spot back. Again, well played!
Syl Johnson, a soul-infused vision in red, rocked the crowd. Syl pushed his new box set with almost every song. "This is featured on my new box set, Complete Mythology." Over and over again. Favorite part - Johnson asking if we knew The Wu-Tang Clan, 'cuz they gave him lots of money when they sampled him on "Shame On a Nigga."
We'd seen Wilco open for Neil Young a few years back and wished there'd been more of them and less of Neil. This was our first full Wilco concert, though I'd seen Jeff Tweedy once. They were simply wonderful and provided one of the sweetest moments I've ever witnessed at a concert. As the opening strains of "Jesus, Etc." floated over the euphoric crowd, Jeff let the fans sing, by themselves, for over half the tune. It was beautiful, soft, halting, the audience not sure whether to keep going, but Tweedy kept them at it. I like Wilco a lot, but I gave up learning words to songs sometime after The River came out. I knew a few phrases, but I was an outsider, not an insider. The view from there was fine.
Liam Finn joined the band for "I’ll Fight" and Ms. Guthrie came out for the encore. There, in a "long overdue moment" according to Tweedy, Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter sang "California Stars" from Mermaid Ave, lyrics by her famous forefather. Special doesn't quite cut it.
Remembering our killer parking spot, I was not pushing to leave quickly. What was the point? We still had 2 1/2 hours to drive; what was another 15 minutes making sure Joey bought a couple of shirts, including the Syl Johnson "Is It Because I'm Black" tee (It's featured on my new box set, Complete Mythology, don't you know?).
Though I missed a few turns along the way, we arrived home at 2:30, and, tired and happy, watched Robbie graduate high school later that afternoon. But I’m still sleepy.
(photos by Joey Katz)