(NORTH ADAMS, Mass.) – Bluegrass legend Del McCoury and progressive bluegrass/jam-band Yonder Mountain String Band headline FreshGrass: A Festival of Bluegrass + Art, MASS MoCA’s first-ever bluegrass festival, on Saturday, September 24, 2011, from 6 to 11 p.m. and Sunday, September 25 from 11 to 6 in MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center and Courtyard C. FreshGrass will include seven scheduled acts, pop-up concerts, gallery admission, exhibition openings and the debut of MASS MoCA’s campus expansion
Other performers include young multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz; the Hackensaw Boys, an Americana band inspired by punk, bluegrass, and old time music; ethereal vocalist Aoife O’Donovan of the alternative bluegrass band Crooked Still; and Grammy-nominated musician and producer David Mayfield.
In addition to non-stop music, festival tickets include gallery admission, where festival-goers will find pop up concerts as well as half a dozen visually stunning and thought-provoking exhibitions.
Ticket-holders will also be the first to experience the newly expanded MASS MoCA campus as the weekend marks the opening of The Speed Way, a five-acre parcel in the southernmost part of the campus which is now home to two new installations: Jane Philbrick’s The Expanded Field, a park-like installation that transforms a former asphalt drive and three-tiered foundation of a razed building into a peaceful spot for relaxation and contemplation, and Steven Vitiello’s All Those Vanished Engines, which brings MASS MoCA’s former Boiler Plant to life with a sound installation and narrative.
Joseph Thompson, MASS MoCA director, explained the motivation for the weekend festival:
“FreshGrass is timed to commemorate the inspiring generosity of Susy and Jack Wadsworth who have made The Speed Way expansion possible, and to draw visitors to the area in what is traditionally shoulder season in the Berkshires We have a rich lineup of bluegrass talent and layer that on top of that the chance to visit the galleries, attend an opening, and enjoy great homegrown food and drink, including brunch on Sunday — and you’ve got a memorable weekend.
“We’ve kept the all-inclusive price very affordable and hope that people who enjoy bluegrass as well as the music festival scene but don’t want to spend days traveling and half a week’s paycheck on a ticket will find this enticing.”
Bending bluegrass, rock and countless other influences that the band cites, Yonder Mountain String Band has pioneered a sound of its own. With a traditional lineup of instruments (minus the fiddle), the band may look like a traditional bluegrass band at first glance, but it transcends any genre. The Colorado-based foursome has crisscrossed the country over the past eleven years, playing such varied settings as festivals, rock clubs, Red Rocks Amphitheater in the band’s home state, and the Democratic National Convention in Denver at Mile High Stadium opening for Barack Obama. The band has long cited such varied influences as the bluegrass of Del McCoury, Johnson Mountain Boys, Jimmy Martin, Bill Monroe, and the Osborne Brothers, as well as the punk rock of Bad Religion, Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. The band is a regular at bluegrass festivals like the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and its own Northwest String Summit, as well as massive multi-stage events like Austin City Limits Festival, Bonnaroo and Rothbury.
On its current tour, Yonder Mountain is showcasing material from its latest album, The Show, and new songs that will be featured on its forthcoming new album, due out in early 2012. Produced by Tom Rothrock (Beck, Foo Fighters), Yonder’s album The Show (Frog Pad Records) includes 14 original compositions and features the band backed by Elvis Costello’s sideman Pete Thomas on drums on six tracks.
North Carolina born Del McCoury has had a long career in bluegrass. Although originally hired as banjo player, he sang lead vocals and played rhythm guitar for Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in 1963, with whom he first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. McCoury briefly appeared with the Golden State Boys in 1964, then left professional music for a period until the 1980s, when his sons began performing with him.
McCoury became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in October 2003 and has influenced a great number of bands, including Phish, with whom he has shared the stage several times and who have covered his songs. He has also performed with the String Cheese Incident and Donna the Buffalo, and recorded with Steve Earle. McCoury’s festival appearances include Bonnaroo, High Sierra, and the Newport Folk Festival, while television appearances include Late Night with Conan O’Brien and the Late Show with David Letterman.
In June 2010, McCoury received a lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts in the field of folk and traditional arts, and in 2011 he was elected into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
Emerging in 2007 with the acclaimed album Fork in the Road, the Infamous Stringdusters won three awards that year at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards Ceremony: Emerging Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, and Song of the Year. Their “Magic #9” (from Things That Fly) was nominated for a 2011 Grammy award for Best Country Instrumental. Their current lineup features Andy Hall (Dobro), Andy Falco (guitar), Chris Pandolfi (banjo), Jeremy Garrett (fiddle), Jesse Cobb (mandolin), and Travis Book (upright bass).
The Hackensaw Boys are an Americana band from Charlottesville, Va., a quartet that formed in the fall of 1999. The band derived its name from a combination of “hack” and “saw,” describing the hacking motion used when playing the mandolin and the sawing motion used when drawing the bow across the fiddle.
Sarah Jarosz is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter whose first CD, Song Up in Her Head, released in 2009, included a song nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Country Instrumental Performance. Only 20 years old with two albums under her belt, she has been called “a songwriter of uncommon wisdom” by the Austin Chronicle and has shared the stage with legendary performers like David Grisman and Ricky Skaggs. Her second album, Follow Me Down, explores modern songs as well as traditional material, including a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells.”
Vocalist Aoife O’Donovan is part of the alternative bluegrass band Crooked Still, known for its high energy, technical skill, unusual instrumentation, and innovative acoustic style.
David Mayfield is the “other” voice and lead guitarist, as well as a contributing songwriter for folk rock favorites Cadillac Sky, but his role as a member of the Texas-by-way-of-Nashville quintet is just one of the many musical paths this Grammy-nominated artist has journeyed.
Festival passes for FreshGrass: A Festival of Bluegrass + Art are $68/ $50 students/ $30 kids 2-12 and include gallery admission.
MASS MoCA members receive a 10% discount. The festival will be held rain or shine, moving inside to the Hunter Center in case of inclement weather. Festivalgoers are welcome to bring blankets and cushions to sit on but should leave chairs, coolers, and picnic baskets at home.
Limited bleacher seating is available on a first come/ first served basis.
Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located off Marshall Street in North Adams, open from 10 am until 6 pm every day. Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 during Box Office hours or purchased on line at MASS MoCA.