FreshGrass, MASS MoCA’s 3-day festival of bluegrass and progressive roots music, announces the first round of bands for its upcoming September fest, with Old Crow Medicine Show, Glen Hansard, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, The Devil Makes Three, Rosanne Cash, a late-night hoedown by The Infamous Stringdusters, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Aoife O’Donovan, festival favorite Alison Brown, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, Stephane Wrembel, John Reischman and the Jaybirds, Mr. Sun, and 2015 FreshGrass Award winners Old Salt Union, Zoe & Cloyd, and Mile Twelve. FreshGrass, to be held at MASS MoCA on September 16-18, 2016, features bluegrass traditionalists and innovators on four stages and in every nook and cranny of its 28-building, 16-acre campus. This year’s festival marks an integrated partnership with No Depression, the quarterly journal for roots music and online roots music authority.
FreshGrass, a 2014 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards nominee for “Event of the Year,” is three days of concerts, pop-up performances, instrument and industry workshops, and a bounty of Berkshire harvest-season food and spirits. The event takes over the entire museum campus, including courtyards, galleries, grassy fields, bridges, and every place in between. Berklee College of Music’s American Roots Music Program returns to lead workshops in which festival-pickers fine-tune picking skills and learn from bluegrass veterans about the inner workings of songwriting, producing, and marketing music — events that often erupt in wild, rollicking jam sessions with festival-goers strumming alongside mainstage talent. FreshGrass-owned No Depression sets up an eponymous stage in the festival’s inner courtyard, Compass Records its their pop-up record store back to the center of the festival, and local luthiers demonstrate their craft.
“Old Crow, Cash, Hansard, Skaggs, The ‘Dusters and Frank Solivan — one of the hardest working guys in bluegrass — and that’s just for starters. FreshGrass presents one of the liveliest and all-encompassing lineups of any music festival in the nation. Musical chops, songwriting innovation, community participation, great food and drink in a really beautiful arts complex… all that makes for a special weekend, and we are so proud to host this flagship event in North Adams,” says MASS MoCA Director Joseph Thompson.
The festival continues to nurture fresh takes on the tradition of bluegrass music with the growth of its FreshGrass Award, a music contest judged by industry professionals, featuring up to $25,000 in cash prizes and recording time at Compass Records’ studio in Nashville for the winners. The annual categories include band, duo, banjo, and fiddle, adding over twenty performances to the festival lineup throughout the weekend. This year’s FreshGrass Award winners will earn a mainstage slot at the 2017 FreshGrass festival. The FreshGrass Award prizes are funded by the FreshGrass Foundation, whose mission is to promote, produce, and create innovative grass roots music and support emerging artists.
FreshScores is a film and live music event commissioned by the FreshGrass Foundation to pair original live music, composed to enliven silent films, with a screening and performance during the festival. In its 2015 debut, FreshScores featured festival veteran Alison Brown, who scored A Child of The Ghetto, the bluesy guitar stylings of Mamie Minch, who played to 1921 classic, The Flying House, and the Lost Bayou Ramblers who delighted crowds with the band’s inspired Cajun roots soundtrack to The Great Train Robbery. In 2016, Alison Brown returns alongside Aoife O’Donovan and gypsy guitar picker Stephane Wrembel to light up the screen.
“Great music, strong community, preservation, and advancement will always be the guiding lights of FreshGrass,” says festival producer Chris Wadsworth. “With the success of the FreshGrass awards and FreshScores, we offer our audience a singular festival experience and access to truly innovative ideas in grassroots music. The FreshGrass family has really grown over the last five years With No Depression and this festival at its heart; we have gathered one of the largest and most vibrant roots music communities out there. And we still have a few tricks up our sleeves.”
In addition to the Award, films, 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. Art is on view all weekend, as admission to MASS MoCA’s galleries is included with every 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 $96, with student tickets priced at $86, $46 for kids 6-16, and free admission for kids five 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. FreshGrass is held rain or shine.