As has become a tradition, I always like to spend a little time with the puppet master of the Green River Festival, Jim Olsen, to get his takes on the upcoming fest and which bands stand out.
One thing for sure, most of them I’ve never heard of. But that’s sort of the secret sauce of this festival that’s been bringing the swing to Greenfield Community College for 33 years. As Jim reminded me when we sat down to chat, some times the performers at the GRF become very popular, even household names. Examples? Brandi Carlisle, the headliner of 2013, who is now a multi-Grammy winning superstar. Shakey Graves was another big star today who was seen on the stage way before he broke out big.
When I asked Jim which artists he’s the most excited about, he picked a few examples that I had never heard of, who just might be the next big star who you can see here before they get super famous.
First, Jim explained that First Aid Kit, an up and coming band, had to cancel their entire summer of US gigs due to illness back in May. They were the Friday night headliner, but they were quickly replaced by a famous name who has played the Valley and the GRF in the past, Lucinda Williams. “We were lucky to grab her, it’s the 20th anniversary of her stellar album, “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” which really helped propel the Americana genre.”
Here are the highlight artists that jump out to Jim. “We always try to find people who we think are going to break out, those great Green River discoveries, like this guy Tyler Childers. He’s from Kentucky, sort of a Sturgill Simpson / Jason Isabel type. Produced by Simpson. ” Jim saw Childers live and knew he would be a good fit.
“There is a lot of Americana this year, Jim added. This genre is bigger than it’s ever been, especially in the NC and Nashville. He sold out Red Rocks in Colorado in one day, a 9000-seat arena.” It’s really the songs, that’s what separates the great ones.”
Samantha Fish is another artist that Jim mentioned. She’s a Chicago blues artists similar to Susan Tedeschi, with a little more swagger. “She looks like she stepped out of 1955, super stylized true blues woman. Her music, with a great horn section, is reminiscent of Tedeschi Trucks Band, who played previous GRF festivals. Samantha will pay the main stage on Saturday.”
Jim’s final pick–Low Cut Connie, a band from Philadelphia. “Think of some Philly greasers who play Rolling Stones meets Jerry Lee Lewis. Their leader is Adam Wiener, they roll out this beat-up upright piano, and he spends the whole show jumping up on top of it, dancing around it, and he looks like New Jersey 1968. ” Main stage on Saturday night. Should be a fun act, very lively.
The headwinds are a bit stiffer with competing festivals like the Levitate Festival, and Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival happening on or near the same date. “But these festivals are trying to be like the bigger festivals, with 15,000 fans standing to hear a band.” One thing Jim enjoys about the GRF is that you don’t have to stand, and the crowds are not as overwhelming as other festivals.
I agreed, I can’t see why at Solid Sound Festival the bands play only one at a time. So the crowds are ridiculous in the three different stages, all trying to see that one band at that one time.
One addition that I did not even know about is an intimate performance stage called “Green House,” that brings some of the biggest names to a tiny stage in front of an actual tiny house. It’s located over on the far side near the GCC buildings, you have to look to find it. “But if you download the festival app, you’ll get notifications about who is playing there,” Jim said.
Michael Franti played the small stage last year, offering a three-song set to a small enthusiastic crowd, and so did Deer Tick. This year many of the headliners will join the artists on the tiny Green House stage, and I’ll be sure to have the app open so I won’t miss these intimate tiny performances.