Green River Festival for 2023

Wanda Jackson, Jim Olsen, and Eilen Jewel at a past Green River Festival.
Wanda Jackson, Jim Olsen, and Eilen Jewell at a past Green River Festival.

An Interview with Jim Olsen, Who Shares His Favorite Musical Picks

In Western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, there is a summer tradition that has evolved and grown into a must-not-miss event for the past 37 years. That’s the Green River Festival, held on June 23-25, 2023 at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield.

The Sacred Souls
The Sacred Souls

This is the third year that the festival has found solid footing in this, a different venue than where the original GRF was located for 34 years, at Greenfield Community College. The evolution to this larger and more purpose-built site has improved the traffic flow, parking and provided more space for the food and merchandise vendors who add so much to the experience.

Wait til you see the line queuing up at the stand that sells broccoli. Just broccoli.

The site at the historic Franklin County Fairgrounds is 28 acres, and the festival makes good use of all of the space. One highlight of the festival is the level of quality of the food vendors, and this isn’t the usual fried dough and crinkle-cut fries. The food selections truly reflect our diverse Valley, where so many different kinds of food thrive.

Jim Olsen: “We’ll have 25 food vendors this year. We’ll have a number of vegan options, virtually every kind of ethnic option that there is. And you know, like I say, I feel like the festival is on the map. And one of the things that puts it on the map is the fact that we get these great food vendors from all around.”

Among the interesting assortment of fest food vendors, here are some that show how much different the selection of offerings is here vs a traditional summer fair: Jamaican Jewelz jerk chicken, Jaju Pierogis, Little Pinky Toe Chai, Miso Toh Kome rice balls, Skinny Pancake Crepes, Ting Ting Dumplings and Fancheezical Grill Cheese.

I asked Jim Olsen, the President of Signature Sounds and the founder of the fest since 1986, how ticket sales are going. “It’s very heartening actually that, you know, we can pretty much count on people to show up,” he said. “Sales are going well.”

John Cleary
John Cleary

I really think that because of the change you made a couple years ago where you really were going for more artists that you knew and that people in the business knew, rather than most of the public might’ve heard about (yet), that seemed like that’s been a success. People don’t have to have the most famous people on stage to show up at this festival.”

Jim Olsen: “You know, we can’t afford superstar names. That’s not, and was never the name of the game of the festival. No, we grab them before they become superstars!” I asked Jim to give us a pick about which artist not to miss on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“The band I’m most excited about Friday and might be the most excited about for the entire weekend is a band called The Sacred Souls. From San Diego, California. I caught these guys at The Fresh Grass festival in North Adams last summer and, and what they do is…it’s soul music, it’s throwback soul music, but it’s that sort of sweet, romantic soul, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield soul singers feel.

They’re wonderful with a fantastic and exciting singer. And the whole thing just gives you this great big love vibe in a way that you don’t really get anything. .

And it’s not gospel, cuz that’s what I thought it was. No, it’s not gospel at all. Josh Lane and two women singers, it’s a band that, when you look at them on paper, you don’t think, well, this is gonna be a classic. Pretty incredible.” 5 pm Friday June 23, 2023.

Now, Saturday’s always an interesting day because, you know, you get there and it’s a daytime kind of thing, you know, versus a nighttime kind of thing. So in the spirit of that, when does music start on Saturday and then again what would be one or two of your favorite parts? Music begins at 1245 on Saturday and it goes into the night.

You know, one of the things that, when we moved to June, is that much more daylight, you know? The longest days of the year are in June so we’ll have a long twilight and the time of darkness will be later than the last two years, when the show was in August.

Is there anybody that you’ve been trying to get for a long time that is gonna show up this year for the first time? That often is the case with you that you chase these people around and you hope that that’s not always famous people.

Heavy Heavy
Heavy Heavy

Jim Olsen: “I’ve been wanting to bring John Cleary and his fabulous band up from New Orleans forever, and it’s just never worked before. When we were in July, he was always in Europe. He was very popular in Europe, and he was always at festivals in Europe during Green River time. And so this year we were able to grab him.

John Cleary, and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen. If you go to New Orleans, if you go to jazz vest, he plays for 50,000 people, you know? Just in, in this part of the country not as much. But, he’s been a known entity for years. He was Bonnie Raitt’s musical director. He sort of carries on that New Orleans piano tradition of Professor Longhair and James Booker. The number in the band varies. We believe he’s bringing a quintet, so a five-piece band. Just like New Orleans’ best guys. It’ll be funky, it’ll be dance, it’ll be really so real New Orleans.

Okay. Now tell us about, tell us about another person that is hiding among this big lineup of the Green River Festival.

Jim Olsen: “I’ll give you one for Saturday. That is the Heavy, Heavy. Who is a throwback sound to the early seventies.  it’s almost hard to describe. They are sort of like an early Fleetwood Mac. Maybe it’s male, female, local, lots of reverb, lots of keyboard sounds that were from the late sixties and early seventies. It’s just, it’s a very cool retro sound that these guys have. And so it’s a retro carnival with Heavy Heavy. No horns, but it’s classic rock sounding in a way you just don’t hear anymore. Like the late sixties or early seventies Fairport Convention. They do few covers, but it’s almost all originals.”

Jim Olsen: “One of the things I have found is that the festivals, when you look at how many bands that you’re seeing, and you look at how long it goes for, and you look at all the, the things that, it’s really a pretty good value, versus just about any band by itself.”

It really is. You know, it’s. It’s a great value, especially now, you know, when you, when you go to see something at a Live nation or an AEG venue and you know, you’ll pay, you’ll pay the same price for a ticket for you know, an artist and an opener that you would pay for an entire day of the Green River Festival. Exactly.”

And you’ll be so far away, not like here where you can meet the artists at the merch tent.

You won’t be able to see ’em, you won’t be able to get their merch, you won’t be able to shake their hand. You won’t be able to do that. We also have an incredible selection of food. I’m so proud of the food we have at Green River. I think we have the best festival food game of any festival.


Green River Festival, tickets available, June 23-25, 2023 Franklin County Fairgrounds, Greenfield MA.