For the second year in a row, the band Wilco has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars, excitement, energy and creative people into the dreary worn-down mill town of North Adams at the end of June. The three-day event, Solid Sound Music and Arts festival curated by Wilco, was a stunning and eclectic mixture of music, arts, film,culture and beer, all mixed in and around the former factory buildings and green pastures of Mass MOCA.
No other venue affords so much room to explore, and such dramatic galleries that seem to stretch on for football fields. There is simply no bigger indoor place in New England than this comtemporary arts gallery, which was transformed into beer gardens, music arenas, art-making areas and food courts. The concept is brilliant–the band has a fanatically loyal following, having been together for decades. Their fans also love culture, arts and great beer, similar to how I’d describe the followers of the Talking Heads…so why not bring it all together and curate it like an art show. It must be a blast to be Jeff Tweedy, Wilco’s front man, and be able to bring comedians you love, beers from Chicago you adore, and other musicians you’ve admired all together in your own personal festival.
Not to mention how great it must be to be the headliners for two nights with adoring fans cheering the second you walk on stage. Comedian Wyatt Cenac of the Daily Show was one of the acts; his rap was reminiscent of Steven Wright, but with a cooler, blacker edge. There was a full program of short films, we watched a gang of artist silkscreen four-color posters by hand in one gallery, and there were so many food booths it was hard to choose. One with the longest line was Jen ‘N Outlaw’s Fish Fry and Crawfish. The line for the burgers was respectable too.
The town poured forth volunteers, and it seemed that nearly every local restaurant had staked out a claim to have booths in the MOCA courtyards. There was even a portable ATM for those of us who ran out of cash and wanted, no, needed more $5 Lagunitas brews or cocktails. Even with a massive downpour two nights in a row, spirits were never damped, it was just a momentary blip that brought us inside, or steadfastly holding our spaces up on the hill under umbrellas and tarps. The rain departed, the bands came on, and the festival was swinging once again.